‘Kindertransport’ novel deserves American readers, too
By Danny Bloom
CHIAYI CITY, TAIWAN — When the British novel titled The German English Girl was published in London in 2011, the deeply-felt ”kindertransport”-themed book received high praise and good reviews in England. It was never released in America and was never reviewed in the New York Times or other prestigious national newspapers. Even the Jewish media in North America ignored Jake Wallis Simons novel, and important books about the Holocaust shouldn’t be treated that way.
Simons is a 34-year-old Jewish novelist in Britain, and he’s written three novels so far. In my online search to find out more about him, this Taiwan-based reporter learned that Jake spent two years in Taiwan in the 1990s teaching English and learning Chinese as part of his “gap” year between high school and college, as many British students use that time to travel and explore the world.
As Internet encounters would have it, I met Simons online by complete random chance a few weeks ago, and during our initial chats we were both surprised to learn that we had “Taiwan” in common, Jake for two years, and 15 years for me.
Via Twitter, I reached out and asked Jake about his ”kindertransport” novel. When I asked him in a tweet if the book had been released in New York, he replied: “No, never.” I could not believe my ears, well, in this case, my eyes. How could an important Jewish novel like this remain unpublished in America?
An English German Girl, Simons’ second novel on Jewish themes, got very positive reviews in his native country. “Fascinating and moving. Shines a light on a neglected aspect of WWII,” said British novelist Monica Ali.
In the novel, as a publication note puts it, “the Klein family in Germany is slowly but surely losing everything they hold dear — or ever took for granted — as Hitler’s anti-Jewish laws take hold in 1930s Berlin. In desperation, fifteen-year-old Rosa is put on a Kindertransport train out of the country, to begin a new life in England. In a foreign country, barely able to make herself understood, she struggles to find a way to rescue her parents. Overtaken by the war, however, they gradually lose touch. Now Rosa must face the prospect of not only being unable to fulfil her vow to save her family but also of an unknown future, quite alone.”
Calling Simons “one of Britain’s most compelling and original new voices,” a British reviewer said that Simons blended ”meticulous research with powerful storytelling in an epic journey from heartbreak to hope.”
Certainly this is a Holocaust-themed novel worth being released in America, too. Why it was published only in Britain when the entire English-speaking world — and especially Jewish readers everywhere — would benefit from reading it is a publishing industry puzzle. One reviewer in London even compared the book to Schindler’s List, which was written by an Australian novelist before making its way around the world. So I, for one, am rooting for Simon’s kindertransport novel to get a second chance at reaching Jews world with a New York release.
The novel will surely resonate with American readers.
Here’s a telling anecdote: When the book was published in 2011, Simons made an appearance at a book festival in Britain and appeared on the stage alongside Walter Kammerling, a Kindertransport survivor whom he had interviewed years ago, when he was just starting to write the book.
“Walter brought home to me … the greater meaning of my novel, which is to keep the memory of the ‘Kindertransport’ alive in the minds of future generations. Or, on an even more fundamental level, to allow people to empathize with the persecuted and oppressed,” Simons says. “Walter had travelled halfway across the country to appear at the book festival, determined — even at the age of 91 — to spread his message of pluralism and tolerance. My book, in some very small (and perhaps incomparable) way, is contributing to this effort.”
“After the event, there was a [book] signing,” Simons said. “A few people asked Walter to sign the novel as well. Before long this became the form; I would sign it, then he would sign below. I was humbled. This seemed to be exactly the right way to end such a very unique event.”
And an even better way to put a coda to Simon’s novel would be to see it released in America, too, perhaps with a Hollywood screenplay to follow as well. Important novels like this one should not be hidden away in England. I hope the New York publishing world is reading this article.
Bloom is Taiwan bureau chief for San Diego Jewish World. He may be contacted at email@example.com
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