The daughter's tale by Armando Lucas Correa
Translated by Nick Caistor. Simon and Schuster, 2019. ISBN:
Recommended for lovers of historical fiction and students studying WW2. Themes: Holocaust, WW2, families, resilience. The story opens in 2015 when Elise Duval who has been living in New York since the end of the war, is given some letters written by her mother. One of the letters is from 1939, written on the pages of a book of botanical illustrations addressed to 'my little Viera'. The story then shifts further back to Berlin 1933-1939, to a small bookshop owned by Amanda Sternberg, at a time she had been told to get rid of books that were 'not sufficiently German'. Her husband, cardiologist Julius Sternberg is reluctant to leave his patents in Berlin in spite of increasing anti-Jewish sentiment and they endure the burning of the bookshop from which Amanda saves just one book, a French album of hand coloured botanical prints. Meanwhile their two girls are born, Viera in 1934 and Lina in 1935. As conditions for Jews deteriorate they miss their opportunity to escape and when Julius is taken away and dies in 1938 Amanda finds he has put in place an escape plan and money for her and the children. However, the plan involves getting tickets on a ship and she is only able to buy two tickets. At the last moment, instead of sending both children Amanda decides to just send the older daughter, Viera on the infamous refugee ship St Louis bound for Cuba where a relative lives. She flees to France with Lina, finding her way to a family friend, Claire and her daughter Danielle who take them in. Here Amanda changes Lina's name to Elise and teaches her to call Claire 'Maman' but they are betrayed and taken to a concentration camp. Selfless to the last, Amanda manages to smuggle her daughter out of the camp, back to Claire but they are then caught up in one of the worst atrocities of WW2, the massacre of Oradour-Sur-Glane in 1944. That Elise survives yet again is amazing, that she has lived her life shutting out her wartime experiences is understandable. As the generation who experienced the horrors of WW2 are no longer able to bear witness it is important to remember the human cost through the telling of their stories.
The Daughter's Tale is an unremittingly tragic story of one mother's resilience and hope for her daughters in the face of harrowing events. I did find it difficult to keep track of the characters and there were many threads left dangling. The descriptive style was not very engaging but that may be due to the translation.