Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Final Journey by Gudrun Pausewang

This novel was written twenty years ago in German. A few years later it was translated to English and is a timeless tale of a young girl's journey during the Holocaust.

The novel takes place almost entirely on a train. Alice is an eleven-year-old Jew who was taken from her home with her grandfather and grandmother. Her mother and father had already left and were at a "dentist clinic." She believes that she is going to join them in the east. Forty-nine people are crammed in the cattle car with no bathroom and no seats and no idea where they are going. As they pass station after station without stopping and without being given water, the reality of their situation slowly worsens. The naive Alice soon learns the truth that her loved ones tried to protect her from and begins to connect the dots of her memories living in the basement. As the journey comes to a close, even those who seem to know it all don't really know everything.

This novel about the Holocaust only touches briefly on the horrors that Jews and others faced - but that doesn't make it any less powerful. There isn't the excessive suffering and withering away that one usually reads about - the utter hopelessness - but there is the unknown future that hangs over everyone. It captures the complete disregard for human life these victims suffered and how, despite loss, one needs to carry on and how people can come together in the face of tragedy. The ending itself, while somewhat ambiguous for someone unfamiliar with the history, is equally haunting given the characters' naivety.

While this book might not talk about all of the experiences one faced during the Holocaust, it shows the reality that not many people made it beyond that final train journey. It is filled with characters you care about and, while some may not be as developed or memorable, you worry about their fates. Overall, this is a haunting journey for both reader and character.

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