This novel is so important! I know there are those of you who find the sheer number of WW11 novels out this year are feeling as if you have exhausted your limit. However, I am asking you to please take a good look at this new one by Meg Waite Clayton. I, too, have been feeling the pinch of more Holocaust stories than I can possibly read. I almost missed this one. I am thankful I did not. Plus, it’s really pre-WW11.
Most of THE LAST TRAIN TO LONDON takes place before WW11 actually started. It was 1936 and the Nazi’s had not yet become transformed into the monstrous force that we know they will become. But, still, we can feel it coming.
This sophisticated novel takes its history from the Kindertransports that saved over 10,000 children by moving them out of Nazi-occupied Europe and into countries that would receive them. One woman, Truus Wijsmuller, risked her life time after time after time, smuggling these Jewish children out of Nazi-occupied Europe. The tempo of this story begins to beat loudly like the beating heart of Edgar Allen Poe as the trips become increasingly more and more difficult and most of the borders begin slamming shut to the refugees once the Anschluss ( Hitler’s annexation of Austria ) occurs.
The story begins in 1936 where we meet the Neuman family, a wealthy Jewish family with a thriving upscale chocolate- making business. They live in Vienna and life is mostly good. Stephan is fifteen and dreams of becoming a playwright. His little brother Walter who he affectionately calls Wallman hangs on his every word all the while toting his stuffed Peter Rabbit along everywhere. Their mother suffers from a bone disease that is slowly taking her life.
Stephan spends his days with his Christian friend Zofie-Helene. They love hanging out in the underground tunnels that are filled with adventure. Of course they are not supposed to be there and that makes it all that more exciting. But Zofie-Helene’s mother edits a progressive , anti-Nazi newspaper. So there’s that…. They are innocents before the Nazi’s come stomping in and changing history.
Clayton manages to validate this time in history and brings us a real sense of urgency and peril. Just watching the embedded YouTube video made my heart skip a beat. Honestly, reading the last one hundred pages of this novel made me feel as if I were truly riding a runaway train with my hair on fire!
So much of this story is actually true. Clayton has done her homework. She’s visited these places. You can visit websites and see what is true. Her character, Truus, was a woman who actually made this Kindertransport happen. She was a member of the Dutch resistance. It is amazing. She was amazing. You’re going to want to know more about this event.
Do NOT miss the acknowledgments in the back of this novel. Clayton tells about how this book was inspired by and meant to honor Truus Wijsmuller-Meijer and the children she rescued, as well as the many people who made the Kindertransports possible. I loved reading her path to writing this novel.. I think you will too.
I was a huge fan of THE ORPHAN TRAIN. This is your European orphan train and then some.
Moving and oh-so deep, THE LAST TRAIN TO LONDON should be on every reader’s radar. Every book club will be reading it. So much to discuss.
Meg Waite Clayton is the New York Times bestselling author of seven novels, most recently BEAUTIFUL EXILES.
My review copy arrived from Harper Collins in exchange for an honest review. It is honestly one of the best books ever written about WW11. I loved it.
Copperfish Books will have copies of THE LAST TRAIN TO LONDON on sale at 20% off as of tomorrow.