Archive for the ‘The English German Girl’ Category
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JWS and the Kindertransport survivor Walter Kammerling, Ayot Festival 2011
A couple of weeks back, I appeared at a festival at Ayot. (That sounds a bit like I’m a wizard. But I kind of like it.) I read from my new novel, The English German Girl, which is about the Kindertrasport. I’ve done quite a lot of readings recently while promoting the book. But this one was different. Appearing on the stage alongside me was Walter Kammerling, a Kindertransport survivor whom I interviewed six years ago, when I was just starting to write the novel. Walter was whisked out of Vienna at the age of fifteen, which is the same age as my protagonist, Rosa, leaves Berlin.
Needless to say, it was an honour to share a platform with such a courageous and inspiring man. At one point, the host, Fiona MacIntosh, asked me to read a few paragraphs from the novel. Then she turned to Walter. “Did that extract ring true?” she asked. “Has Jake accurately captured the mood of the period?” There was a long pause. This was, as they say, the 64,000 dollar question. (What does that phrase actually mean? 64,000 dollar question? Should I google it? Can’t be bothered.) Anyway, my heart was in my mouth. Walter took a breath. “Yes,” he said, decisively. “Jake captured the atmosphere very well.” Relief doesn’t even begin to describe what I felt at that moment.
At the same time, what I felt was deeper than relief. Walter had brought home to me more vividly than ever before 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 empathise with the persecuted and oppressed. Walter had travelled halfway across the country to appear at Ayot, 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 signing. 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.
War tale breathes new life into familiar story (the Herald Scotland reviews The English German Girl by JWS)
“. . . I didn’t know of Simons’s work until last month, when the editor of this, his second novel, enthused about it. A few weeks later a copy was pressed into my hands by the publisher, but it’s only in the past few days that I have found time to read it.
The English German Girl is a thoroughly researched recreation of the life of a professional Jewish family in Berlin, under the Third Reich. Herr Doktor Klein is an eminent surgeon with three children. As the net begins to tighten on the Jewish community, he refuses to believe it can get any worse. It takes a belated awakening to the brutal truth before he tries to engineer an escape for the whole family. This proves impossible, but he does manage to find a place for his middle child, 15-year-old Rosa, on the Kindertransport, those now famous trains that were allowed to take a limited number of children out of the country. Rosa is despatched to reluctant relatives in England, from where it is hoped she can find work for the rest of the Kleins. Meanwhile, war draws closer, and the prospects of fleeing grow slim. Read the rest of this entry »
“The tale unfolds to the drumbeat of history . . . Connoisseurs of crystal clear prose will relish this book” –Tom Adair reviews The English German Girl in The Scotsman
It’s a tale of two worlds, of everyday lives upended by crisis. Here is a story that treads the edges of the Holocaust, a touching, and touchy and utterly dangerous business for writers of fiction.
Beginning in 1933, much of the tale is concerned with the Nazi persecution of the Jews in that darkening decade, the 1930s, when Rosa Klein is nine years old and Berlin is still a civilised city where Jews can transact their everyday business in relative tolerance and peace.
Yet, even then, as Rosa ventures to a bakery on an errand for Inga, her mother, clear signs of hatred and propaganda, the shutting down of normal decencies, are apparent. Rosa’s family belong to the trenchant middle class, with a stay-at-home mother, brother Heinrich and live-in maid. Otto, the father, is a well-regarded surgeon who won the Iron Cross in the First World War. He thinks of his family as staunchly German, only secondly Jewish. But when at work he is removed from contact with patients – “in the hospital we are attempting to create an Aryan atmosphere” – he knows the game is up.
His sense of fairness is affronted, his sense of identity undermined. His pride and stubborness — ingrained character flaws more jingoistically German, perhaps, than Jewish — lead to his downfall. When Wilhelm Krützfeld, a longstanding friend, and now the district chief of police, attempts to ensure that the Kleins receive preferential help to secure their safety in the face of the upsurge of anti-Semitic attacks, Otto refuses the offer of help, despite his wife’s pleading. Krützfeld’s wife is Inga’s best friend.
The tale unfolds to the drumbeat of history. Its dramatis personae feature real figures from the time, including Krützfeld and his wife, and, most importantly, the presence of Norbert Wollheim, the driving force behind the Kindertransport which rescued Jewish children from certain death and brought them to England before the war.
Rosa’s removal from her family (she’s then 15) is a pragmatic but also sacrificial act of parental love which brings her safely, and as an emissary, to London. It is the turning point in the novel.
Connoiseurs of crystal clear prose will relish this book as artless art. Read the rest of this entry »
Join Jake Wallis Simons at P&G Wells — the iconic bookshop that nestles snugly between Winchester College and Winchester Cathedral — to celebrate the publication of his new novel, The English German Girl. The evening will feature readings, discussions, and wine flowing like water. An event not to be missed.
6:30pm, P&G Wells, 11 College Street, Winchester | 01962 852016 | email@example.com
“Jake Wallis Simons – novelist, journalist and broadcaster – saw his latest novel sell out within 4 days of its publication this month, prompting an urgent reprint. He joins us to talk about that, the iPhone’s predictive text functionality and the many uses for a Swiss Army Knife.
What made you realise you were a writer?
About two years ago, everything seemed to be going badly. A chain of unfortunate events meant that I lost my agent, and the novel that I had been working on for years seemed to be falling apart. To add to the pressure, I had an 18-month-old baby and my wife found out she was pregnant with twins. At that point I considered my options, and realised that I was unqualified, both in terms of my experience and my disposition, to be anything other than a writer.
So I gritted my teeth, steeled myself, and slowly but surely waded out of the mire. Two years on, my luck seems to be changing. But it was only when I was forced to consider another vocation that I realised that I was cursed – or blessed – to be a writer, no matter what.”
Four days after The English German Girl went on sale, it was announced that the entire first print-run had sold out. Hugh Andrew, Managing Director of Polygon Books, said: “this shows not only that The English German Girl is an excellent and moving read, but also that as we approach a time when there will no longer be any Holocaust survivors living, there is a renewed interest in the Kindertransport.” A second edition is currently being printed.
At the launch party last night, Jake Wallis Simons paid tribute to the Kindertransport survivors who were present before reading a moving extract from the book which described the moment that the protagonist, Rosa Klein, said goodbye to her parents for the last time.
The afterparty took place at Home House in Portman Square, Marylebone.
“Well-researched and very moving. A fine tribute to the bravery of the Kindertransport.” (the Times)
The Times reviews The English German Girl: “One morning in 1933, Dr Otto Klein is told that he may no longer have contact with patients because he is Jewish. He’s unfazed. “Almost 50 per cent of doctors in Berlin are of Jewish origin. They can’t do without us.” But over the years the family loses more and more.
Fighting to survive, they put 15-year-old Rosa on a Kindertransport train, to begin a new life in England. The distant cousins who are sponsoring her speak no German and were expecting her little sister; “Aunt Mimi” does not want a grown girl near her teenage son.
This well-researched and very moving novel is dedicated to the children of the Kindertransport and is a fine tribute to their bravery.” Visit the website
Review from Love Reading: “I was reminded very much of Sebastian Faulks’ Charlotte Gray when following Jake Wallis Simons’ heroine Rosa Klein. The background of Jewish suffering is every bit as compelling as Schindler’s List.
The English German Girl follows Rosa as her despairing parents manage to find her a place on one of the last Kindertransports to leave Berlin. It is a story powerfully told, demanding your complete attention, involving you in a story of heartbreak, love and loss as Rosa attempts to make a life and career for herself alone in this new bewildering country of Britain. It’s a film waiting to happen, although so vivid is Jake Wallis Simons’ description and attention to detail, I feel I’ve seen it already. If you only read one novel this year, make it this one.”
From Love Reading