BOOK REVIEW | THE LAST TRAIN TO LONDON
TITLE: The Last Train to London
AUTHOR: Meg Waite Clayton
PUBLISHER: Harper Collins
RELEASE DATE: September 10, 2019
GENRE: Historical Fiction
The New York Times bestselling author of Beautiful Exilesconjures her best novel yet, a pre-World War II-era story with the emotional resonance of Orphan Train and All the Light We Cannot See, centering on the Kindertransportsthat carried thousands of children out of Nazi-occupied Europe—and one brave woman who helped them escape to safety.
In 1936, the Nazi are little more than loud, brutish bores to fifteen-year old Stephan Neuman, the son of a wealthy and influential Jewish family and budding playwright whose playground extends from Vienna’s streets to its intricate underground tunnels. Stephan’s best friend and companion is the brilliant Žofie-Helene, a Christian girl whose mother edits a progressive, anti-Nazi newspaper. But the two adolescents’ carefree innocence is shattered when the Nazis’ take control.
There is hope in the darkness, though. Truus Wijsmuller, a member of the Dutch resistance, risks her life smuggling Jewish children out of Nazi Germany to the nations that will take them. It is a mission that becomes even more dangerous after the Anschluss—Hitler’s annexation of Austria—as, across Europe, countries close their borders to the growing number of refugees desperate to escape.
Tante Truus, as she is known, is determined to save as many children as she can. After Britain passes a measure to take in at-risk child refugees from the German Reich, she dares to approach Adolf Eichmann, the man who would later help devise the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question,” in a race against time to bring children like Stephan, his young brother Walter, and Žofie-Helene on a perilous journey to an uncertain future abroad. (Description from)
There are so many stories to tell of WWII. Those of silent heroes, lives lost, and survivors. The Last Train to London is part of my WWII historical fiction journey and I’m always astounded by how much I continue to learn about this terrible time in history. But then I’m grateful that there are these stories to tell and that there were brave people trying to do what was right when so much was against them.
Meg Waite Clayton tells a somewhat fictional story about the Kindertransport that saved so many children from the Nazi between 1938-1940. I say somewhat fictional because the book is based on a real effort and woman, Geertruida Wijsmuller-Meijer, who helped bring many children to safety transporting them by train to London. Without her, and the countless others that helped, who knows what would have happened to those children. More than likely they would not have survived.
The author told this story from several perspectives, Geetrudia (aka Tante Truus), Stephan Neuman, Zofie-Helene, and occasionally relatives of Stephan or Zofie. I believe it was a good mixture of perspectives. It enabled details of how it was for Jewish children, non-Jewish families, and those outside of Nazi invasion trying to help save as many lives as they could.
Vienna: Stephen is a teenage boy of a wealthy jewish family whose made their fortunate with their chocolate business. He lives with his family in an affluent home with his younger brother (Walter), father, and very ill mother. Zofie-Helene is a teenage girl whose a brilliant aspiring mathematician. She lives with her grandfather, younger sister, and mother who writes for an anti-Nazi newspaper.
Amsterdam: Truus is unable to have children of her own, but feels that because of this, it is her duty to save as many children she can. So she risks her life countless times for children she doesn’t know. To do this she must face and somewhat manipulate Nazi soldiers along the way.
Truus’s story is new to me and, by reading this book, I feel that I’ve kept her memory alive somehow. I would have liked more of the book to be about her journey and what she had to do to save the amount of children she did. But of what there was, I can tell that she was an extremely brave woman. Someone to be admired.
Stephen and Zofie’s journeys were very tough and I think Meg was able to capture what it would have been like for them. For Stephen to lose everything and Zofie risking her life for those she loved. I do feel that it needed more detail to give it that one last emotional punch it needed. I really only cried at the very end when Walter (Stephan’s younger brother) was being taken away by his adopted family.
Overall, I really enjoyed the book and thought the characters were wonderfully written. I believe Meg did justice to Truus’s story even though I wanted more of it. I would highly recommend this book to those that read historical fiction.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Meg studied history and psychology at the University of Michigan, and is a graduate of its law school. She was born in Washington D.C., and has since lived in or around Kansas City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Ann Arbor, Baltimore, Nashville, Santa Barbara, and San Francisco. She sets her novels in places she finds fascinating: The Last Train to London is set in Vienna, Amsterdam, and England; The Race for Paris in France; The Wednesday Daughtersin the English Lakes; The Four Ms. Bradwells in Ann Arbor and the Chesapeake; The Wednesday Sisters in her current hometown in the Silicon Valley; and The Language of Light in the Maryland horse country. For Beautiful Exiles the list is long but includes in Key West, Sun Valley, New York, and St. Louis, Cuba, Spain, China, France, England, Czechoslovakia, and Sweden. She is at work on a new novel, also to be published by HarperCollins. (Bio found on Meg’s website)
Thank you to Harper Collins and NetGalley for a copy to this book in exchange for an honest review.