Before everything changed, Hannah Rosenthal lived a charmed life. But now the streets of Berlin are draped in swastikas and Hannah is no longer welcome in the places she once considered home.
A glimmer of hope appears in the shape of the St Louis, a transatlantic liner that promises Jews safe passage to Cuba. The Rosenthals sell everything they have to fund visas and tickets. At first the liner feels like luxury, but as they travel the circumstances of war change, and it soon becomes their prison.
Seven decades later in New York, on her twelfth birthday Anna Rosen receives a package from Hannah, the great-aunt she never met but who raised her deceased father. Anna and her mother immediately travel to Cuba to meet this elderly relative, and for the first time Hannah tells them the untold story of her voyage on the St Louis.
In 1939, the German ship St. Louis set sail from Hamburg for Havana carrying more than 900 passengers, most of them German Jewish refugees, escaping from the Nazi regime. Correa's debut novel follows one of those passengers, a 12-year-old girl named Hannah Rosenthal, as she and her rich, influential family hope to start a new life in Havana. But when they arrive, the St. Louis and its passengers are refused entry. Hannah and her mother manage to debark, but most of the other passengers including Hannah's father and her best friend Leo are forced to stay aboard. The ship's passengers were refused entry into America and Canada as well, eventually forced to return to Europe. Seventy years later, Hannah's grandniece receives a package from her elderly aunt, who is finally ready to tell her family's story. Correa's novel is a timely reminder of the plight of refugees, and the real consequences of denying them aid, but the story itself is lukewarm a tragedy that never complicates or deviates from its expected trajectories. Hannah never stops pining for Leo, and she and her mother shun other Jewish people while simultaneously isolating themselves from Cuban life. There is also a noticeable lack of detail concerning Jewish culture. Though the novel covers an important piece of history, the story of the Rosenthals never quite comes together.