“An extremely readable and ultimately moving novel” based on the true story of a boatful of Jewish refugees refused entry to Palestine (The New York Times).
In October 1940, as the storm clouds of World War II gathered, the SS Atlantic set sail for Palestine. A condemned and overcrowded ship, it was overflowing with bedraggled Jewish refugees who, having bought their way out of Nazi Germany and Austria, hoped to find safety from the concentration camps that had begun to claim their brethren. But they were not destined to find the shelter they sought.
In this poignant novel, Hanna Sommerfeld recalls her long-ago voyage on the Atlantic—a journey plagued by epidemics and food shortages that led not to freedom but, improbably, to incarceration in a British penal colony off the eastern coast of Africa. For Hanna, it would also lead to a heartbreaking loss.
Weaving Hanna’s current life with her son’s family in Haifa, Israel, with her memories of marriage and her coming-of-age in the jungles of Mauritius, Boat of Stone is a unique Holocaust story that not only reveals a little-known chapter of history, but also introduces one of the most unforgettable characters you are likely to meet: a gritty, humorous, wise, and adventurous woman who refuses to become a victim. It is “a splendid novel” from National Book Award finalist Maureen Earl, author of Gulliver Quick (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel).
This absorbing Holocaust novel is based on a factual episode: the detention of 1580 German Jewish refugees in a British penal colony on the island of Mauritius, off Africa's east coast, after their deportation from Palestine in 1940. The story is told by a fictive survivor, Hanna Sommerfeld, a plucky, cantankerous, septuagenarian widow, now living in Israel with her lawyer son, Martin, who was born on Mauritius. Hanna's brooding husband, Daniel, did not survive the four-and-a-half-year internment, an ordeal rife with typhoid, floods and malnutrition. Shuttling between past and present, Hanna recalls their tortuous escape from Germany on an overcrowded freighter, her deep guilt over Daniel's death, and the hunger strike she led on Mauritius. Now in Haifa, she takes pride in her son and discusses the afterlife with her pregnant granddaughter Lara, who's seeing a reincarnation therapist. (In one especially moving scene, Hanna's mother, in a concentration camp in 1942, communicates telepathically with Hanna moments before she dies.) Earl ( Gulliver Quick ) interviewed survivors of the Mauritius camp in order to find in this little-known instance of cruelty a stirring tale of ultimate triumph.