‘If men could learn from history, what lessons it might teach us!’ – Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
It’s 1933 and in Berlin bookshop owner Amanda Sternberg has been ordered to get rid of ‘all books that could be considered offensive, unpatriotic, or not sufficiently German.’ It is a complete anathema to Amanda who loves everything about books, right down to their smell and feel. Pregnant with her first child to her beloved husband Julius, Amanda doesn’t know it yet but this terrible command to burn all the books is the harbinger of much greater upheaval.
In a series of deft brush-strokes, author Correa paints a vivid picture of the growing chaos and danger of everyday life in Berlin. As Hitler spreads his poison, anti-Jewish propaganda grows and gypsies and communists are declared enemies of the State.
Alarmingly, the Sternbergs resist advice to leave Germany. Julius is a heart doctor whose business is exceedingly successful and like so many others, the couple don’t believe that the bad times can last – or get much worse. By 1935, they are still in Berlin and a second daughter has been born.
Correa ratchets up the tension with intimate scenes of the family cocooned in love, warmth and closeness, while the world outside their apartment grows increasingly tumultuous. Neighbours betray neighbours. Julius is taken away by the gestapo. Fear replaces hope.
In a world gone mad, Amanda is left with the sole responsibility of her daughters as she moves into the next, dangerous phase of their lives.
In France the family finds a small respite before Germany invades and Amanda again has to fight yet again to survive. Some terrified locals, in a bid to protect their own family, collude with the Germans. Not for the first or the last time while reading this story, you wonder about your own reserves of strength and courage in the same situation. Would we fight, resist – or crumple? How much does the survival instinct impact on humane principles? Let’s hope we never have to find out.
Like all good historical fiction, as well as telling a good yarn with lots of drama and emotion and colour, The Daughter’s Tale unearths fascinating pieces of history buried by time – one in particular conveniently forgotten for the shame it brings on countries that should have known better.
In Correa’s acclaimed 2016 book, The German Girl, the journalist turned author retold the story of the passengers of the MS Saint Louise, a ship containing European refugees that landed in Cuba in WWII – only 28 passengers were allowed to disembark, the rest returned to Europe to their death after being rejected by the US and Canada.
In The Daughter’s Tale, the fate of the Sternbergs becomes intertwined with the fate of the refugees rejected by Cuba.
Correa, whose writing is a great mix of historical fact and imagination, reconstructs one of WWII’s worst atrocities – the massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane in southern France in June 1944 when 642 of the village inhabitants, women and children included, were killed by a German Waffen-SS company. Many were burned alive inside the local Catholic church.
Correa does let the light in, the cruelty of war balanced by acts of great humanity, courage – and great love. Here is also a book that shows us how the rise of nationalism, can so easily turn ugly.
There’s a line that haunts Amanda in The Daughter’s Tale, a line that is broadcast over and over in Berlin during the rise of Hitler: ‘Germany for Germans.’
About the author:
Armando Lucas Correa is an award-winning journalist, editor, author, and the recipient of several awards from the National Association of Hispanic Publications and the Society of Professional Journalism. He is the author of the international bestseller The German Girl, which is now being published in thirteen languages, and The Daughter’s Tale, released in 2019. He lives in New York City with his partner and their three children. Visit ArmandoLucasCorrea.com.