My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book is one of those that feel somehow effortless, as if they were just waiting to be written. Kerr’s fictionalised story of her childhood is, and deserves to be, one of those eternal classics of children’s literature.
Anna (Judith) is growing up in Germany. She is Jewish, and her father is a famous writer. Following the rise of Nazism, and the climate becoming increasingly fragile in Germany, her parents make the decision to leave. This book follows Anna throughout the first part of her journey, from Germany to Switzerland to France and finally to England. The story is then continued in the much darker The Other Way Round.
Anna is young, an innocent in many ways, and we see their journey through her eyes. Kerr’s ability is immense in this book, and she delivers the story in a simple, graceful style. It’s a quiet book in many parts, reminiscent stylistically of Noel Streatfield’s A Vicarage Family, but one that dips into the shadows of imminent war without reservation. There’s parts in this book that I remember from my first reading, many years ago, and the impact they had then has not lessened.
It’s hard not to love the family because of the palpable nature of Kerr’s writing. There’s a repeated motif of family throughout the book, and the emphatic suggestion that Anna does not mind what happens as long as they are all together. It all adds up to make an idealistic, yet incredibly poignant read.