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The Daughter’s Tale by Armando Lucas Correa

The Daughter’s Tale is historical fiction focusing on the Holocaust. Amanda is occupied with taking care of her bookshop, The Garden of Letters, and deeply in love with her husband, cardiologist Julius. But both are Jews, despite Amanda’s blond hair, and it is 1930s Germany. Amanda’s books are burned by her increasingly hostile neighbours, but the worst comes when Julius is taken away at work and Amanda knows she will never see him again. She must escape with two young daughters, Viera and Lina. Amanda sends Viera on a boat to Cuba, but makes the decision to take the fragile Lina with her to France. This decision connects the book to two historical events – the annilihation of the village Oradour-sur-Glane and the passenger ship full of Jews escaping to Cuba, only a few of whom made it. Even in an obscure village, the smoke and horrors of war will cross the border to find Amanda and Lina… This is the story of a mother’s love for her children, a love which prevails even as humanity proves itself capable of inflicting unfathomable suffering.

I was deeply moved by The Daughter’s Tale, and found it engaging to the end. The story of Amanda and Lina is bookended by the elderly Elise. The unexpected arrival of letters her mother once wrote to her sister take her back to memories of the war and her childhood. The Daughter’s Tale feels as much the mother’s as the daughter’s story. Amanda’s central dilemma is whether she has made the right decision to protect her children. She has let one daughter go and kept one by her side, at least temporarily, both in efforts to protect them, but she consistently doubts in which case she has made the better choice. The extents to which she goes to protect her remaining daughter from the horrors of a concentration camp are huge and sometimes terrifying and traumatic. Although I found myself wanting more of Viera’s tale, this makes the book more realistic in the sense that the Second World War separated many families and some fates were never known. Elise is her mother’s legacy, and her survival connects us to her mother’s story.

Correa writes emotively and elegantly, with great sensitivity. The ‘enemies’ are also people. The book questions the notion of family – war breaks families and it also makes them. It speaks to the human need for connection, and the human ability to be cruel. While the subject matter is necessarily serious, it is not overly graphic. There are only a few moments that are really painful to process.

Of course, there are so many historical books based on this period. Fans of Correa will be familiar with his bestselling debut novel The German Girl, published in 2016. The Daughter’s Tale speaks to the same meticulous research. Amanda’s letters, written on the pages of a botanical book she saved from her bookshop fire, are a poignant and original touch. This fictionalised account of individuals allow the reader to comprehend the personal side of large historical events. The book enables us to understand the suffering, and the humanity of experiences which are otherwise too large to grasp, and can otherwise be diminished to dates, times and figures.

Reviewer: Susannah Whaley

Atria Books, RRP $27


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