Review: The Crooked Path – Irma Joubert

Irma Joubert. The Crooked Path. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2017.

Thomas Nelson has now published three books by South African author, Irma Joubert.  Translated into English, these novels make up a trilogy about South Africa and the period around World War II.

The Crooked Path follows much of the life of Lettie, a South African girl.  Her friends (many of whom were introduced in Ms. Joubert’s previous novels) all seem prettier and overall better than Lettie, even as she finds her own form of accomplishment in becoming a doctor.  Even as a professional young woman, Lettie thinks of herself as second best, until she meets Marco.  Growing up in Italy, Marco became caught up in the tragic Holocaust events of World War II.  With severely damaged health, Marco relocates to South Africa for the climate and to be closer to his younger brother, the husband of one of Lettie’s childhood friends.  Together, Marco and Lettie make their way through life together, even as they encounter times of incredible challenges and hope.

Fans of Ms. Joubert’s previous works will be thrilled with this novel!  She brings South Africa to life through a diverse cast of characters and historical events.

Overall, I enjoyed reading The Crooked Path.  Ms. Joubert’s historical research is exceptionally impressive, as she interweaves major historical events with the lives of her characters.  Personally, I found the novel to be exceptionally similar to Child of the River, even as it overlapped many of the same characters and events.  I would have liked to see more structure to the plot, as the novel follows a series of events over the course of forty or so years in Lettie’s life, without the climatic buildup and resolution that one would expect from a fictional work.  While I personally enjoyed the novel, I could see some casual or slower-paced readers having some difficulty remaining interested in the story and characters.

Fans of Ms. Joubert’s previous releases, including The Girl from the Train and Child of the River, will want to try The Crooked Path.  Likewise, readers who enjoy Christian historical fiction, especially as related to the Second World War and the mid-twentieth century, may also want to check out this novel.

Special thanks to Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for the advanced copy of The Crooked Path!

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Review: Child of the River – Irma Joubert

Irma Joubert. Child of the River. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2016.

Last fall, I featured Irma Joubert’s first novel that was released in English by Thomas Nelson.  This year, she is releasing a new book, exclusively featuring her home country of South Africa.

Child of the River follows Persomi as she grows up as a poor white girl living in the South African Bushveld.  While the farmers of the area enjoy a prosperous life before the events of the Second World War, Persomi and her family live as illiterate sharecroppers, dependent on the care and provision of the farm’s owners.  Persomi befriends the farmer’s children, but recognizes the inherent separation between their social positions.  When her family falls apart and exciting opportunities become available to her, Persomi begins to experience the wider world of educated children, loving families, and stable professions.  Through the years of World War II and apartheid, Persomi grows from a powerless child into a crusader for justice and equality in her homeland.

The hardship of Persomi’s family and growing up years offers a fascinating view of South African life during the mid-twentieth century.  Readers who enjoyed Ms. Joubert’s American debut, The Girl From the Train, will be thrilled to find a new release from this internationally-acclaimed author.

Overall, I enjoyed reading Child of the River.  Ms. Joubert produces a unique and compelling story for her audience, as she brings the life of rural sharecroppers to readers who have likely never known about the South African Bushveld.  In general, Ms. Joubert uses a writing style similar to that found in The Girl From the Train.  However, the novel focuses on historical elements more unique to South Africa, rather than the broader perspective of the global impact of World War II, which changes the nature of Ms. Joubert’s sources and character development.  In contrast to The Girl from the Train, I found that I never became entirely attached to the characters of Child of the River, in part due to their rather confusing relationships with one another.  Likewise, the quintessential “coming of age” storyline never completely caught my attention as much as the story devices used within Ms. Joubert’s previous novel.  However, I still thought that it was a strong novel that shows further growth and expansion of the Christian fiction genre globally.

Fans of Ms. Joubert’s previous release, The Girl from the Train, will want to try Child of the River.  Likewise, readers who enjoy Christian historical fiction, especially as related to the Second World War and the mid-twentieth century, may also want to check out this novel.

Special thanks to Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for the advanced copy of Child of the River!

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Review: The Girl from the Train – Irma Joubert

Irma Joubert. The Girl from the Train. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2015.

This week’s book arrived to me as a complete surprise from the publisher. In all honesty, I’m not sure if I would have picked up the book from a store or library. When it landed on my front porch, it suddenly became a worthwhile book to try. After reading it, I’m certainly thrilled to have the opportunity to share it with all of you!

Irma Joubert’s novel, The Girl from the Train, had been an international bestseller in South Africa and The Netherlands before arriving here in the United States. Translated for the first time into English, the novel is now being released by Thomas Nelson and HarperCollins Christian Publishing. In the midst of World War II, young Gretl Schmidt escapes from a train heading toward Auschwitz. Despite the help of a picture of her German SS soldier and her Lutheran baptismal certificate, Gretl’s Jewish grandmother was her only means of identity. Hiding the truth of her past becomes essential to her survival. On her perilous journey toward safety, she meets Jakob Kowalski, a young Polish man determined to free his country from the grips of other nations. On his family’s farm, Gretl finds a delicate form of shelter, but the war and her hidden identity each continue to touch her life in countless ways. The realities of communism encroach on Gretl’s life, forcing Jakob to send her to an orphanage in Germany with the hopes that she is relocated to the safety of a Christian family in South Africa. After years of ever-changing languages, names, and religious identity, Gretl’s life in Africa seems idyllic. However, she must finally determine for herself who she really is by coming to grips with her unique past.

Overall, The Girl from the Train could be summarized in one word: brilliant! After reading Christian historical fiction and scholarly monographs on related subjects for years, this novel is the first I would distinguish in the rare caliber of literature. Ms. Joubert accomplishes a rare feat in fully engaging her readers with a timeless story of perseverance and faith in the midst of exceptional trial. Additionally, she brings to life the incredible stories of Poland’s Home Army, Germany’s war orphans, and the racial and political persecution that perpetuated the challenges faced by the real-life individuals personified in Gretl’s character. Perhaps of most interest to Christian fiction readers, the novel reveals the fascinating lengths that religious identity played within the period, especially as Gretl is forced to change her affiliations as a result of family, politics, and war to survive. In the moment when Gretl’s South African adopted father denies the existence of the Holocaust, without realizing his own daughter’s heritage or wartime experiences, The Girl from the Train became one of the most compelling books of the year. Personally, I think The Girl from the Train has the potential to be this generation’s answer to Bryce Courtenay’s The Power of One, capturing the human experience and personifying it within a character’s ability to overcome some of history’s greatest challenges.

Fans of Christian historical fiction, especially as related to the Second World War and European history, will find The Girl from the Train to be an absolutely fascinating read. In comparison to many other World War II-era works being recently released, I found the writing, historical research, and overall development of the characters to be much more complex and compelling. That advantage may lead some readers to consider the novel to be more dense and challenging to read than other books in the genre. Personally, I believe that this book is well worth that effort and should be considered one of the finest books of the year!

Special thanks to Thomas Nelson and the Fiction Guild for the advanced copy of The Girl from the Train!

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Amazon – The Girl From the Train