You read these books that break you — in a good way, a necessary way — because they connect us to the reality of an actual event or time period. We become emotionally invested, and we feel acutely. Clayton’s The Last Train to London is one of those books. And it’s pure brilliance!
The Last Train to London is a pre-WWII-era story of the Kindertransport that evacuated thousands of children out of Nazi-occupied Europe. At the story’s center is real-life heroine (Dutch Christian) Truss Wijsmuller, who time and again risked her life to save others. As is the beauty of historical fiction, where historical figures and events are interwoven with fictional characters and story threads, Clayton weaves a tapestry so richly detailed and emotionally raw here that one can’t help but be taken in and deeply unwound by the heartbreak of the unfolding story. Because for all that Austrian math prodigy Žofie-Helene (a Christian girl whose mother is an anti-Nazi reporter) and Stefan (who dreams of being a playwright) are fictional, the tragedy that struck their lives, families and communities happened in exactly the same horrific way to tens of thousands of real-life children and families.
The villain (real-life again) is Adolph Eichmann, head of the Jewish office of the Gestapo, who (during WWII) supervised the deportation of Jews to the death camps. Pre-WWII, he was sent to Austria (where our fictional Žofie and Stefan live) to rid the city of Jews. Following the Anschluss (Austria’s annexation by Nazi Germany), Žofie, Stefan, his younger brother, Walter, (whose plush Peter Rabbit is in equal measures safety blanket and imaginary friend), and their families are now trapped inside the country that was once their home and has now become a place of ever-rising Nazi terror. With the borders closed, neighbors turning on friends, and visas from other countries being denied, finding refuge is a race against time and insurmountable odds.
There are few storytellers (historians) who can bring history to life in a way that makes us (really) feel, and Clayton is one of those. Whether you’re a seasoned historical reader or new to the pre-WWII subject matter as it relates to what’s being covered at school, Clayton’s The Last Train to London is a must read! An emotional deep dive into one of the darkest parts of our shared human history. One you will deeply feel but not regret.
- Add The Last Train to London to your Goodreads list.
- Find it on Reader’s Warehouse South Africa.
- Find it on Amazon.
Book: The Last Train to London
Publication Date: September 10th, 2019
Reviewed by: Meredith Mara