By Ann Griffin
Georgic Publishing, 2018
Only occasionally do I find a book that keeps me reading till all hours, taunts me during the daytime with chapters yet to be read.
Such a book is Another Ocean to Cross. This debut novel is a riveting story of World War II. At first a story of escape from the impending Holocaust, the story moves outside Europe to show the war’s global reach. The illusion of safety crumbles, and the book’s main character is confronted with moral choices that take the story beyond the parameters of most historical fiction.
Renata Lowenthal, 18 years old, a promising artist, is flogged by a Nazi officer in front of her family for painting “degenerate art.” It’s the precipitating event that persuades her Jewish family to flee Germany in 1938. A harrowing journey takes Renata and her parents to Alexandria, Egypt, where for the moment, they find safety under British protection and Renata supports the family through her art sales. When the bombing starts, this income dwindles, and Renata’s mother urges her to find a husband among the Allied troops, someone whose passport will protect them all.
There are many books on the Holocaust, yet this book is different. Its focus on the experience of being a refugee, making a dangerous sea crossing to temporary shelter, is brilliantly brought to life by Griffin, and makes the story timely today. Another contemporary echo of problems faced by returning soldiers is PTSD and opioid addiction to wipe out the pain.
Griffin’s research must have been prodigious. Her writing is evocative and her characters spring from the page, their responses completely believable in their desperate situations. I look forwardto reading more work by this promising author.