Having fled the Nazi regime in Germany, a Jewish family find themselves starting a new life in South Africa. Little do they know that they’ll find themselves on the other end of prejudice and racial discrimination. Across Great Divides by Monique Roy* follows the family as they make the difficult decision to leave their much loved home and embark on a new life.
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Across Great Divides interested me on a personal level. My Aunt and Uncle lived in both South Africa and Germany. We didn’t visit them in South Africa, but we did visit them in Germany on a few occasions. My Aunt and Uncle were Forces teachers and taught on a few bases in Germany. One of these was Hohne Station, close to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp – a location mentioned in Across Great Divides. My parents went to visit the camp, but I chose not to. I knew it would be extremely upsetting. The other personal connection to the topics covered in Across Great Divides? One of my best friends is Jewish.
Across Great Divides begins in 1932, when 16 year old twins, Eva and Inge, catch a glimpse of Hitler for the first time. Their lives quickly become more and more unsettled as the anti semitic atmosphere grows. Close friends become distant and even hostile towards the Jewish family. When people start to disappear and there are acts of violence towards the Jewish community in the street, the family know that they have to leave their home of Berlin.
The family’s escape from Berlin was probably my favourite part of the book. The fear and uncertainty of the situation was portrayed particularly well. I also really liked the introduction of a love interest for Ingle at this point in the story. This demonstrated that despite the devastation, horror and tragedy the family were facing, they had not lost hope. The family’s love and hope held them together and helped them through their darkest times.
After successfully escaping Germany, the family sought refuge in Antwerp, Belgium. However, their stay here is short lived when the Nazis expand their reach. Heartbroken, the family have to relocate for a second time. This time, the family head to South Africa where they find themselves on the other side of extreme racism.
Will the family conform with Apartheid or will they fight the discrimination faced by those who’s skin colour is not white?
I found it interesting that the family seemed split on the issue of apartheid. While Eva, Ingle and their brother were against this racism, their parents seemed less opposed to the segregation. Not that they were active in supporting it, but they also made no effort to change the situation. The parents, having fought so hard to find a peaceful place for their family to live, want to preserve this.
There was a lovely diamond theme running through the novel. Eva and Ingle spotted Hitler because of the exquisite diamond necklace around is companion’s neck. Their father was in the diamond trade. He used his diamonds to get the family our of Berlin. The family chose Antwerp and later South Africa because of their thriving diamond trade. Then, in a turn of fate, a diamond necklace that the family forfeited to get out of Germany was returned to them in South Africa. This theme tied the stories events together nicely.
I thoroughly enjoyed Across Great Divides and would highly recommend it. Monique Roy’s writing is powerful and thoughtful. The book is made even more poignant as it’s written by the descendant of European Jews. Roy’s ancestors journey to a new life inspired the story of Eva, Ingle and their family.
I do need to mention that there is a paragraph describing the rape of Eva and Ingle’s maid’s daughter. This is a short paragraph and sensitively written. I didn’t have any PTSD symptoms as a result of this paragraph, but my trauma was more than 10 years ago. I’m a little concerned that this paragraph could potentially be problematic for someone who’s trauma is raw. I think this book falls into the grey area regarding whether a trigger warning is necessary and helpful. I would lean towards it not being necessary, because it’s not written graphically and is just the one paragraph. However, I would urge caution if you think this paragraph could be problematic for you.
Neverland Blog Tours and Monique Roy are hosting a giveaway where two people will win an ebook copy of Across Great Divides! You can enter here:
Have you read Across Great Divides? What did you think for the book?
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