The German Girl
Armando Lucas Correa
Fascinating topic, but the execution is clunky. Based on the true story of the MS St. Louis, the ocean liner full of Jews fleeing Germany in 1939 that arrived in Cuba only to be turned back, with a mere 28 passengers (out of more than 900) permitted to disembark. Correa works to create many correlations between modern-day Anna and her great-aunt Hannah in 1939, but writing both parts in the first person voice offers little differentiation between the two character’s voices. Timelines feel off but work out as the plot progresses however there’s no clear answer to the main plot point of the story, which is why did Hannah’s mother, and Hannah herself after her mother’s death, remain in a country they hated, especially when they had the money to go to America after the end of WW2 and at the onset of the Cuban revolution? With better editing (again, this work is clunky, often slow, and long-winded) this could have been a great YA novel. Geared to adults, it’s less engaging, although, again the topic itself is both fascinating and horrible, so kudos to Correa for giving it light after so many decades.
Mary Ellen Taylor
A food-themed romance/chick-lit/mystery/ghost story that had a reasonable plot (even with the ghosts), but which was short on continuity and spell-checking. Seriously, this was published by Penguin, but was littered with misspellings that any version of spellcheck should have caught. Characters’ ages change from one chapter to the next. Most of it felt like an awkward first draft. I was ready to forgive the clumsiness until I discovered that this was the second in a series, and the synopsis for the first book sounds almost the same as the second, complete with a found object and a ghost who needs the heroine to unravel their mystery.
Continue reading “March Reading List”
The Mercer Reformatory for Females is gone now, torn down in the late 1960s and replaced with Lamport Stadium near the intersection of King West and Dufferin in Toronto. I live nearby and walk past the place a few times every week. Since reading Incorrigible by Velma Demerson, I am haunted by what transpired at the Mercer.
Demerson was arrested in 1939, at age 18, for living with her Chinese boyfriend, which was against the law at the time. Her family reported her and she was at first taken to Belmont Home, a residence for “incorrigibles”. When the home closed down, the residents were all taken to the Mercer, even though they weren’t technically criminals.
When the Mercer closed in the 60s, the living conditions were considered to be utterly unacceptable — many cells didn’t have windows or toilets. But it was the treatment of the women there that was the most horrifying. At the same time the Nazis were doing medical tests on women at Ravensbruck, the Mercer was injecting inmates with sexually transmitted diseases like gonorrhea and syphilis, and testing treatments on them. The women were not told about these tests, and were told little about their treatments. Demerson recounts being in constant pain caused by the tests done on her and it was only decades late that she was able to settle with the government for the abuses she suffered.
Incorrigible tells Demerson’s story in her own voice. It’s a rough style, told in the first person with no dialogue, and reads in places like a journal. There are details that are brushed over or left out, particularly about her later life and her relationship with the son she gave birth to while at the Mercer.
We like to think of Canada as socially aware, forward-thinking place, but it wasn’t always so. The treatments done on young women without their consent or understanding rank up there with the travesties of residential schools and the export and abuse of home children.
Demerson has written a satirical novel called Nazis in Canada, based on her experiences at the Mercer.