Collective History: Armando Lucas Correa on ‘The German Girl’ (Q&A w/ event details)

Armando Lucas Correa will present his novel, The German Girl, at a reading/reception at the Savoy Bookshop & Café in Westerly, Rhode Island this Thursday evening, October 20th, at 6:00 p.m. This event is free and open to the public; no RSVP is required. Refreshments will be provided, and copies of the book will be available for purchase/signing. Location: 10 Canal St.

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Today, I am privileged to be joined by Armando Lucas Correa.

Armando is the debut novelist of The German Girl (Atria Books). Also an award-winning journalist, he is the editor-in-chief for People en Español, the top-selling Hispanic magazine in the United States, with more than 7 million readers every month. Armando is the magazine’s primary spokesperson and regularly appears on national Spanish-language television programs. He is the recipient of various journalistic awards from the National Association of Hispanic Publications and the Society of Professional Journalism. Armando entered the world of print journalism in 1988 when he was appointed the editor of Tablas, a national theater and dance magazine based out of Havana, Cuba. He previously published the non-fiction title En busca de Emma (In Search of Emma: Two Fathers, One Daughter and the Dream of a Family) in 2007.

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Author Armando Luca Correa. (Photo credit: Hector O. Torres)

Praise for The German Girl:

“People en Español editor-in-chief Correa bases his debut novel on the real-life account of the ill-fated 1939 voyage of the St. Louis, delivering an engrossing and heartbreaking Holocaust story; his listing of the passengers’ names at the end of the book adds to its power.”—Library Journal (starred review)

“An unforgettable and resplendent novel which will take its place among the great historical fiction written about World War II. Hannah Rosenthal will remain in your heart and her determination to tell the story of what she saw, lived, and lost will change the way you look at the world.”—New York Times bestselling author Adriana Trigiani

“Profound and moving … This novel touched me personally, especially because it is written from the point of view of a girl, just like me, on the ship. This tragedy, ignored for so many years, contains a lesson the world must learn and never forget: compassion for refugees.”—Ana Maria (Karman) Gordon, survivor of the St. Louis

From the publisher:

A stunningly ambitious and beautiful novel, perfect for fans of The NightingaleSchindler’s List, and All the Light We Cannot See, about twelve-year-old Hannah Rosenthal’s harrowing experience fleeing Nazi-occupied Germany with her family and best friend, only to discover that the overseas asylum they had been promised is an illusion.

Before everything changed, young Hannah Rosenthal lived a charmed life. But now, in 1939, the streets of Berlin are draped with red, white, and black flags; her family’s fine possessions are hauled away; and they are no longer welcome in the places that once felt like home. Hannah and her best friend, Leo Martin, make a pact: whatever the future has in store for them, they’ll meet it together.

Hope appears in the form of the SS St. Louis, a transatlantic liner offering Jews safe passage out of Germany. After a frantic search to obtain visas, the Rosenthals and the Martins depart on the luxurious ship bound for Havana. Life on board the St. Louis is like a surreal holiday for the refugees, with masquerade balls, exquisite meals, and polite, respectful service. But soon ominous rumors from Cuba undermine the passengers’ fragile sense of safety. From one day to the next, impossible choices are offered, unthinkable sacrifices are made, and the ship that once was their salvation seems likely to become their doom.

Seven decades later in New York City, on her twelfth birthday, Anna Rosen receives a strange package from an unknown relative in Cuba, her great-aunt Hannah. Its contents will inspire Anna and her mother to travel to Havana to learn the truth about their family’s mysterious and tragic past, a quest that will help Anna understand her place and her purpose in the world.

The German Girl sweeps from Berlin at the brink of the Second World War to Cuba on the cusp of revolution, to New York in the wake of September 11, before reaching its deeply moving conclusion in the tumult of present-day Havana. Based on a true story, this masterful novel gives voice to the joys and sorrows of generations of exiles, forever seeking a place called home.

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Now, Armando Lucas Correa reveals the fact and fiction that inspired his debut novel …

John Valeri: What first inspired you to undertake the writing of The German Girl – and how did the process of crafting your debut novel compare to your initial expectations?

Armando Lucas Correa: I started writing a novel about loss, diaspora. The Saint Louis came into play when the father of an 11 year-old girl disappears in New York on September 11th and his family starts delving into his past, where he came from. It was a bit of a puzzle, one piece led to another. When I decided that the Saint Louis was going to be the unifying thread in The German Girl —when I worked and defined that structure— everything fell into place more easily.

JV: It’s been said that “past is prologue.” How is revisiting the Holocaust reflective of this sentiment – and was that a consideration when you decided to make the book a multi-generational saga?

ALC: I’m passionate about historical novels. I grew up horrified by Nazism, the Holocaust. I couldn’t understand it because it happened so close in my own timeline, in our collective history. I could process the savagery of Barbarians from centuries ago, for example, but the Holocaust happened in the 20th Century, in the most civilized continent in the world. What is sad is that history repeats itself. We don’t learn. That’s why I wanted the Saint Louis tragedy to be seen as more than a number, more than 937 passengers who were denied entry into Cuba, the U.S. and Canada only to be returned to hell. This is the story of a girl, a family, with first and last names, who took place more than seven decades ago —a story that has repercussions even today. I wanted my daughter, who is 11—just like Hannah and Anna (she was the inspiration for this character)—to be able to read this story. And just like I once asked myself, her 11-year-old question to me was simple: Why?

JV: You were born in Cuba but immigrated to America. How did that influence your ability to develop Hannah’s character – and what do you believe are the universal truths that inform anybody’s exile experience?

ALC: My grandmother is guilty of my lifelong obsession with the Saint Louis. She was the daughter of Spanish immigrants and was pregnant with my mom when the ship arrived in the port of Havana. She used tell me, as a young boy growing up in 1970 and 1980 Havana, that Cuba would pay dearly for the next 100 years for what it had done to those Jewish refugees.

Later, in 1991, I too became a refugee, someone in exile. The Saint Louis story has followed me throughout my life. It’s something we should all be ashamed of. Look at what’s happening today with Syrian refugees. We are all afraid of one another, afraid of someone who is different, someone whose skin color is different than our, who has a different accent, who worships to a different God.

JV: This story is based on actual events. What are the unique considerations when dealing with fact-based fiction – and how do you endeavor to balance that with creative license?

ALC: I bought all the books in existence having to do with the Saint Louis. I had access to more than 1,000 original documents about the Saint Louis. I reconstructed the ship’s passage day-by-day, not sparing one detail. I studied 1939 Berlin, pre-and-post Revolution Havana seen from the eyes of German Jewish refugee. But it was only after I had turned in the novel to my editor that I travelled to Berlin, Hamburg, Auschwitz and even Havana, and only then did I interview survivors from the ship. I did this because I wanted The German Girl to be my vision of a historical event that has tormented me my entire life.

JV: Your roots are in journalism. In what ways is that both a help and a hindrance when writing a novel? Also, how do you see discipline as factoring in to the craft?

ALC: One of the first things that journalism gave me was a healthy respect for deadlines. I’ve never missed one. Another thing was the need for accuracy in an investigation. Even if I’m fictionalizing something, the historical facts are there. But the most important thing is the structure. I can’t write or even commit to writing if I don’t have a well-conceived structure. My other formation is as a playwright. I started my career as a theater critic. You can see that in The German Girl. Some chapters have a dramatic structure.

JV: You are both a behind-the-scenes force and public face of People En Español. How do you view this as having given you an advantage in terms of both building a platform and understanding the roles of author beyond the actual writing?

ALC: I enjoy my job immensely. I have an excellent team. But at the same time, my job is a business and very stressing at the end of the day. Writing a novel was a type of therapy for me. And yes, having built a social media platform as an editor helps me promote the novel, communicate with the readers. At least I hope it does!

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With thanks to Armando Lucas Correa for his generosity of time and thought and to Mirtha Peña, Senior Publicist at Atria Books, for providing this interview opportunity.

 

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