Sunday, September 8, 2019

"The Last Train to London"

Meg Waite Clayton is a New York Times bestselling author of seven novels, most recently The Last Train to London. Her previous novels include the #1 Amazon fiction bestseller Beautiful Exiles; the Langum Prize-honored The Race for Paris; The Language of Light, a finalist for the Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction (now the PEN/Bellwether); and The Wednesday Sisters, one of Entertainment Weekly’s 25 Essential Best Friend Novels of all time.

Clayton applied the Page 69 Test to The Last Train to London and reported the following:
The Last Train to London is based on the true story of the kindertransport effort to get thousands of at-risk children out of Germany and Austria in the years before World War II began, and one extraordinary woman who lead the Vienna transports. That woman— the largely forgotten Dutch hero, Truus Wijsmuller (“Tante Truus”)—literally faced down the young and ambitious Nazi then in charge of Vienna, Adolph Eichmann (who would go on to devise “the final solution”), to bring Austrian children to safety.

Truus was, in real life, incredibly clever, and quite willing to use her wiles when it suited her purpose. The novel opens in late 1936, in the last 15 months that Austria was an independent country and Vienna a progressive city, before Hitler invaded. Part I alternates between Truus’s early efforts to bring small groups of children to safety from Germany, and the comfortable lives of two Viennese teenagers—an aspiring playwright and a young math prodigy he is sweet on.

Page 69 begins a chapter in which Truus is in Germany with her attractive friend Klara, to spirit 30 children across the border from Germany into the Netherlands. Truus has rescued small numbers of children before, but Klara is new to the effort. The two talk in a German train station as they await the arrival of the children:
Truus said, “Now, here is what I would like you to do: The soldier who will be overseeing the boarding of our carriage? Show him your ticket, and ask him in Dutch if this is where you belong. Perhaps you can express confusion that you are not in first class? But not too much confusion. We don’t want him to move you to a better carriage and leave me to tend thirty children alone. If he doesn’t know Dutch, pretend a poor knowledge of German, but enough to make him feel attractive. Do you understand?”

Klara looked doubtful. “We don’t have papers for the children?”

“We do, but it would be better if fewer questions were asked.”

The Dutch entry visas were real, thanks to Mr. Tenkink. The German exit visas might or might not be. Truus preferred to believe they were.
It’s a nice peek at Truus: What she is doing here is quite dangerous, but she plunges forward undaunted, or at least not so daunted as to be stopped. And it is based on a moment from her life.

I was so inspired by Truus—truly a female Schindler, yet a Dutchwoman even my Dutch publisher had never heard of. I hope The Last Train to London does justice both to the children she rescued and to the extraordinary Truus Wijsmuller.
Learn more about the book and author at Meg Waite Clayton's website.

--Marshal Zeringue