Refugee Book by Alan gratz (With Book Summary)

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refugee book Alan gratz

Title: Refugee
Author: Alan Michael Gratz
Originally Published: 2017
No of Pages: 181
Genre: Novel


New York Times Best Selling Book Refugee tells the story of three separate children and their families as they struggle to flee their dangerous homelands in various parts of the world and over the course of three decades. In 1938, Josef and his family evacuate Nazi Germany; in 1994, Isabel and her family flee Cuba; and in 2015, Mahmoud and his family flee Syria.

Josef Landau is a twelve-year-old Berlin resident. His family is stormed by Nazi storm troopers in 1938, and his father is detained at the Dachau detention camp. His mother receives a telegram six months later informing her that her husband has been released, but that the family must leave Germany immediately. Josef, his sister Ruth, and his mother fly to Hamburg to catch a ship bound for Cuba. When Josef’s father returns to his family, they find that Dachau has changed him: he is neurotic and extremely emaciated. They embark on the St. Louis, a massive German ship.

Captain Schroeder and the majority of the ship’s crew treat Josef’s family and the other passengers, all Jewish refugees, well aboard the St. Louis. However, several of the staff openly despise the Jewish passengers, particularly Otto Schiendick, who boldly declares his Nazi sympathies. When the St. Louis arrives in Havana Harbor, Cuba, it is not permitted to dock. Josef’s father’s mental state worsens, and he eventually leaps off the ship, attempting suicide. Officer Padron, a Cuban officer assigned to the St. Louis Police Department, saves Josef’s father. Josef’s father is transported to Havana for treatment. When Officer Padron returns to the St. Louis, the Jewish passengers treat him like a hero. 

Eventually, the captain declares that they will not be permitted to dock in Havana and that the boat will depart. He promises the passengers that he will make every effort to transport them somewhere other than Germany. The St. Louis transports refugees to England, Belgium, the Netherlands, and France. Only a few months after Josef’s family lands in France, the Nazis invade. When the family is apprehended, Josef’s mother is forced to decide which of her children will be released and which will be taken to a concentration camp.

In 1994, Isabel Fernandez is an eleven-year-old girl living just outside Havana. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Fidel Castro’s dictatorship in Cuba has become unpleasant to the majority of its population. Iván, Isabel’s best friend and neighbor, is constructing a tiny boat with his father in order for his family to travel to America. Following a riot in Havana, Isabel’s family chooses to leave Cuba quickly. Isabel sells her trumpet to a fisherman in exchange for gasoline, allowing her family to board Iván’s family’s boat. Isabel’s grandfather, Lito, also joins them. 

The two families endure numerous difficulties as they attempt to cross the Caribbean Sea to Florida. A hurricane washes them to the Bahamas, where they are not permitted to leave; Iván is attacked by sharks and bleeds to death in the boat; and Isabel’s expectant mother goes into delivery toward the end of the expedition. Lito recalls the account of the St. Louis and how, as a young cop, he had to turn away so many immigrants. (From Josef’s account, he is Officer Padron.) 

A US Coast Guard boat tries to intercept the two families just as Miami appears on the horizon. Isabel’s mother gives birth to a boy just as they reach the coast, and Lito jumps in the ocean to distract the Coast Guard. When Isabel’s new school in America requests a song, she performs a Cuban salsa version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Mahmoud Bishara is a twelve-year-old Syrian child living in Aleppo in 2015. For the past few years, his country has been at war with the Syrian government, rebels, the Soviet Union, the United States, and various other factions. After Mahmoud’s home is destroyed, his brother Waleed, sister Hana, and parents go to the Turkish border in the hopes of escaping. Mahmoud’s father informs them that Germany is taking Syrian refugees, and that if they can reach Greece, they will be able to travel within the European Union to Germany. Mahmoud and his family walk to the Turkish border after a brutal confrontation between the rebels and the Syrian government. 

Mahmoud and his family journey through Serbia and into Hungary, where they are incarcerated in a prison-style refugee camp. Mahmoud decides he is tired of being ignored and leads the refugees out of the prison, marching twelve hours to Austria. The migrants are welcomed in Austria, and Mahmoud and his family board a train bound for Germany. They inquire if anyone has seen Hana while traveling. Mahmoud’s family is transferred to a host family in Berlin after a few weeks in Munich. Herr and Frau Rosenberg, an elderly couple, welcome them into their home. Frau Rosenberg approaches Mahmoud and tells him about her childhood: she is Ruth, Josef’s sister. 

Josef agreed to be taken by the Nazis the night they were seized in France; both Josef and their mother were executed in detention camps. Ruth promises to assist Mahmoud in his search for Hana. 

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