Even though this book was published more than 50 years ago, Lore Segal's autobiographical novel is a story about refugee children that still resonates today. When the United Kingdom took in over 10,000 children, mostly Jewish, from Germany, Austria and other east European countries, and placed them in the care of foster families, Segal was part of the Kindertransports.
Speaking through her narrator, this is the story of a 10-year-old girl who, with other children, was put on a train and transported to England to be safe and secure after Hitler annexed Austria in 1938. Seen through the eyes of a child, but conveyed through the almost clincal voice of an adult, this young girl observes the customs, ways of life and class-consciousness of the families in whose homes she temporarily lives. Although safe from privation and death, as a child she was uprooted from her parents, family, community, country and language. Placed in numerous foster homes, Jewish and gentile, Lore Segal portrays first-hand knowledge, experience and emotion about what it is like for a young child to learn another language, adjust to various new families, and also be responsible for seeking the extrication of her parents from another country, Austria, under the dictatorship of one of modern history's most demonic rulers. The young girl is scared, curious, observant and displays a wry sense of humor. She submerges a good deal of emotion so as to show her appreciation for being taken in, and does her best to behave and be a good child.
When the book was first published in 1964, there were reviews that commented about how cold the protagonist was. However, as time passed fresh views of this book elicited a new perspective. This "coldness" is the price that is paid for any childhood that is interrupted, when responsibility for others weighs heavily on small shoulders, and frightened children do not have the fortitude and resilience to see beyond the overwhelming and intimidating present.
Lore Segal had an inner core of strength that she did not know about, and in the cold bleak English winter of 1938, she wrote a letter, one that she says, " ... was a tearjerker full of symbolisms ... " and found its way to a refugee committee, and got her parents visas to England. The letter secured her parents lives, but it also was her tender roots as a writer.