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The Other Half of Life: A Novel Based on the…

The Other Half of Life: A Novel Based on the True Story of the MS St.…

by Kim Ablon Whitney

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In 1939, Germany was controlled by the Nazis. On May 13, the passenger cruise ship MS St. Louis left Hamburg, Germany with over 900 passengers, most of whom were Jewish people escaping Nazi persecution. Their destination was the island of Cuba. This historical fiction novel is based upon the events of that voyage. Thomas is just 15, and traveling alone on the MS St. Francis to go live with his stepbrother in Cuba. His Jewish father was sent to a concentration camp, and his non-Jewish mother couldn't afford to buy two tickets for the trip. Thomas meets Priska, who is traveling with her family, and as they get closer to Cuba the questions and problems begin to increase. Some of the crew on the ship are Nazis, but the captain is not, and the situation becomes intense at times. Upon reaching Cuba, the ship is stopped, and then refused entrance to the harbor. Will they be allowed into America? Will they have to return to Germany and almost certain death in the camps? A gripping story based on true events. Well researched and written, this is an interesting and little-known chapter of Holocaust history. 7th grade and up, especially appropriate for 8th grade. ( )
  KarenBall | Sep 23, 2011 |
This book is a must on every school shelf. I had never heard of the MS St. Louis before reading this book. I could not imagine being in Thomas’ shoes and being the only one from my family on a ship that was to take me to safety. Thomas’ father was taken to a concentration camp because he was a Jew and his mother, being a Christian had only enough money to buy the safe passage for her son. On board he meets Priska and becomes her friend. She reminded me of Anne Frank with her positive outlook, believing that there was good in everyone and everything. Thomas seemed to have a more realistic outlook. He didn’t exactly trust all of those around him as Priska did.
This for me was an emotional ending. I loved the timeline that was placed at the end of the book. I also loved all of the sources that were listed at the end. It will prove valuable. ( )
  skstiles612 | Jun 30, 2010 |
Reviewed by Allison Fraclose for TeensReadToo.com

It's 1939, and things have steadily grown worse for the Jews of Germany.

Fifteen-year-old Thomas Werkmann has witnessed firsthand just how cruel the Nazis can be, and his mother has scraped together the money to send him to Cuba on the tourist boat, the MS Francis, along with over 900 other Jews hoping to escape persecution. Upon their leaving in Hamburg, Thomas is unwillingly befriended by the two daughters of a German literature professor.

Although jealous of the Affeldts and the fact that their family has managed to escape the country together, unlike his own, Thomas finds himself drawn to the 14-year-old Priska, regardless of her seemingly foolish optimism and overly friendly nature.

During their two-week voyage across the Atlantic, Thomas - and eventually Priska - grow suspicious about several things that seem to be happening on their ship.

Why is the crew treating the Jews with respect when Jews aren't considered citizens anymore? Why is the ship steward, Manfred, so friendly with them - Priska in particular - when he's a member of the Nazi party? Why was the Nazi general, Herr Holz, assigned to this ship when he carries a cane to get around, and why does his injury seem so fake to Thomas?

Before the ship enters Cuban waters, rumors begin to circulate, and Thomas and Priska do a little investigating of their own. Is it possible that there might be even bigger problems that may delay their entry into Cuba...and freedom? Although Thomas excels in chess, this may be one game where, as a pawn, he may never be able to win.

This story, based on the true account of the MS St. Louis, surprised me, as I had not heard about this incident prior to reading THE OTHER HALF OF LIFE. Poignant and heartfelt, the cast of characters on this ship will stick with the reader long after they've closed the cover. ( )
1 vote GeniusJen | Oct 12, 2009 |
In May 1939, fifteen-year-old Thomas along with over 900 Jews began their voyage from Nazi Germany to Cuba. Thomas must go on this voyage alone because his family can only afford one ticket. His father is imprisoned in Dachau, while his mother will be safe because she is Christian. In Cuba, Thomas will meet up with his half-brother. On the SS St. Francis, Thomas meets Priska, a fourteen-year-old girl who is traveling with her parents and younger sister. When he is not spending time with Priska and other kids, Thomas spends time playing chess. However soon, Thomas becomes suspicious of some of the crew members. Why would Nazi members treat Jews so well?

The Other Half of Life is based on the true story of the MS St. Louis. Before I read this novel, I had never heard of the MS St. Louis. I guess the magnititude of the other events of WWII make this story seem too insignificant to mention. :/ Anyways, I really enjoyed The Other Half of Life. Whitney really did her research! At the end of the novel, there is also a bibliography. It’s always harder to find information on little-known events, but the amount of information in this novel was great. The amount of facts, however, did not make the novel seem like textbook either. While reading this book, I felt transported to another time.

The characters were also great. I really enjoyed the differences between Thomas and Priska. Thomas knows everything in the world cannot be trusted. Priska, on the other hand, has a carefree, optimistic point of view. The novel also included chess. I know how to play chess, but I am not a great player. Reading about Thomas’s chess strategies was interesting. The only thing I did not like about The Other Half of Life was the epilogue. The book really did need an epilogue, but it just seemed kind of out-of-place. The feeling I got after reading the epilogue reminded me very much of the feeling I got after reading the epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, if you know what I mean. ( )
1 vote koalatees | Jun 18, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375852190, Hardcover)

A heartbreaking novel based on the true story of a World War II voyage.

In May of 1939, the SS St. Francis sets sail from Germany, carrying German Jews and other refugees away from Hitler’s regime. The passengers believe they are bound for freedom in Cuba and eventually the United States, but not all of them are celebrating. Fifteen-year-old Thomas is anxious about his parents and didn’t want to leave Germany: his father, a Jew, has been imprisoned and his mother, a Christian, is left behind, alone. Fourteen-yearold Priska has her family with her, and she’s determined to enjoy the voyage, looking forward to their new lives.

Based on the true story of the MS St. Louis, this historical young adult novel imagines two travelers and the lives they may have lived until events, and immigration laws, conspired to change their fates. Kim Ablon Whitney did meticulous research on the voyage of the St. Louis to craft her compelling and moving story about this little-known event in history.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:41 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

In 1939, fifteen-year-old Thomas sails on a German ship bound for Cuba with more than nine hundred German Jews expecting to be granted safe haven in Cuba.

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