37 Days at Sea: Aboard the M.S. St. Louis, 1939
Published May 1, 2021
About 37 Days at Sea: Aboard the M.S. St. Louis, 1939
In May 1939, nearly one thousand German-Jewish passengers boarded the M.S. St. Louis luxury liner bound for Cuba. They hoped to escape the dangers of Nazi Germany and find safety in Cuba. In this novel in verse, twelve-year-old Ruthie Arons is one of the refugees, traveling with her parents.
Ruthie misses her grandmother, who had to stay behind in Breslau, and worries when her father keeps asking for his stomach pills. But when the ship is not allowed to dock in Havana as planned―and when she and her friend Wolfie discover a Nazi on board―Ruthie must take action. In the face of hopelessness, she and her fellow passengers refuse to give up on the chance for a new life.
I think I expected this story to be more focused on the fact that Ruthie and Wolfie discover a Nazi on board and figuring out how to get him removed or something. I didn’t feel like that was really a focus for the story, though. It was certainly a cause of tension, though.
The thing that sticks with me most about 37 DAYS AT SEA is the moment when the captain learns they will not be able to dock in Havana as they’d been told before. Wolfie’s dad is on shore in Cuba, waiting for him. His mother, who is on board the ship with Ruthie and Wolfie, becomes so distraught that she can’t get out of bed or stop crying. (This is one of the most intense scenes in the book.)
I think the author does a great job presenting truths about Ruthie’s situation and the events of the time while tempering them for a young audience. Because we stay within Ruthie’s point-of-view, we are a little bit shielded from some of the harsher realities.
On the whole, though, I loved that this book brings us a well-researched novel in verse about real events. I don’t know if there are other books for children on the M.S. St. Louis and her passengers, but I loved getting to read this one.
Recommended for Ages 8 to 12.
Ruthie and most other characters are Jewish refugees.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Some reference to honoring religious practices.
Ruthie remembers the Night of Broken Glass, in which her home was ransacked. She remembers other threats against Jewish people, including the threat to send them all to concentration camps if they return to Germany.
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