Published in September 2019, The Last Train to London is a historical fiction novel by Meg Waite Clayton. The story is a fictionalized account of a real-life pre-World War II hero named Taunte Truus who is determined to save as many children as possible from Germany and surrounding war-threatened cities. Her goal is to bring them to safety whether or not they have the proper documentation required by the respective governments. Stephan Neumann, an ambitious young teenage playwright is dear friends with Zofie-Helene, a mathematical prodigy. Their relationship begins when the Nazis are far-off threats. But as Hitler’s forces advance their innocence and relationship are threatened, as well as the lives and livelihood of their families. As the story progresses, the reader is taken on an adventure. Is their hope for Taunte Truus, Stephen, Zofie, and their families? The characters face peril after peril and come upon many obstacles in their communities, as they race against time towards uncertain, but potentially free, futures.
Generally speaking, I don’t read a lot of historical fiction.
I would say that if I do choose to read this genre, it is because I am very interested in the book, and likely the story is based on a true event or person in history. That was the case with this book and Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate, which is the other historical fiction book I can recall reading and enjoying this year. I was inspired to read The Last Train to London by bookstagrammer Lindsey (@bringmybooks) because she read it and raved about it in her Instagram stories, telling her followers about how interesting it was. Plus, it seemed like a perfect fit for my IRL (in-real-life) book club theme for November, which is to read a novel with a strong female protagonist. Wouldn’t you agree that Tante Truus seems like a pretty boss lady for the pre-World War II era considering her goal? So that is what brought me to reading The Last Train to London.
This book started a bit slow and confusing. There is a lot of characters to keep straight out of the gate, plus you have German, Dutch, and British countries of origin for names. There were very different storylines forming as well. But I powered through. Eventually, the storylines started to connect and the plot began to fall into place. I appreciated the format of the short chapters of this book since it was quite lengthy (over 400 pages). I think that increased its readability, plus it gives you more opportunities to stop reading which is handy when you just get spurts here and there during the day to read (like I usually do).
I was enjoying the book so much that when I got to page 308 of my library copy, and the next page was 341, I was flabbergasted!
I literally looked from page to page and I was feeling very confused. I didn’t know what was happening until I realized there was actually a printing error. An entire section of pages had been missed, but then repeated, and then bound together. So that meant that I couldn’t keep reading! It was a few days before I purchased my own copy and finished the novel. My library’s copies all had to be returned to the publisher, and while I wasn’t sure this is I book I wanted to purchase, I needed to finish the book!
I found this book to be very interesting. It taught me about a historical event that I had no previous awareness or knowledge of. It has inspired me to do some research about the real-life Kindertransport and Truus Wijsmuller. The story seemed to be both character-driven and plot-driven which I enjoyed. I felt I could empathize with all of the characters and their personal struggles. I was rooting for Tante Truus, Stephen, and Zofie-Helene all the way through to the very last page. It was also a bit of a young-love story, which was an added romantic bonus.
My Rating: (4 / 5).
I’d Recommend This Book If:
- you enjoy historical fiction, especially when it is based on a real-life historical event or individual
- you want both a character-driven and a plot-driven story
- you are interested in World War II and/or pre-World War II European settings
- you are curious about Tante Truus and the Kindertransport