This is the heartbreaking story of a Jewish family in 1938 Czechoslavakia. There is Pavel Bauer, his wife Anneliese and their young son, Pepik. Also, there is Marta, Pepik's governess, who has no home or family to speak of, outside of the Bauer's. The story is also told by the narrator, as someone looking for Pepik as an old man; although it is not until the end of the novel that we discover how the narrator and Pepik are connected.
As the war approaches, the Bauer's life begins to change. Pavel can no longer run his factory and Pepik is forced to face the back wall of his classroom, segregated and bullied. The anti semitism is corrosive and seeps into all aspects of the life in the small town the Bauer's live in. Anneliese wants to leave, although Pavel is keen that they stay. You can feel Pavel's disbelief about what is happening, his unwillingness to accept the way his life is changing, his sudden awareness of his Jewishness. His factory, his feeling of confidence in himself, is slowly stripped away, which is hard to read about. Eventually, the decision is made for Pepik to leave on the Kindertransport, with the hope that he will be safe until they can hopefully be reunited.
This was a very moving book. The author takes pains to show what people are capable of in such situations, which bring out the worst and the best of humanity. Ernst, who works with Pavel, and who sees an opportunity for himself. Marta, who both loves the Bauer's and yet feels jealous and abandoned. Pepik, the small and innocent child, so loved and adored. It must have been the hardest decision to send your child alone into a new world, when the unselfish urge to protect your child is stronger than the desperate need to be with them. This was an excellent novel and really thought provoking. It would be a great read for a book group, with lots to discuss and talk about and I am glad that I read it.