In the 1930’s it was nearly impossible for German and Austrian Jews to obtain visas to gain safe passage to other European countries due to strict immigration laws. After 1938’s Kristallnacht, the grim reality facing Jews in Nazi-controlled countries became much more apparent, and some humanitarian efforts were made to move Jewish people, mainly children, to safety. In 1938, Sweden opened its borders to 500 Jewish children. A Faraway Island is a fictional story based on these events, and tells of Jewish sisters Stephie and Nellie who are sent by their parents from Vienna to live with strangers on a remote Swedish island.
Author Annika Thor creates a realistic slice of 1930’s Swedish country life, and effectively shows protagonist Stephie’s discomfort away from her parents and familiar routines and surroundings of upperclass Vienna. The plot and characters are believable, and show Stephie struggling with small issues, like learning to ride a bicycle, and large issues, like the separation from her sister who is taken in by another family, questions about religion, and worry and frustration with her inability to help her parents. There are a few awkward moments in Schenk’s translation, but none are significant enough to override the plotline or characters.
Children ages and ten and up, particularly those who are fans of realistic historical fiction stories like Montgomery’s Anne books or Wilder’s Little House series, will enjoy A Faraway Island. Similarly, A Faraway Island is the first in a four book series about Stephie and Nellie, two of which are now available in English.
2010 Batchelder Award Winner
A Faraway Island. By Annika Thor. Translated by Linda Schenk. Delacorte Press, 2009. 247 pages.