A faraway island series by Annika Thor

Hello all, this week my review is about a group of stories featuring a pair of sisters from Austria who find safety in the wild coast of Sweden during the Second World War. I hadn’t realised that the child evacuation program they had in those years had extended to different countries until I read this book. Stories of siblings along based on historical events always tug at my heartstrings so I hope you enjoy my review below!

Four-grid top left two girls facing left edge sea and hills behind them next box young girl in blue dress in front of lily pond bottom left Deep Sea letters in front of girl's back in dark coat last box A faraway island series
A poignant read

Titles: A faraway island, The lily pond, Deep sea

Author: Annika Thor Translated from Swedish by Linda Schenck

Publication details: Delacorte Press; NY, 2009, 2011, 2015

What these books are about: It’s the summer of 1939. Two Jewish sisters from Vienna, twelve-year-old Stephie Steiner and seven-year old Nellie, are sent to Sweden to escape the Nazis. They expect to rejoin their parents in six months and flee together to America. But as the war intensifies, the girls must remain with their host families, on a rugged island off the western coast of Sweden. The first book, A faraway island tells of how each sister adapts to their new situation. Young Nellie quickly settles in to her new surroundings but Stephie finds it harder and worries more – mainly for her parents, and whether she will ever see them again. We meet them a year later in The lily pond where they have finally adapted to life on the Swedish island they call home. Stephie has enrolled in a school on the mainland and finds herself falling in love. While navigating a sea of new emotions, Stephie must grapple with what it means to be beholden to others and discover who her true friends are. Deep sea takes us four years ahead and the Steiner sisters are older but still finding their place. Stephie struggles with her faith, and Nellie is more distant from her sister, and growing up to become a troublesome child.  

My review: A gorgeous story of the Second World War in Sweden and the refugee children that called it home. Some really good characters depicted here with an interesting story. The one thing that struck me was the influence of the Pentecostal religion on the two girls. Stephie’s struggle with this quite vividly described. I hadn’t known much about this until now. Reminiscent of the Anne of Green Gables style of story but truly unique in the portrayal of the wildness of the Swedish coast and the people who lived there at the time. According to the author’s note, the story is loosely based on her mother’s story. Apparently 500 children and young people were brought to Sweden from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia. And more than half of that ended up spending the rest of their lives there. Most managed to get an education and job and have a family. Despite the pain of losing their loved ones in the war, these young refugees broke their silence fifty years after their escape to tell their stories. Annika Thor interviewed about twelve of the real refugees as well as her parents to bring us Stephie’s tale. And with her signature style of unique storytelling, Annika Thor gives her readers a better understanding of the vulnerable situation in which refugee children continue to live in. I found the second and third stories even more interesting as they described the blossoming life of Stephie along with the Swedish class system that was evident during those years and the extent of human bravery. Great to find out that Swedish TV had adapted these books into a popular TV-series. An inspiring collection of books!!

My rating for all three: 5 ⭐

Additional notes: A Faraway Island has won the Mildred L. Batchelder Award for an Outstanding Children’s Book originally published in a foreign language in 2010. The Lily Pond was nominated for the Mildred L. Batchelder in 2012. 

One last note: Apparently there is a fourth companion book titled The Open Sea which more or less wraps up the series. 

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