Rachel’s father works long hours, and her mother is ill and needs frequent time alone. The family lives in Haifa at the top of Mount Carmel in the year 1940. They recently moved to the area, and are far from Rachel’s friends and her warm, loving nanny. Her new nanny, Mrs. Naiman, seems sullen and quiet until the day Rachel is finally able to engage her in conversation. It is then that she learns about Mrs. Naiman’s connection to a ship called Patria.
The Patria was docked in the port of Haifa, filled with Jews trying to escape from Europe to Palestine. The British, refusing to issue entry visas, attempted to divert the ship to the island of Mauritius. To prevent this, the Haganah placed a bomb aboard the Patria, hoping that it would cause damage and delay the ship long enough to get the Jewish refugees into Palestine. But the ship’s poor infrastructure caused extensive damage, killing 267 people and injuring 172.
The ending of the story is so abrupt that the reader must go back and see whether something has been overlooked. Awareness of historical events like the British effort to keep Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler from making landfall, and the British Mandate in Palestine, is necessary to understand the book’s context. Additional background information would be useful.
The beautiful, softly colored illustrations vividly depict the main character, her nanny, and the explosion of the ship in the port. The Patria’s story is not widely known and the book makes a valuable contribution to collective memory in telling its tale.
Recommended for ages 10 to 12.