Summary: Josef / Just Outside Havana Harbor-1939 / 19 days from home

After the incident with Josef’s father, many small boats come to the St. Louis. There are reporters, people bringing food, and even family members of passengers, but none of them are allowed on board. Evelyn and Renata wave to their father in one of the small boats: he had traveled ahead of them to Cuba. When the policeman who saved Josef’s father returns to the St. Louis, Josef takes his mother and sister to the social hall to meet him. The officer, Mariano Padron, is overwhelmed by the gratitude that the passengers show him, including money. Officer Padron tells Josef’s mother that his father is alive, but sedated: he is not doing well. Officer Padron plays with Ruthie, giving her his beret and having her chase him. Initially, Josef does not want to play, but when he gives Josef his beret and then pretends to be a passenger, asking when they can go to Cuba, Josef says, “Mañana” (tomorrow). Officer Padron feels bad for bringing up the topic.

Summary: Isabel / Somewhere Between the Bahamas and Florida-1994 / 5 days from home

Isabel thinks about the journey as a song again. As the sun goes down, Luis turns off the engine, both to conserve gas and because they are not sure how to navigate by the stars. Isabel’s mother announces that she feels like she is going into labor, but she was in labor for ten hours before Isabel was born. After Isabel’s mother says that she does not have a name picked, everyone in the boat starts giving joke names for the boat itself. Lito suggests “the St. Louis” but no one understands the joke. While floating beside the boat, Iván is attacked by a shark. Those on board pull everyone in the water back into the boat, but Iván’s leg is badly mangled. Iván bleeds to death in the boat, and several more fins appear in the water around them.

Summary: Mahmoud / Lesbos, Greece to Athens, Greece-2015 / 12 days from home

Mahmoud and his family wait in another refugee camp for the boat to Athens. Mahmoud’s mother wants to stay, to ask other refugees if they have seen Hana, but Mahmoud’s father insists that they move on. The ferry to Athens is very large and contains some tourists. Per his father’s suggestion, Mahmoud takes Waleed to explore the boat. When Mahmoud and Waleed come across another refugee praying, they start praying also. Mahmoud cannot understand the words that the tourists are saying, but he knows that they are disgusted. He considers that people do not care about refugees until they intrude on someone’s life. When they reach Athens, it is full of Syrian refugees, and Mahmoud’s father is told that their documents are insufficient to travel farther. Not wanting to wait longer, the family plans to take a train to the Macedonian border and sneak across the border at night.

Summary: Josef / Just Outside Havana Harbor-1939 / 21 days from home

Renata and Evelyne’s father, Dr. Aber, comes to the St. Louis and takes them from the ship. The other passengers become angry, but Captain Schroeder intervenes before there is any violence. He tells the passengers that they have been denied access to Cuba and that they must leave the next day. He promises the passengers that he will try to find somewhere for them to go other than Germany, starting with a cruise along the coast of the United States. Josef asks Officer Padron about his father. Officer Padron explains that Josef’s family cannot go ashore and must leave Josef’s father, because he is not well enough to return to the ship. When the St. Louis leaves Havana Harbor, Josef tears at his shirt collar just as he had done at the funeral, to mourn the loss of his father.

Summary: Isabel / Somewhere Between the Bahamas and Florida-1994 / 5 days from home

Everyone on the boat is overcome with grief. Isabel cannot accept that her best friend is dead. After Lito says a prayer, Isabel’s father and Iván’s father drop his body into the water. Isabel scrambles to find Iván’s hat, wanting something to remember him by. As she clutches the hat to her chest, Iván’s father says that he always wanted to open a restaurant with his sons. On the horizon, they can see the sparkling lights of Miami.

Summary: Mahmoud / Macedonia to Serbia-2015 / 14-15 days from home

As Mahmoud and his family travel by train, they use the maps on their phones to try to figure out the best place to cross the border into Macedonia. Mahmoud’s mother stops at every refugee camp to ask about Hana. A walk through a forest leads to another train station, closed and full of refugees. A taxi driver offers to drive them across the border and all the way to Serbia; even though the trip is expensive, they agree. Once in Serbia, just after sunup, they charge their phones at another train station that is packed with refugees. They take a bus to Belgrade, but once there, find out that the police are raiding hotels looking for illegal refugees. Mahmoud’s father finds another taxi that will take them two hours farther, to the Hungarian border. Mahmoud falls asleep in the taxi, but when he wakes up, they are stopped on a dark stretch of highway and the driver is pointing a gun at them.


In these chapters, Gratz reveals that Lito is involved in both Isabel’s storyline and Josef’s, where he is the Cuban police officer who saves Aaron’s life after he jumps overboard. This overlap in the stories serves Gratz’s theme that anyone can become a refugee. When Lito was a young man, Cuba was a safe and stable country and a place where German Jews sought refuge. When he was onboard the St. Louis, he sympathized with the passengers but did not imagine himself in their position. However, in the intervening years, things have changed in Cuba. Now it is Lito who is a migrant. He is leaving home for safety in another country. And like the passengers of the St. Louis, Lito now waits day after day, hoping to arrive in safety. Just as the Cuban officers told the Jewish refugees every day, the passengers on the Castillo’s little boat tell themselves they will arrive “mañana” – tomorrow.

The shark attack that kills Iván represents the surprising physical dangers of refugee life. There is no warning of the violent attack. Isabel has compared this part of the journey to the bridge of a song. She thinks it is a slow lull before the climax and the coda. While Mami has begun labor, she points out it is likely to be a very long time before the baby is born. They have killed the engine for the night to save gas, saying perhaps they will see Florida “mañana,” and are idly passing the time suggesting names for the boat when Iván screams. This moment shows the sudden violence that can change everyone’s life forever, an aspect of the instability and uncertainty of life for refugees. While much of the book deals with the helpless and indefinite waiting of refugee life, Gratz shows in this scene that even in dull moments, there is always the possibility of great danger.

Although Mahmoud used becoming invisible as a way to stay safe in Syria, in Europe he begins to wonder if his survival depends on being seen. On board the ferry to Athens, refugees mix with tourists enjoying their vacations. When Mahmoud and Waleed join a Muslim refugee praying on the deck, Mahmoud notices the tourists talking about them in tones of disgust. In that moment, he realizes that when refugees are in camps or back in their dangerous home countries, they are invisible and easy to ignore. They become visible to people who are comfortably safe in their own countries only when they become inconvenient, praying in public on ferries despite what tourists think, or sleeping in the streets. This realization marks the beginning of an important turning point for Mahmoud, as he comes to recognize that being invisible isn’t always the safe choice and that in Europe getting to safety may require the risk of visibility.

Despite the passengers of the St. Louis having paid for visas to land in Cuba and passing medical inspection at the port, the government refuses to let them leave the ship, an example of the theme in the book of governments using refugees as political pawns. The Cuban government had previously agreed to allow the passengers to enter the country and find safety there. However, over the course of the book Josef and the others have increasingly come to fear they will not be allowed in. This part of the book illustrates the cruelty of seeing refugees not as people in need of help but helpless people. Despite the visas issued to the passengers of the St. Louis, the Cuban government decides not to allow more Jews in, all but condemning the passengers to death back in Germany.

Josef loses his father, another step in his becoming a man too early in life. As the ship leaves Havana with Aaron still there in the hospital, Josef realizes that although his father is alive, he is dead to the family. As he stands at the rail watching Havana recede, Josef rips his collar in the gesture of mourning his father showed him at Professor Weiler’s funeral, a metaphorical illustration that he is grieving his father as though he had died. The loss of Aaron marks the point in the book when each of the refugees has lost someone they love on the journey. These losses emphasize the unexpected suffering of the journeys the refugees take, part of the theme throughout the book of the physical danger of displacement. None of the families expected to lose anyone journeying to a new home, but the realities of migration are dangerous. Gratz shows through these losses the dangers and difficulties of fleeing to safety.