Summary: Josef / Off the American Coast-1939 / 21 days from home

From the St. Louis, Josef can see Miami on the American coast and wonders why the United States will not let them in. Most of the children still play at the pool, but the adult passengers are too defeated to socialize. Josef is surprised when his mother puts on makeup, wears a party dress, and goes to the dance hall. When he questions her, she asks him if he knows why he is named Josef. She tells him that her brother’s name was Josef, and he died in France, in the Great War (World War I). She tells Josef that he must choose to live life as a ghost, or he can dance. Josef does not understand. 

There is an announcement that the St. Louis is heading back to Europe. The passengers become upset and start arguing with the crew. A man named Pozner pulls Josef aside and asks if he was one of the children that got a tour of the engine room and the bridge. When Josef tells him that he was, Pozner tells him that some of the passengers are planning to storm the bridge and force the captain to run the boat aground on the U.S. coast. Josef thinks it is a terrible plan, but Pozner tells him that they will need Josef to show them the way to the bridge.

Summary: Isabel / Off the Coast of Florida-1994 / 5 days from home

Seeing Miami, Isabel starts to cry, out of relief and because Iván got so close but did not make it. Something on the boat breaks, and the crafts start taking on even more water; everyone except Isabel’s mother starts to bail water. Isabel realizes that the engine is weighing the back of the boat down, so she and Amara break it free and toss it over the side of the boat. An argument a about how to reach shore without the motor is interrupted by a siren. A United States Coast Guard vessel calls to them in Spanish: they are going to be boarded.

Summary: Mahmoud / Serbia to Hungary-2015 / 15-16 days from home

The driver of the taxi demands 300 euros from Mahmoud’s father, more than double what they agreed to pay him. After Mahmoud’s father pays the man, he forces them out of his cab and drives off. Mahmoud collapses to the ground and cries, overwhelmed with exhaustion and the terror of having a gun pointed at his face. He apologizes to his mother for giving Hana away, but she tells him that he actually saved Hana. After Mahmoud recovers, they walk to a bus stop and take a bus to the Hungarian border. 

The Hungarians are building a chain link fence with razor wire to keep refugees out. Several groups of refugees run at the fence, shouting that they are not terrorists and that they just want to get through to Germany. Mahmoud is pleased that the refugees are finally standing up for themselves, but he becomes frightened as he and his family are caught in the crowd surging toward the fence. The Hungarian soldiers fire teargas into the crowd, and Mahmoud’s eyes start to burn. Gasping for air, Mahmoud thinks that he will die.

Summary: Josef / Somewhere on the Atlantic Ocean-1939 / 22 days from home

Believing that it is his responsibility to keep his mother and sister safe, Josef has agreed to help Pozner take the bridge. Carrying metal pipes, Josef and nine other men grab the first officer, Ostermeyer, and force him onto the bridge. They surround the few officers on the bridge and make them call the captain. When Captain Schroeder arrives, he speaks calmly. He tells the ten mutineers that his crew will not take their orders, and none of the mutineers know how to steer the ship. Captain Schroeder tells them that he will forgive their attempt if they go back to their cabins and do not try again; he also promises that he will do everything that he can to take them to England. Josef feels like arguing, but the other nine men agree.


Pozner’s request that Josef join the team planning an attack on the bridge to take control of the ship continues the theme in the novel of child refugees being required to take on adult roles too young. Pozner needs Josef because he is so close to childhood: the children on board the ship are the only passengers that can find the bridge, since they were taken on a tour of the ship. However, he appeals to Josef as an adult, pointing out that he has had his bar mitzvah and is now a man. When the mutineers gather, Josef watches wistfully as the younger children play by the pool. He wishes he were still a child and could join them. However, when the group is on the bridge, he finds himself frustrated that he is too young to make decisions for the group. While the other men agree to end the mutiny after Schroeder gives his word to do everything possible to get them to England, Josef is frustrated and wishes he could say no. In this scene, Josef is caught uncomfortably between childhood and adulthood.

In this section of the book, the U.S. Coast Guard appears in two storylines, in both cases watching refugees and trying to prevent their reaching safety in the United States, which continues the theme of governments working against refugees rather than helping them. As the St. Louis passes the Florida coast, the ship is observed by curious reporters and photographers. The ship is also escorted by a U.S. Coast Guard cutter. While the younger children believe it is there to rescue anyone who falls overboard, Josef realizes the boat is there to prevent the ship steering towards Miami and landing there. Just as Isabel’s boat has nearly reached Miami, while they are frantically bailing out water, the Coast Guard arrives, again, not to save them from their failing boat but to prevent them from reaching safety in the United States. Under the wet foot/dry foot policy, if the Coast Guard captures them before they reach the shore, they will be deported to Cuba. Both moments are examples of the U.S. government working to keep refugees out of the country, rather than helping them get to safety.

In these chapters, both Isabel and Josef first see Miami, which appears beautiful to them. For Isabel, it is like a city in a dream, as if Iván has opened the gates of heaven for them to look in. Josef and Ruthie see the buildings and boats of the city and also the vacant land outside it, so much land that Josef cannot imagine why the United States will not let them in to live there. These moments show the theme in the book of the hope refugees have of arriving in a safe place. Both Isabel and Josef have had difficult journeys, and both see the hope of a better and safer life in Miami. However, for both of them, the beautiful city is unattainable as the St. Louis is forbidden to land and Isabel’s boat begins sinking. In these scenes, Miami symbolizes the dream of refuge that is just out of reach.

Captain Schroeder, who commands the St. Louis, is an example in the text of a person who has sympathy with the refugees and does what he can to help them. Throughout the story, he makes efforts to get his passengers to safety, and he treats them with respect while they are on board the ship, a marked difference from the way they are treated in Germany. At Josef’s bar mitzvah, he agrees to remove the portrait of Hitler, and when Professor Weiler is buried at sea, he defies German law by allowing him to be buried without being wrapped in a swastika flag. He tries hard to win the refugees’ admittance to Cuba by getting there ahead of the other ships of refugees, and when they rise up against the policemen who prevent their landing, he defends the passengers and ejects the police. Even when Pozner’s group mutinies, he does not charge them for the crime and commands Ostermeyer not to fight back, preventing them from being sentenced to return to Germany. Although he does not succeed in getting the passengers to safety in Cuba or the U.S., he works hard to keep them out of German hands for as long as possible.