The book's based on the true story of the SS Quansa, which left Lisbon just before World War, packed with refugees fleeing the Nazis.
It was bound for New York and Mexico, but in both ports local officials refused passengers entry. The boat then returned to the US in one last desperate attempt to find safety.
Redel tells the story through letters written by 17-year-old Itzak. She describes Itzak's later life through the eyes of his daughter Sarah, who he's never told about about his dramatic escape.
Victoria Redel told Minnesota Public Radio's Euan Kerr the novel is based in part on the experiences of her own father, who was a passenger on the Quansa.