Day After Night by Anita Diamant
|Day After Night by Anita Diamant|
|Category: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Trish Simpson-Davis|
|Summary: A fine and very readable novel set in a Palestinian detention centre at the end of the Second World War. Holocaust survivors wait for papers, flashback to the horrors of their own war, and start to come to terms with an unknown future. That is, until events overtake them.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 298||Date: May 2010|
|Publisher: Pocket Books|
I must confess to cheating on my usual practice of selecting new writers to review. Since I adored Pitching My Tent, I couldn't resist picking up Day After Night. Anita Diamant is of that rare species, an author who everyone seems to enjoy reading. So when I say I loved this book, it's a fairly safe bet that you will too.
First of all, I really liked the unusual pitch for a Second World War novel, set in a detention camp in Palestine in October 1945, soon after the liberation of Europe. The war machine has ground to a halt, leaving millions of bewildered refugees to find their way out of chaos. With huge effort, hundreds of Jewish men and women reach their promised land, albeit as illegal immigrants. Though imprisoned again, Atlit camp is emotionally a halfway house between the past and the future for them. They are at least well-fed and humanely treated by their British captors. With no particular duties and in limbo for an indeterminate period, the women start to come to terms with how life will be for them in the future, safe at last from Nazi persecution, but having lost all their loved ones.
Atlit is not a place where stories are bandied around, but the truth has a way of trickling out to the reader, emerging in little details of tattoos, mannerisms or diseases. As we discover the histories of the four main characters, we find that the horror of war can be presented in many guises.
Survivor guilt seems almost the worst part of the experience, with thoughts as pervasive as the intense pain of a frostbitten foot thawing. Although the characters have emerged from liberated Europe, they are still steeped in their experiences, traumatized and emotionally paralysed by survivor guilt. Each woman reacts differently. Some women grieve their missing families, some set up walls of forgetfulness; others are too damaged to find any survival strategies, now they are 'safe'. Survival seems to have been a random act of chance, yet many survivors constantly ruminate on Fate. Why did I survive when braver and more active friends were gunned down? Why did I happen on the protection that saved me? Why did more deserving family members perish in the Holocaust? Ironically, these questions often lead the women on to doubt the God who has allowed this to happen, whose festivals are now celebrated so joyfully in the camp. Some women ultimately and bitterly reject religion, while others find healing connections with childhood memories and their faith is strengthened.
In time all the women make life-affirming relationships within the camp; all of them change, faced with the generosity and goodness of so many of the other women around them.
The narrative is based on real events occurring at Atlit detention centre. The unexpected story of the breakout is followed from multiple viewpoints, all created by the American author after extensive research. OK, that's basically how all historical novels work their magic. But it's not often that you can call a work of imagination a life-affirming testimony to women's endurance, which is how I felt when I'd finished the book. I didn't actually doubt it's veracity for a second, even though it was entirely fictitious, if you see what I mean.
My only quibble is with the idealized picture of the kibbutzniks, which somehow didn't quite accord with human nature as it really is, particularly when portrayed so realistically elsewhere.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending me this fine story.
Suggestions for further reading:
If you enjoyed this book, I think you might also like Sadie Jones' Small Wars, which has the same interesting knack of looking at war from a different angle.
Recently, I've also had the pleasure of reading The Media Relations Department of Hizbollah Wishes You a Happy Birthday by Neil MacFarquhar, which provides an insight into the Middle East today and an interesting counterbalance to the Israeli position on Palestine.
You can read more book reviews or buy Day After Night by Anita Diamant at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Day After Night by Anita Diamant at Amazon.com.
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