Four young women haunted by unspeakable memories and losses, afraid to begin to hope, find salvation in the bonds of friendship and shared experience even as they confront the challenge of re-creating themselves in a strange new country. Based on the extraordinary true story of the October 1945 rescue of more than two hundred Jewish prisoners from the Atlit internment camp outside Haifa.
Many books that I’ve read about World War II take the reader through the war and through the horrors that were part of that dark time in history. But most of those end along with the war, with maybe one final chapter or an afterword to let the reader know a few details of what happened later in the person’s or character’s life.
This book, however, begins after the war, but while memories are still very fresh, while survivors are still desperately trying to sort out exactly what happened and what remains, if anything, of their former lives.
Some of them, without documentation or relatives to claim them, were sent to an internment camp off the Mediterranean coast. The conditions were better than that of the concentration camps, but still they were not free. The people, who had seen and endured so much, were still victims.
While certainly not shying away from the horrific realities of the war, Diamant does a masterful job of reminding the reader just what those might mean to the people trying to find a way forward. She uses an actual place and true events, to create very powerful characters. Even a scene that reads very day-to-day at first catches the reader off guard when the true meaning sinks in.
“Leonie and Shayndel were early enough to get their favorite spot in the dining hall, at a table just to the right of the door, where they could watch people come and go. The other girls from their barrack joined them there and, as always, everyone ate a little too much bread a little too quickly.”
Even while immersed in this powerful book, I still couldn’t wrap my mind around the idea that people, who had survived some of the most powerful evil the world has known, were still not free. Barring the fact that few had homes and families to return to, they weren’t allowed to. Think for a moment, of people fresh from death camps, arriving at Atlit:
“All the newcomers stood, huddled together, staring at the biggest structure in Atlit, an imposing wooden barn that the inmates had dubbed “the Delousing Shed,” or just “Delousing.” Prison guards and translators from the Jewish Agency were trying to move them into two lines: men in front of the doorway at the right, women in a queue by a door on the left. Tedi caught the strong, sweat-soaked smell of fear even before she saw the faces fixed in horror at the spectacle of men and women being separated and sent through dim doorways on their way to unseen showers.”
Can you even imagine? I just wanted to go back in time and scream at whoever’s idea this was!
And later, I felt the same fierce delight as Tedi did as an escape from Atlit was planned and carried out. “As the truck started to climb the side of the mountain, Tedi inhaled the tang of pine and the mulch of fallen leaves and a hundred other scents: tree sap and resin, pollen from six kinds of dusty grasses going to seed. The soldiers up front added dark notes of leather, tobacco, onion, whiskey, sweat and gunpowder. It was a wild mixture, the aroma of escape. She caught Leoni’s eye and grinned. “It smells like heaven out here.”
I know that what many readers may take away from “Day After Night” will be the voices of the main characters: Tedi, Leoni, Zorah and Shayndel. As in “The Red Tent”, Diamant does a wonderful job of giving words to the voiceless – in this case, four women from a fading picture in an archive.
But I take away another reminder, all these years later that the grief, pain, fear and despair of those who lived through World War II, did not end when the battlefields fell silent.
“She leaned against the wall and sank slowly into a crouch, her arms folded over her head, as the icy stream stripped away the last of her defenses, motherless, brotherless, and weary to the bone, weeping for the losses she had counted and remembered and for numberless, nameless injuries registered in her flesh.”
No longer imprisoned, but never truly free.
Instead, what I found were rather perfunctory character sketches; bit by bit, the full details of each woman's life is revealed. The writing was good, but the characters and situations were two dimensional and ultimately this is a book that did justice neither to its characters nor to the historic events. "Exodus" isn't a great novel either -- too much of a potboiler -- but there's more meat there than you'll find here. Even the parts that should be full of dramatic tension (is a woman with a Jewish child Jewish herself? Has a former camp guard smuggled herself into the midst of the victims to hide herself?) turn out to be too easily and patly resolved.
It does not make me proud that the British were involved with detaining these war-weary people who had suffered so much. Survivors of WW II concentration camps, women forced to prostitute themselves to the enemy to survive, others who had been forced into hiding, freedom
Anita Diamant did a good job of highlighting this slice of history but I didn't feel particularly involved with the four main characters who she choses as her protagonists. I agree with the reviewer who felt they were a bit shallow; I found them rather disjointed and sparse.
Shayndel, Leonie, Tedi and Zorah were thrown together in the internment camp of Atlit after WW II, herded into the 'delousing shed' and then housed in dormitories while the authorities decided what was to become of them. The lucky ones had family in Palestine and were allowed to join them but many knew no-one and had followed the dream of a new life, only to find something rather more like what they had escaped.
This was certainly worth the read but falls short of the supremely high standard Ms Diamant set herself with The Red Tent.
I really enjoyed this book. I suppose that part of the reason is because I am Jewish and have family members who worked on kibbutzes in Israel. I've never had the chance to speak much with them about that time in their lives, so it was interesting to get a glimpse of what their lives might have been like. I also thought that the characters were done well; none of them were quite stereotypical, and each one of them were carrying burdens of guilt and shame and remorse for their actions during the Holocaust.
I'd recommend this book to anyone who is interested in this period of time.
The losses suffered by these women during the holocaust, and their desire to find a new home, build new lives, sometimes seems to be their only common ground. Diamant wills onto the page four principal, disparate characters in Shayndel, Leonie, Tedi and Zorah, each with their own powerful story; each trying to find a path from the past into the future and though Anita Diamant clearly researched her book thoroughly, this is a much a tale of friendship, life, joy and mourning as it is a lesson in the Jewish post-war resettlement in Israel; both moving and fascinating.
It is difficult to say that I ‘enjoyed’ this book – for one thing, the renewed awareness of the imperfect role of the British when it came to war administration was rather uncomfortable – but it is sad and redeeming and human and brave and makes the reader marvel at how life blossomed from the ashes of places like Auschwitz, how these women struggled out from under the enormity of the loss and fear and shame, and faced what was ahead.
My Opinion: The first three thirds of the book were very boring and confusing - I often confused the four main characters. It is a slow read and I do not recommend it.
A wonderful story, recommended to everyone!
Diamant’s triumphant novel is an unforgettable story of tragedy and redemption that reimagines a singular moment in history with stunning eloquence.