About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

#52 - Day After Night

Day After Night, by Anita Diamant (New York: Scribner, 2009).

Jacket summary: "Just as she gave voice to the silent women of the Old Testament in The Red Tent, Anita Diamant creates a cast of breathtakingly vivid characters -- young women who escaped to Israel from Nazi Europe -- in this intensely dramatic novel.

"Day After Night is based on the extraordinary true story of the October 1945 rescue of more than two hundred prisoners from the Atlit internment camp, a prison for 'illegal' immigrants run by the British military near the Mediterranean coast south of Haifa. The story is told through the eyes of four young women at the camp with profoundly different stories. All of them survived the Holocaust: Shayndel, a Polish Zionist; Leonie, a Parisian beauty; Tedi, a hidden Dutch Jew; and Zorah, a concentration camp survivor. Haunted by unspeakable memories and losses, afraid to begin to hope, Shayndel, Leonie, Tedi, and Zorah 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.

"This is an unforgettable story of tragedy and redemption, a novel that reimagines a moment in history with such stunning eloquence that we are haunted and moved by every devastating detail. Day After Night is a triumphant work of fiction."

Opening lines: "The nightmares made their rounds hours ago. The tossing and whimpering are over."

My take: There will never be another Red Tent, but Diamant is still a darned fine writer, and I give her credit for taking a new approach to Holocaust fiction. There are many books out there that look at victims' and survivors' experiences during the war, but far fewer that ask what it meant to have survived, and what happened next.

Here, the characters are alive, but not yet free. Rather, they're stuck for who knows how long in the Atlit internment camp, technically in Israel but not really -- at least, not yet. Technically, they're in the British mandate of Palestine, almost 3 years before Israel proclaimed its independence, and have already learned before the story opens that despite all they've survived up until this point, the Brits still consider them illegal immigrants -- hence, the camp. If that's not enough, each woman struggles quietly with her own demons. Shayndel, hailed as a war hero for her role in the Polish Zionist movement, can't accept others' praise when she's convinced it's her slowness that got her two best friends killed. Her dearest friend Leonie is terrified that someone will learn the truth about her life in Paris, and that she'll be shunned if this happens. Blonde, blue-eyed Tedi, raised by an uncle who never mentioned her religion except to disparage it, struggles to learn the language and practices of Judaism for the first time. And Zorah, who survived the camps by walling herself off from everyone else, finds her stoic isolation put to the test by two unlikely intruders: camp guard Meyer, whose conversation proves almost as stimulating as his cigarettes, and Esther and Jacob, a newly-arrived mother and child with a secret of their own and a desperate need for Zorah's gift with languages.

As the jacket suggests, the women (and many others) do ultimately leave Atlit, and begin in earnest their post-war lives. I closed the back cover wishing I knew more than the brief epilogue tells us, which I guess is a sign of a good novel.

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