Most people know little about the fates of survivors and refugees of the gruesome events of World War II. But in Day After Night, Anita Diamant’s 2008 novel, little known historical events are brought to vivid life. The Barista’s Book Club at the Plaza Branch read Day After Night in November, and found it brought out a lively discussion.
Best known for retelling the stories of biblical women in her 2007 book The Red Tent, Diamant again tells the story of a group of women – this time basing her story on the actual historical events surrounding the mass breakout of a detention center for Jewish refugees who were attempting to enter Israel as that country was being established in late 1945.
The four women who make up the core of the story, Leoni, Tedi, Shandell, and Zorah, are all survivors of the war, in one way or another. Leoni, a beautiful Parisian, lived through the occupation of France in ways that she’d sooner forget. Tedi spent most of the war hidden in the Dutch countryside, but that didn’t save her from the ravages of starvation and abuse. Shandell was a Polish partisan, a hero of the resistance, but is the only survivor of her band of fighters. And Zorah, the concentration camp survivor, knows she must care about nothing but herself to survive.
The women, broken by loss and fear, afraid to hope, find themselves at Atlit, a camp run by the British to detain the thousands of Jews who attempted to enter Israel, in defiance of the quota system in place. While most people are quickly released from Atlit, either retrieved by relatives already established in Kibbutzes or having their paperwork straightened out through official channels, Leoni, Tedi, Shandell, and Zorah have no papers, and no families left. Their stay in Atlit stretches far longer than most, and they slowly learn to rely on one another, and even more slowly, to hope. And when the local Jewish population stages a rescue, the women find themselves leading the way.
Many in our book group found the book fascinating for its portrayal of everyday life in this sort of detainment camp, however they found the first half dragged a little. This was primarily due to Diamant’s choice to intertwine very small flashbacks into the ongoing story so frequently that it became confusing to keep characters backstories straight. You occasionally found yourself having to stop and reread a section to make sure you were attributing the actions to the right girl.
The group agreed that the action really gets going in the second half, as Diamant describes the real-life escape of every last Jew from Atlit, over 200 people, with edge-of-your-seat suspense. The group concluded that it was worth the trouble of reading it all for the action of the end.
There was a rousing conversation of Judaism and history as we compared what we knew of the time period to the story of the Atlit detainment camp. We discussed how it would have been nice to have some indication from the author how much of the story was based on historical fact and how much was fiction. But overall, Day After Night was enjoyed by all.
About the Author
Diana Hyle is a reference librarian at the Plaza Branch. To join the Barista's Book Club, which meets the third Wednesday of the month at 7 p.m., e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 816.701.3481. This book group will not be meeting in December. Its January 2011 selection is Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls.
Learn more about all of our Library book groups at kclibrary.org/book-clubs.