This striking novel by the author of The Red Tent is based on a dramatic true story: In October 1945, more than 200 "illegal immigrant" prisoners at the Atlit internment camp in Palestine were freed. The story of this rescue, the friendships it forged, and its aftermath is told through the words of four young women who at first seem to share little except their incarceration. Zorah is a concentration camp survivor; Leonie, a Parisian beauty; Shayndel, an ideological Polish Zionist; and Tedi, a formerly hidden Dutch Jew. As always, Anita Diamant constructs her plot with the dignity and moral force of a biblical story. Fiction that makes history real.
Anita Diamant's new novel offers all the satisfactions found in her previous works The Red Tent and The Last Days of Dogtown: rich portraits of female friendship, unflinching acknowledgment of life's cruelty and resolute assertion of hope, enfolded in a strong story line developed in lucid prose. She ups the ante here, chronicling three months in the lives of Jewish refugees interned in Atlit, a British detention center for illegal immigrants to the Palestinian Mandate. Based on an actual eventthe rescue of more than 200 detainees from Atlit in October 1945Day After Night demonstrates the power of fiction to illuminate the souls of people battered by the forces of history.
The Washington Post
Diamant's bestseller, The Red Tent, explored the lives of biblical women ignored by the male-centric narrative. In her compulsively readable latest, she sketches the intertwined fates of several young women refugees at Atlit, a British-run internment camp set up in Palestine after WWII. There's Tedi, a Dutch girl who hid in a barn for years before being turned in and narrowly escaping Bergen-Belsen; Leonie, a beautiful French girl whose wartime years in Paris are cloaked with shame; Shayndel, a heroine of the Polish partisan movement whose cheerful facade hides a tortured soul; and Zorah, a concentration camp survivor who is filled with an understandable nihilism. The dynamic of suffering and renewed hope through friendship is the book's primary draw, but an eventual escape attempt adds a dash of suspense to the astutely imagined story of life at the camp: the wary relationship between the Palestinian Jews and the survivors, the intense flirtation between the young people that marks a return to life. Diamant opens a window into a time of sadness, confusion and optimism that has resonance for so much that's both triumphant and troubling in modern Jewish history. (Sept.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Diamant (The Last Days of Dogtown, 2005, etc.) tenderly portrays four women in transition, from the killing fields of Europe to the promised land of Eretz Yisrael. In August 1945, however, they're stuck in Atlit, a British detention center for illegal immigrants to the Palestinian mandate. "Not one of the women in Barrack C is 21, but all of them are orphans," the author tells us on the first page. Zorah lost her entire family in the first concentration-camp selection. Tedi spent two years hiding in the Dutch countryside, then escaped from a train bound for Auschwitz. Shayndel, a prewar Zionist, fought with the partisans. Leonie was saved from a roundup of Parisian Jews and forced into prostitution. These memories are their constant companions, but people at Atlit avoid talking about the past: "It was all about Palestine." The underground Jewish fighting force plans to break out the detainees and lead them to the kibbutzim. Meanwhile, the camp is riddled with intrigue. The Jewish cook is sleeping with the British commander to gain information, but she also happens to love him. Leonie spots an SS tattoo under the armpit of a crazed new arrival. Shayndel spars with a swaggering Jewish soldier and wonders if all the men in Palestine are this arrogant. Zorah becomes the fierce protector of a Polish gentile who rescued her Jewish employer's son and is raising him as her own. The novel climaxes with the breakout (an actual event), but the real story here is about healing, about being able to love again and to believe in the future. Diamant quietly leads us into her characters' anguish, guilt and despair, then gently shows them coming to renewed life almost in spite of themselves. A movingepilogue traces the four protagonists' paths after leaving Atlit, reminding us that their wartime ordeals and internment were "just the beginning."A warm, intensely human reckoning with unbearable sorrow and unquenchable hope. Author tour to Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Miami, New York and San Francisco
Read an Excerpt
Day After Night 1945, August
The nightmares made their rounds hours ago. The tossing and whimpering are over. Even the insomniacs have settled down. The twenty restless bodies rest, and faces aged by hunger, grief, and doubt relax to reveal the beauty and the pity of their youth. Not one of the women in Barrack C is twenty-one, but all of them are orphans.
Their cheeks press against small, military-issue pillows that smell of disinfectant. Lumpy and flat from long service under heavier heads, they bear no resemblance to the goose-down clouds that many of them enjoyed in childhood. And yet, the girls burrow into them with perfect contentment, embracing them like teddy bears. There were no pillows for them in the other barracks. No one gives a pillow to an animal.
The British built Atlit in 1938 to house their own troops. It was one in a group of bases, garages, and storage units set up on the coastal plains a few miles south of Haifa. But at the end of the world war, as European Jews began making their way to the ancestral homeland in violation of international political agreements, the mandate in Palestine became ever messier. Which is how it came to pass that Atlit was turned into a prison or, in the language of command, a “detention center” for refugees without permissory papers. The English arrested thousands as illegal immigrants, sent most of them to Atlit, but quickly set them free, like fish too small to fry.
It was a perfectly forgettable compound of wooden barracks and buildings set out in rows on a scant square acre surrounded by weeds and potato fields. But the place offered a grim welcome to the exhausted remnant of the Final Solution, who could barely see past its barbwire fences, three of them, in fact, concentric lines that scrawled a crabbed and painful hieroglyphic across the sky.
Not half a mile to the west of Atlit, the Mediterranean breaks against a rocky shore. When the surf is high, you can hear the stones hiss and sigh in the tidal wash. On the eastern horizon, the foothills of the Carmel reach heavenward, in keeping with their name, kerem-el, “the vineyard of God.” Sometimes, the candles of a village are visible in the high distance, but not at this hour. The night is too old for that now.
It is cool in the mountains but hot and damp in Atlit. The overhead lights throb and buzz in the moist air, heavy as a blanket. Nothing moves. Even the sentries in the guard towers are snoring, lulled by the stillness and sapped, like their prisoners, by the cumulative weight of the heat.
There are no politics in this waning hour of the night, no regret, no delay, no waiting. All of that will return with the sun. The waiting is worse than the heat. Everyone who is locked up in Atlit waits for an answer to the same questions: When will I get out of here? When will the past be over?
There are only 170 prisoners in Atlit tonight, and fewer than seventy women in all. It is the same lopsided ratio on the chaotic roads of Poland and Germany, France and Italy; the same in the train stations and the Displaced Persons camps, in queues for water, identification cards, shoes, information. The same quotient, too, in the creaking, leaky boats that secretly ferry survivors into Palestine.
There is no mystery to this arithmetic. According to Nazi calculation, males produced more value alive than dead—if only marginally, if only temporarily. So they killed the women faster.
In Barrack C, the corrugated roof releases the last degrees of yesterday’s sun, warming the blouses and skirts that hang like ghosts from the rafters. There are burlap sacks suspended there as well, lumpy with random, rescued treasures: photograph albums, books, candlesticks, wooden bowls, broken toys, tablecloths, precious debris.
The narrow cots are lined up unevenly against the naked wood walls. The floor is littered with thin wool blankets kicked aside in the heat. A baby crib stands empty in the corner.
In Haifa, the lights are burning in the bakeries where the bread rises, and the workers pour coffee and light cigarettes. On the kibbutz among the pine trees high in the Carmel, dairymen are rubbing their eyes and pulling on their boots.
In Atlit, the women sleep. Nothing disturbs them. No one notices the soft stirring of a breeze, the blessing of the last, gentlest chapter of the day.
It would be a kindness to prolong this peace and let them rest a bit longer. But the darkness is already heavy with the gathering light. The birds have no choice but to announce the dawn. Eyes begin to open.