The Last Year of the War

The Last Year of the War

by Susan Meissner

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The Last Year of the War 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 30 reviews.
Morgan6 18 days ago
The Last Year of the War is another World War II book, but from a different viewpoint. The story begins in Los Angeles, in 2010, as Elise, the main character, is preparing to travel to San Francisco seeking her friend Mariko, whom she met in the 1940s. Elise is beginning to experience symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. Throughout the book, the story jumps between 2010 and Elise's earlier life, beginning in 1943. Elise was born in the United States. Her parents immigrated from Germany, but hadn't yet applied for US citizenship. Elise's father was arrested and accused of being a German spy. Both Mariko's family and Elise's family were interred in the same camp, as enemies of the the United States. This was an enjoyable read and even though it is fiction, it seems to be historically accurate. I learned some facts that I hadn't previously known. I had heard of Crystal City as an internment camp, but was unaware it was located in Texas. I knew many people of Japanese descent were sent to camps during WWII, but wasn't aware that many of German descent were also interred. Nor was I aware that numerous prisoners in US camps were traded for US citizens imprisoned in Europe by repatriating them to their former countries, regardless of whether or not they were US citizens. I recommend this book, especially if you enjoy historical fiction.
Anonymous 29 days ago
Wonderful story about real history and vivid characters. Her novels nevet fail to entertain.
Anonymous 30 days ago
I love historical novels. I love Susan Meissner’s books. And I love WW II novels. Yet this one fell a little flat to me. Was it about internment camps? Was it about Elise and Mariko’s friendship? The war in Europe? Elise’s marriages? It’s hard to say. I think the problem was the story was all over the place. Focusing on one or a few of the story lines would have made it more impactful. Despite some flaws, there are some really powerful takeaways, particularly the treatment of German and Japanese aliens and citizens in internment camps, and the atrocities in Germany during the war. Elise’s marriage to Ralph is too contrived, and her second marriage deserved more attention. Worth reading, although it drags in spots.
lsmoore_43 3 months ago
Two girls who meet at an Internment camp as young teens become fast and deep friends. Both are American, but the country decided that their fathers were plotting to do harm. They were both sent back to the countries where their parents originally came from. It’s a very sad thing to happen to someone who loves this country so deeply. Who only wanted a better life for their family and through no fault of their own they are sent away. Elise and Mariko were born in the US. Families sent to internment camps and as different as night and day. Elise was a German American born in Iowa. Mariko was a Japanese American born in California. They lost touch with each other for many years but neither forgot the other. As they go through their lives they often think about the other and wonder how she is or what she would think about what they are doing. Elise found love in a family of elite in California. Mariko had an arranged marriage in Japan. This book will touch your heart in many ways. Some kindly and some sad. War is such an ugly thing. So many people are hurt in so many ways. It breaks my heart that these young girls had to go through this. That people in our world had to go through this kind of thing. Trusting is hard during wartime’s I’m sure. But to drag a person out of their home after they have been here for so long seems cruel. At least to me it does. This book touched on many subjects that happen during a war. Sometimes they found things to laugh about and celebrate and at other times they were terrified of being killed in an air raid. My heart broke for Elise. She went through a lot for a young girl but she did find love and security eventually. As did Mariko. This book will touch your heart in ways that may surprise you. It sure did mine. I laughed and cried. Celebrated the good times and mourned the bad. The characters were ones you will take to your heart. I didn’t find any that I didn’t like, except maybe a couple of French soldiers up to no good. The Dove family was a wonderful fit for Elise and I like them all. This book was told from two different timelines and from Elise’s voice. Very well written. It makes you feel like you are there with her through it all. The fears, the laughter, the sorrow, the love. All of it. A huge 5 stars. Thank you to NetGalley and Berkley publishers for an ARC in exchange for my complete and honest review.
MelissaGH 3 months ago
Every story I read by this author is amazing. This story touched my heart and brought me to tears at times. I learned information about internment camps in Texas and so much more. Susan Meissner has a way of bringing a story to life and making the reader feel close to the characters. A beautiful, heartwarming and heartbreaking story. Bring the tissues.
Anonymous 3 months ago
Couldnt put it down
rendezvous_with_reading 3 months ago
An American girl comes of age in WW2 Germany I received a free copy of this book from Berkley. This was a book that I couldn't put down! I've read other novels about the experience of Japanese Americans in internment camps, but never about a German family in the camps being repatriated. Though the synopsis focuses on the friendship of Elise and Mariko, this is really Elise's coming of age during the turbulent war years. And her parent's circumstances as Germans who have never bothered to become citizens, allowed for an interesting and unique narrative. I cant imagine how difficult it would be as a child or teenager to go from having a comfortable life in America to finding yourself suddenly placed in a war zone with little food, clothing, or money, and unable to speak the language. I flew through this book, because I found Elise's circumstances so interesting. I don't believe I've ever read a book that considered how the arrival of Allied troops at the end of the war affected the German people. This was my 3rd Susan Meissner book and I easily count her as a favorite author. I appreciate her great storytelling and I can recommend her books with out worry of offending other's sensibilities.
LibrarianSGP 4 months ago
Elise Sontag, the American-born daughter of German immigrants, has been raised in Iowa. She is peripherally aware of the war, but doesn’t give it much thought until her father is arrested on suspicion (based on circumstantial evidence) that he’s a Nazi sympathizer. Although he’s innocent, the country is looking for people to blame for the tragedy of Pearl Harbor and the U.S.’s entry into the war. So, the family is sent to an internment camp in Texas, where, separated from everything that’s familiar and living under armed guard, Elise begins to lose her identity as an American. When she meets fellow internee Mariko Inoue, a Japanese-American teen from Los Angeles, she finally has a friend who she can compare stories with and plan a future together in New York City when they both turn 18. Unfortunately, neither anticipates that their families will be repatriated to their parents’ native countries, leaving behind everything they know and facing great danger as the Allies advance and the war winds down. Will they survive the war and, if so, will they ever make it back home? Unlike Susan Meissner’s three other 5* books I’ve read (As Bright as Heaven, Secrets of a Charmed Life, and A Fall of Marigolds), this one was a disappointment. The premise was intriguing, but the execution was too much narrative and too little dialogue. It read more like a history book than historical fiction and, as such, characters weren’t well-developed and the emotions felt muted. It is a first-person narrative from Elise’s point of view as an old woman with worsening Alzheimer’s, so the focus is on herself with very little of Mariko’s story since she was unaware of what happened to her friend after the war. Meissner clearly did her research and, for those not familiar with the history, it is interesting to learn of the fate of German Americans during WWII and the depiction of life and death in Germany near the end of the war. It is also surprising to learn that prejudice amongst internees was just as fierce as it was outside the barbed wire fences. Unfortunately, the descriptive narrative bogged down the story and, without Mariko’s backstory, the brief reunion of the two friends after many decades didn’t make much sense or pack the emotional wallop one would expect. Overall, not a bad story, but not on a par with her other novels. I received a complimentary ARC of this book from Berkley Publishing Group through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed are completely my own.
ReneeAnn 4 months ago
I always enjoy Susan Meissner’s take on historical drama, where kind-hearted characters help each other overcome life’s tragedies and fight for hope. I’ve read much about the Crystal City interment camp (Train to Crystal City & other books & articles) and found this story to be well-researched. Definetely a worthwhile read for historical fiction lovers!
DdayKM 4 months ago
I am a huge fan of Susan Meissner and this novel just solidifies my love for her writing. Elise is a character that you fall in love with and your heart hurts for her. All that she went through, you feel it while reading the story. Love, hate, war, friendship and so much more create this story. The combination of past and present keep you involved with the character of Elise. I can’t say enough positive things about this novel. . Thank you Susan Meissner once again for being the Queen of Historical Fiction.
SecondRunReviews 4 months ago
I am so disappointed in this book. It's skates the surface emotionally of what it must have been like to live in an American internment camp and forced to repatriate to Germany in the final year of the war. I wanted to care about what was happening to Elsie and Mariko, but the story is just a recitation of what happened with no emotional connection to the events.
SilversReviews 5 months ago
A friendship made in an internment camp during WWII that lasted only eighteen months, but bonds and memories that lasted a lifetime. Elise and Mariko met during WWII while attending school in an internment camp for Japanese and German Americans. We follow both girls through their eighteen months in the camp as well as after even though the friends never saw each other again until they were older adults. They tried to connect with each other, but they never were able to. At this time in their lives, Elise was suffering from dementia, and she found out Mariko was dying from stage four breast cancer. Even though Elise had trouble remembering things, she remembered enough to find Mariko, to get on a plane, and to find her before they both were no longer alive. THE LAST YEAR OF THE WAR is a marvelous history lesson and a testament to enduring friendship and learning lessons and making decisions. The subject matter wasn't light, but it was wonderful learning more about this time in history. I actually wasn't aware of all that happened. It is very obvious that Ms. Meissner did extensive research and perfectly fit the facts into her book. If you enjoy historical fiction and Ms. Meissner's books, you will want to make room on your bookshelf for THE LAST YEAR OF THE WAR. As all of her books, the beautiful flow of Ms. Meissner's writing and her attention to detail make the book a treat to read. 5/5 This book was given to me as an ARC by the publisher via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Anonymous 5 months ago
Elise Sontag, born in Davenport Iowa, is the daughter of German immigrants. In 1943, she is a fledgling teenager when her world is turned upside down as her father, under suspicion of being a Nazi sympathizer is arrested and taken away. With her father’s assets frozen and her mother unable to provide stability for herself and her two children, they are forced out of their home, and months later sent to an internment camp in Crystal City Texas, where they are reunited with Elise’s father. While there, Elise meets and is befriended by Mariko Inoue, a daughter of Japanese immigrants whose family is also detained at the facility. Together they spend the remainder of 1943 and all of 1944 in each other’s company, attending school at the camp, suffering the heat and hardships of their confinement, co-writing the story of Calista, a character created by Mariko, and dreaming about a future they will begin together in New York City, where Mariko will become a theater critic or reporter, and Elise will discover who she is meant to become. In early 1945 the two are separated permanently when Elise’s family is repatriated to Pforzheim Germany. Through the years that follow, Elise experiences the terror and devastation of living in a war zone. She has limited correspondence with Mariko and eventually their letters to each other end. Although Elise’s girlish dreams of the adventure she would have with Mariko in New York City die, her friend’s inspiration that she discover who she is lead her to take advantage of a window of opportunity to leave Germany and return to the United States, where she finds her future. This book successfully imparts the value of family, though all of the families in the novel have serious flaws. Elise’s parents fail to see the impact their choices will make on their children’s lives, Mariko’s parents attempt to control their children, which drives them away, and the Doves exist in shallow naivety. In spite of this, it is the love these family members have for each other that propel them forward. Although I thought this was a wonderful read, I do have a few criticisms to share. I’ll start with the title, The Last Year of the War, which would be 1945. I’m confused about why she chose this phrase when the premise of the novel is the strength of the friendship Elise built with Mariko during the years 1943-1944. I would like to have seen the depth of their bond further developed in the story by revealing more of their interaction while in Crystal City. This would have given more warmth and richness to the story, and also given credence to Elise traveling to see her after having been separated for so many years. Also, I don’t understand why Elise would knowingly fail to tell Pamela and Teddy about her travel plans and insist on making a solo journey to see her friend given her current difficulties. As the daughter of an aging mother who doesn’t think as clearly as she once did, I found this particularly troubling. I was saddened that Mariko apparently never pursued her dream of writing to any extent when it was a gift that was given to her. I disliked the notion that Elise reconnects with Mariko at the last possible moment. I suppose one could assume that Mariko was waiting for her to come before she surrenders herself to death, but still that seems a bit too contrived. On the plus side, Elise is wonderful character, who learns to endure and thrive. I loved that Elise Dove devoted her adult life to projects to
LHill2110 5 months ago
Writing: 4 Characters: 4.5 Plot: 4 An historical novel that plunges you right into the WWII period through the eyes of Elsie Sontag — a ten-year old Iowan girl whose life is utterly upended when her father is unjustly arrested as an enemy alien under Executive Order 9066. We follow her along a tortuous path from Iowa to an internment camp in Texas to an unwilling repatriation to Germany in the last year of the war (she doesn’t even speak German). Each step provides a slap-in-the-face kind of opportunity to learn how labels change the way we perceive and treat others. The book opens when Elise is 81. She is coming to terms with an Alzheimers diagnosis and more than anything wants to find Mariko — the friend she made in the internment camp many years prior. As an aside, I fell in love with this book because of the way Elise anthropomorphizes her disease: “What I feel is that I’ve been saddled with a sticky-fingered houseguest who is slowly and sweetly taking everything of mine for her own. I can’t get rid of her, the doctor assured me, and I can’t outwit her. I’ve named my diagnosis Agnes after a girl at my junior high school in Davenport — Agnes Finster — who was forever taking things that didn’t belong to her out of lockers.” Each of the four parts of the book starts with a scene from elderly Elise’s life as she gets closer to finding Mariko. The rest of the book details her journey: Davenport, Iowa after her father’s arrest (part 1), the largely Japanese internment camp (part 2), Germany during the last year of the war (part 3), and finally, her path to and life in California (part 4). It’s an utterly gripping story — very difficult to put down. Elise’s voice is real and thoroughly human as she struggles to find her place in the world and understand why people behave the way they do. She struggles with finding a place she can call home. The narrative clearly articulates how war affects everyday people who want no part in it and yet are given little choice. I found the historic details to be largely accurate (although I did wonder about a few small details). Surprising plot twists! I believe this would be great for both adults and young adults.
kaitlynspet 5 months ago
The unforgettable, shocking story of two young American girls and how their lives and the lives of their families are affected by World War II. The Last Year of the War tells the story of internment camps in the USA. A very eye-opening gripping story of friendship, good and evil and love and loss. One of my picks for the best books of 2018. Highly recommend to all interested in historical fiction and especially American history.
brf1948 5 months ago
I received The Last Year of the War as a Goodreads Giveaway - Thank you, Susan Meissner, Berkley Press, and Goodreads for sharing your hard work with me. The Last year of the War is an excellent novel, told in the first person of Elise Sontag Dove and set in two time frames - following her diagnosis of Alzeheimers in 2010, which is sandwiched around and through the events of her very convoluted and confusing life from 1943 through VE day and beyond. As an American-born child of German immigrants who had been settled in Iowa for 20 years, Elise at the age of 14 faces separation from her father, an imprisoned chemist deemed to be a threat to America through no fault of his own, with the care and emotional support of her younger brother Max and emotionally frail mother falling mostly on her young shoulders. The following year the family is reunited - by agreeing to family internment in an armed camp in lower Texas, where along with Japanese and South American families the Sontag's spend many months before they are repatriated basically against their will back to a Germany quickly losing the war. Elise can handle almost anything - she is a strong girl - but separation from her best friend Mariko is perhaps the hardest thing she must face. If she can just hang in there until she is 18, she can meet Mariko in NYC where they have plans for their adult life. But Mariko has been repatriated back to Japan. Will they both survive this war to make that reunion? Lots of life lessons in this novel, but hidden very well in the excellent prose. The protagonists are fully graced and wholesome, and the tale lies true to facts in the makeup of the war in Germany's last embattled year. We don't often see things from that side of the picture. This is a book I am pleased to refer to family and friends.
KerryACroucier 5 months ago
An unexpectedly beautiful historical fiction novel set mainly during the final years of World War II and that focuses a spotlight on a more shameful and less talked about piece of United States history from the perspective of a teenage girl who was born in the US to German immigrant parents. When they are sent to an internment camp in Texas, Elise struggles to find her place as a typical American at the internment camp that is home to not only German detainees, but also a large contingent of Japanese detainees. When Elise meets Mariko, a Japanese-American teen, she finds someone who is navigating the same issues and they are instantly inseparable until both families are repatriated. Elise and Mariko had dreams and plans, and being separated wasn’t going to change them. Elise is determined to make it through the horrors of war-torn Germany and return to the country of her birth and find her best friend. This was an extremely well-researched novel, and I enjoyed how the author took the reader on Elise’s journey. The details, descriptions, and emotions were, I think, even more effective as experienced from Elise’s point of view. A teenager already has so many issues while searching for their identity; I can’t imagine dealing with the additional ones Elise faced with the war and her family’s ethnicity and the path they were forced to take. This was my first time reading a novel by Susan Meissner. I enjoyed the story, her writing style, and the way she developed her characters in the story. It was also interesting to learn more about parts of history that aren’t as well-known. If you enjoy historical fiction, I definitely recommend picking up this novel. #TallPoppyWriters #BloomReads #TheLastYearoftheWar
Katie__B 5 months ago
I love how this historical fiction book explored the topic of internment camps in World War 2 as it's something you don't see very often in the genre. To be quite honest it's basically a "let's just pretend it didn't happen" type subject here in the United States. I grew up in the 80s and 90s and I don't ever remember talking about it in school. So I'm glad this author decided this was a story worth telling. It's 1943 and fourteen year old Elise Sontag is living in Iowa with her parents and brother. Even though her German born father has been a legal resident in the United States for two decades, he is still arrested on suspicion of being a Nazi sympathizer. The family is sent to live at an internment camp in Texas where Elise soon meets Mariko Inoue, a Japanese teen who has also been sent to live at the camp along with her family. The two strike up a friendship but as a brutal war rages on, things will never be the same. When I first started reading the book I thought the girls' friendship would be the main focus. While it was a key part of the story, for me the real strength of the book was Elise and her life story. She brought an interesting perspective as someone who has lived her whole life as an American and yet she and her family were treated like the enemy and eventually sent to live in Germany. When the story moved to Germany it brought with it even more tension as you knew from history the war was coming to a close but yet was still bringing destruction. I found this to be a really compelling historical fiction read. It's one of those good ones in which it holds your interest but you also learn a thing or two. The only criticism I have is I expected to feel something more when reading. I thought there was so much buildup with the friendship between the two girls and by the time the story caught up to the present day, it just felt lackluster and almost rushed. In general, while I certainly had enough interest in Elise to want to keep reading, I just never felt a real emotional connection to her. I might be in the minority with that opinion though. Thank you to First to Read for the opportunity to read an advance digital copy! I was under no obligation to post a review and all views expressed are my honest opinion.
CharlotteLynnsReviews 5 months ago
I am a WWII fan. I love the era, I love the heroes, and I love learning about life in the USA during the way. With The Last Year of the War I learn about the internment camps and then I got the bonus of learning about life in Germany as a US citizen while the war was still going on. Elise Sontag is a wonderful character. Even as a child she had such great insight into what was going on in the world. She saw more than she should have, lived a tougher life that she deserved, and still managed to thrive in a time when nothing was easy. When her life was uprooted she stayed strong for a mother who was not able to, cared for her brother, and did her best to keep life happy and easy for her family. She quickly made friends with a Japanese-American, Mariko Inoue, which was unique since most children in the internment camp stayed with “their own kinds”. I found it interested how much the girls had in common, how much they enjoyed each other’s company, all while having such a different upbringing. It showed how much a teenage girl has in common with other teenage girls, no matter what their backgrounds are. The Last Year of the War is an amazing historical fiction book. It is the perfect WWII story, with the telling of life in internment camps, life in Germany during the war, and how life after the war was over was still affected by what happened during the war. It is powerful, it is emotional, and it is an incredible journey.
Elena_L 5 months ago
"The last year of the war" follows the life of Elise Sontag and her friendship with Mariko Inoue. During the WWII, Elise and her family are sent to the internment camp in Texas due to her parents' roots in Germany. Then she meets Mariko, an American-Japanese descendant with who she develops a special friendship. This historical fiction is a remarkable and heart wrenching story: not only mainly focused on the friendship between Mariko and Elise, the author also delivers well the tough situation of German and Japanese descendants in United States. Told between current days and flashbacks, I was deeply invested in the journey of Elise being repatriated to Germany and her way coming back to United States. It was the first time that I read this period of time in German's point of view: we read plenty of Nazism, Jewish persecution and concentration camps related to WWII, however, Meissner gives us another perspective by writing the ostracism suffered by Elise and her family in US as well as Germany. I could intensely feel the rejection as a result of the person's heritage. Furthermore, all the war's reality was vividly described. The characters are utterly captivating and well-crafted - to begin with the friendship between the girls which is so precious and unforgettable. This is a bond that will remain in our minds for a long time. In addition, the romance portrayed in this book is realistic and genuine. The ending is completely moving. To sum up, "The last year of the war" is a beautifully written historical fiction! [I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review]
ColoradoGirl71 5 months ago
I simply loved this book and the characters that Susan Meissner brings to life, by the end of the book they felt like old friends. The historical research is evident but seamlessly woven into a very realistic story. There are broad themes of friendship, love, identity, family loyalty, the damages of war -- all with an important historical backdrop. We meet Elise Sontag when she is an elderly woman and then learn more about her early life as a typical teenager living in Iowa while WWII rages in Europe. Her German father is arrested and sent to an internment camp and the whole family later follows. Elise befriends Mariko – a teenager in the same boat she’s in – Mariko’s parents are Japanese. The girls become fast friends over the long months in the camp, but circumstances force them apart and they struggle to remain in touch. While I had been aware of Japanese internment camps, I didn’t know there were Germans interned as well. Another surprise was that some of these families were sent back to their “home” countries when they had lived in the U.S. for many years. I adored the character of Elise Sontag and cheered for her to overcome the huge obstacles placed in the way of her happiness. I highly recommend this story if you enjoy WWII historical fiction.
LibMom 5 months ago
The Last Year of the War Susan' Meissner's most recent novel The Last Year of the War is a heart-wrenching story told by the main character Elise Dove who is nearing the end of her life. Her story depicts the little known story of German-Americans who were place in internment camps during World War II. Elise's story is unique as she becomes best friends with a Japanese-American girl who is also in the internment camp. The impeccably researched story tells Elise's life as she leaves the internment camp and then lives the remainder of her life. A twist in this story is that the main character has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer's and she has given a name to the disease which she describes as a thief stealing her memories. The Last Year of the War stands out among the many novels set during World War II due to the unique vantage point from which the story is told. We often think of the internment camps as focusing solely on Japanese-Americans. Meissner brings another aspect of these camps and the horrendous civil rights abuses of this time period to the forefront. Disclosure of Material Connection: I received the book The Last Year of the War via NetGalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.
RuthieJonesTX 5 months ago
The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner is a passionate study on humankind’s ability to endure and hope and dream during times of uncertainty, loss, and deprivation. The entire story is told through the adolescent Elise Sontag, predominantly at the end of WWII and just beyond; however, each of the four parts of the book begin with the older and ailing Elise on a final quest to reawaken a dormant friendship formed over her 18 months in the internment camp during the last year of the war. Both Elise and Mariko were born on US soil to parents from Germany and Japan, respectively. The friendship is instant for these two young girls, but their synced moments are fleeting because in the grotesque reality of internment camps, families were often forced to repatriate to their countries of origin. Nothing is fair, and the only beauty in such an unfair place and time is honest and unconditional friendship. Susan Meissner’s writing is musical in its composition of heartache, hardship, and harrowing experiences throughout the story, especially when Elise is separated from Mariko and sent to war-torn Germany with her family. But these girls naively plan to reunite after the war and live their dreams together in Manhattan. Unfortunately, sometimes choices are made for us, and sometimes we choose to shatter the dream. The Last Year of the War is about identity, family, loyalty, friendship, hopes and dreams, guilt and shame, freedom, and home. All of these merge together to form a story that will break your heart but also cause you to reevaluate your own friendships and family dynamics as well as your paths taken and not taken. There is never enough time in our brief lives, but The Last Year of the War reminds us that the time is now to embrace family, find lost friends, and live our best life, despite cruel wars and regretful choices. An added gem in The Last Year of the War is the story Mariko is writing when she meets Elise at the internment camp. After they are separated, Mariko entrusts Elise to finish the story, but Elise is not the writer of the duo, so she keeps the notebook safe for when they meet again. The fictional Calista is stuck in a tower, and the two girls contemplate on the many ways to set her free. This unfinished fable embodies the entire ambience of Susan Meissner’s touching story. Elise and Mariko’s friendship is stuck in time, waiting for the chance to be set free on the wings of love and understanding, waiting for that moment when the two friends can finish their story together. The tears will flow as you read this lovely story, but those tears are not always sad ones. While war kills, wreaks havoc, and separates, it is the everlasting promise that hope will shine once again amidst the despair and destruction that will move you to tears and push you to embrace your own life, family, and friends.
joansreviews 5 months ago
This heart-wrenching new novel by Susan Meissner tells of the story of two American born teen-age girls, who along with their families, are forced in to Crystal City a WWI internment camp in Texas. Elise Sontag from Davenport, Iowa is the daughter of German nationals, while Mariko Inoue’s parents are from Japan though she was born and raised in Los Angeles. Trying to survive the brutal Texan heat and the harsh realities of being wrenched from the lives and forced into confinement, the two girls form a close bond despite their different backgrounds. Both families are eventually repatriated, Elise to Germany and Mariko to Japan, despite the war still raging around the world. The novel than turns to Elisa’s life in a country she has never known, her return to American with the aid of a GI stationed in Germany and her efforts to build a new life for herself in a country that had turned their back to her. Though she loses touch with Mariko, we find during the chapters that deal with the current day, Elise, now an 81-year-old widow, uses the internet to track her friend down, and finally try to find the closure she has always needed. This was an excellently researched and compelling story. The story of the Germans and Italians sent to the internment camps is a new approach and many may not be aware of the forced repatriation to a Germany still being bombed by the Allies. There are many themes addressed in the beautifully written novel: themes of friendship, family, bravery, identity; as well as a new telling of a low point in American history and the treatment of our fellow human beings. Meissner perfectly blends fact with fiction, creating sympathetic characters and a strong sense of time and place. Whether you are a fan of Meissner other work, an historical fiction fan or a literary fiction fan, please pick this one up and share it! This will be in high demand at libraries and with book clubs.
Anonymous 5 months ago
Last year, I read and thoroughly enjoyed Meissner’s book, As Bright As Heaven, so I had some pretty high hopes for this one! And while I did enjoy this one, it reminded me too much of a book that I read last year by Monica Hesse, The War Outside, which shares the Crystal City setting and a friendship of young detainees from opposite sides of the alien enemy camp. The two authors clearly used a lot of the same research material, as there are several identical incidents that take place in both books. But Hesse’s novel is aimed at the YA audience, while Meissner’s book is targeted for adult readers. The two books differ in perspective as well, with the YA book alternating perspectives of the two girls and Meissner’s being largely from only Elise’s perspective and at a bit of a remove with it opening in 2010 and the distance of perspective as she desperately recalls her life in the aftermath of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Born in Davenport, Iowa, Elise’s world is shaken when her German-born father is arrested and eventually the whole family is relocated to the interment camp in Texas. She strikes up an unlikely friendship with Mariko, a Japanese-American girl from Los Angeles. Both girls end up re-patriated – but Elise is taken to Germany in the titular last year of the war. Perhaps because of the more distant perspective, Elise’s life takes on a much more telling than showing feel to it overall and this makes it harder to connect more emotionally to her. Elise’s naivety, despite her tumultuous surrounds can also be frustrating at times. The last section of the novel, detailing her return to America, marriage and entrance into a Hollywood family almost feels like the plot of a different novel altogether. The friendship that is built as the backbone of the book isn’t quite strong enough to prop up this storyline. I really wanted to like this one more, but it was just too predictable to me and the pacing dragged in places. Maybe had I not read and enjoyed The War Outside so much, I would have been more impressed with this one. But, I never felt connected to the characters. I think that WWII has become a tougher backdrop for fiction to feel really fresh, and while I did feel that the section set in Germany was more unique, Elise’s sheltered nature detracted from the book too much for me. Still, I am looking forward to seeing what Meissner will write next!