Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Book review: Day After Night

Image from here
I just finished reading the book Day After Night by Anita Diamante.  I loved The Red Tent and have been waiting for her to write something else that I enjoyed as much as I did that.  I had seen Day After Night at the library a few times, but had been reluctant to read it because it's set during World War 2.  And while I find that time period extremely interesting, I teach an entire class about it the Holocaust so I sometimes get tired of reading about it.

I was completely surprised by this book because it introduced me to a part of history that I had never even thought about: What happened to the Holocaust survivors after they were liberated from the concentration camps?  The book is told from the point of view of four different women - Leonie, Tedi, Shayndel, and Zorah - who meet at an internment camp in Palestine that is run by British soldiers.  During each section that a girl narrates, you find out a little more about where she was during the Holocaust and how she ended up in Atlit, which adds to the characters as you read so you end up caring about each of them as individuals, not simply as examples of Holocaust survivors.

At times, I found it hard to follow all of the plot lines because the narration switches from one girl to the next and because there are several concepts that I didn't completely understand until I looked them up on my own, such as why the British were keeping these people in an internment camp instead of allowing them into Palestine.  After doing a little research, I found out the British limited the number of Jewish immigrants to Palestine by keeping them in camps like Atlit.
At Atlit camp, the men were sent to one side, women to the other.  They were sprayed with DDT, then told to undress and enter the showers.  In 1939-1948, tens of thousands of Jewish immigrants were interned here, men and women separated by barbed wire.  Some interns stayed as long as 23 months.
The fact that I found it hard to follow all of the plot lines when I was reading and the somewhat graphic descriptions of some sexual acts means that I won't be able to teach this book.  (I'm always looking for new books to introduce to my students, especially ones that discuss the Holocaust since so many of them have read The Diary of Anne Frank and Night.)  But I did enjoy this book.  The characters were extremely realistic, the plot was interesting, and it made me think about something that I hadn't thought about before.  I will definitely be rereading this book to see what else I get out of it now that I better understand the historical period it takes place in.

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