Saturday, January 04, 2020

The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner ~ A book review

Fourteen year old Elise lives in Iowa with her mom, dad and younger brother.  Her parents have been legal U.S. residents for almost 20 years.  Her mom is a homemaker and her father works in a chemical factory.  They have built a good life in the U.S. and loved it, though they never got around to becoming official citizens.  Then Pearl Harbor happens and the next thing they know Elise's father is arrested on charges of being a Nazi sympathizer.  Though nothing of the kind there is circumstantial evidence that seems to say otherwise.  After being gone from his family for sometime, they are all sent to an internment camp in Texas, along with other German and Japanese origin families.  Elise and her family have lost everything and must make a new life in this camp.  Elise goes through turmoil, not understanding why everything has been taken from them.  In her mind, her family is fully American.  In fact her father refuses to let her go to the German classes in the camp choosing instead to only let her attend the English speaking school.  There she meets Mariko, from the Japanese side of the camp, and they form a strong friendship. Neither knows how they would ever make it through the days without each other, but when news comes that each of their families is to be repatriated back to the respective countries of their origin they make a vow to meet in New York when they turn 18 after the war and renew their friendship and their American lives.  But when Elise and her family arrive back in Germany, they are faced with being right in the middle of the war.  It will be a miracle if they make it through and now her father is faced with having to work for the Nazi's.  Can Elise stay true to who she was in America or will the act of surviving through the devastation of the last year of the war change who she is and who she wants to be?

Susan Meissner once again writes a beautifully written dual time line of a young girl surviving in World War II.  She has taken a story of the second world war I had never even heard of, that of the U.S. trading American legal residents of German descent for American prisoners in Germany.  She brings all the struggle of not only being plonked into the middle of the bombing and takeover of Germany, but she shows how difficult it would have been to stay true to your identity and who you thought you were and who you wanted to be and not let the horrors and prejudice and hate overtake you.  It's well written and I really felt for the characters as the author developed them throughout the story.  I hoped and cheered on the relationship of the two friends even when that friendship faced it's hardest challenges.  The dual time line is subtle.  The story mostly focuses on what happens during the war but the beginning and the end deals with the current time line bringing it all together.

Highly recommend if you like World War II fiction. 

I rated it a 10/10


Deb J. in Utah said...

Will keep this in mind for book club reading. Thanks for the review!

Barbara Harper said...

I love Susan's books, and this sounds like another winner. I had not heard of that kind of trade-off, either.