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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Day After Night by Anita Diamant

Title: Day After Night
Author: Anita Diamant
Reviewed Format: UK paperback
Pages: 294
Release Date: September 8, 2009

Anita Diamant’s Day After Night is a fictionalized account of the 1945 rescue of the prisoners being held in the Atlit internment camp near Hafia, close to the Mediterranean coast. Fresh from their memories of Nazi concentration camps, illegal immigrants crossing the borders, most often in their attempt to reach Palestine and Israel, have been taken into custody by the British military and placed in eerily similar surroundings: barbed wire fences, barracks separating men from women, delousing stations, showers. The only difference, as our protagonists insist upon the frightened and bewildered newcomers arriving almost every day, is that here, all will be fed and taken care of; the showers are real showers.

But the prisoners are angry, angry because they survived one war only to become pawns in another power struggle where one nation seeks to impose authority on another and they’ll risk everything they have to be free.

Told primarily from the point of view of four women, Tedi, Zorah, Shayndel, and Leonie (with a fifth, Tirzah, thrown in for the contrasting perspective), Day After Night explores what it could mean to be happy in a place like Atlit, so incongruous in appearance with what really goes on behind the enclosure. As much a jail as a safehouse, these women struggle through their personal demons in the weeks leading up to the October rescue. Diamant imagines Atlit being something like a therapeutic nightmare in which the women find solace in each other, getting to know one another as much as they try to keep their distance, too hurt by their own haunting pasts to confide their true stories to one another.

Together, the women remain strong and support one another, finding spirit in the small miracles of the everyday: fresh fruit, full meals, showers, clean clothes, pillows and blankets at night, doctors that are there to be doctors and not experiment, burgeoning romance, scandalous affairs. In the limbo of Atlit, Tedi is reminded that “...everything was coming back to her in Palestine” (p. 7), even her sense of smell long thought lost, another victim of the war. Ironically, her imprisonment, like the other women, has turned into a type of healing in the between of being frightened before the end of the war, and true freedom after it.

In Atlit, the woman are “in the land of milk and honey…” (p. 90), a type of heaven where they are allowed a chance to heal their scars in preparation for the real world, a beautiful nightmare slumber, a peaceful and restful night before the day of their true freedom. I thought the prologue was particularly lovely, setting the mood for the story like an overture, touching the title and bringing it back to us as much as the epilogue brought the story to reality and back to fiction again.

Day After Night is a novel of hope, wishful thinking on the part of the author in like-minded sentiment with Gershon, “I hope she was happy. I hope all of them were” (p. 292). If the narrative at times made me forget the seriousness of the women’s situation, it only serves to remind me the intent of the author to wish this same feeling on the women who did stay there, who were forced to relive the phantom reminders of their past at the same time as they were trying to move forward. In the context of the novel, the women found a kind of peace in Atlit, smothering their hated pasts in the sheets of their nightmare, tossing the pillow aside as they walked outside, never to return.

I thought Day After Night was a good book. Diamant has a lot of talent in writing about dynamic women and their relationships to one another. If you’re a fan of her work, I recommend this one. If you’ve never read anything by her, I still recommend it. Overall, it was a touching, powerful read.

3 comments:

TJ said...

Not my sort of thing, but it sounds interesting. :3

Lily Child said...

I will definitely check it out! I loved The Red Tent by her as well! :)

Erika said...

Oh, I loved the Red Tent. She has a knack with writing about groups of women. :)

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