- Paperback: 294 pages
- Publisher: Scribner; 1st edition (August 10, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780743299855
- ISBN-13: 978-0743299855
- ASIN: 074329985X
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 283 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #555,504 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Day After Night: A Novel Paperback – August 10, 2010
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About the Author
Anita Diamant is the bestselling author of the novels The Boston Girl, The Red Tent, Good Harbor, The Last Days of Dogtown, and Day After Night, and the collection of essays, Pitching My Tent. An award-winning journalist whose work appeared in The Boston Globe Magazine and Parenting, she is the author of six nonfiction guides to contemporary Jewish life. She lives in Massachusetts. Visit her website at AnitaDiamant.com.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Day After Night
Prologue 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.
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Anita Diamant writes, in this character-driven story, about a British-run concentration camp in Northern Palestine shortly after WWII. Saying "concentration" camp, sets off all sorts of emotional triggers for many, but this camp was really a safe place for displaced European Jews. It was a place where they could learn to be Jews. It was a stopping point for those traveling to Palestine after surviving the Holocaust. But none-the-less, it is a camp, from which the internees were forbidden to leave until the Brits could obtain entry permits and placements for them.
Still, many entering the camp did not know what it is, and having experienced atrocities during the war, and they thought (as they entered the camp) that this was another of the same.
The four women Diamant portrays have been through hell. One was a prisoner who was raped on a daily basis. Another a resistant fighter who killed and raided as necessary, but doesn't understand that what she did made her a hero to many. A third lost everything and everyone while being shuttled from hiding place to hiding place. And the fourth. There is a suggestion that she survived a camp. It was bad enough that she cannot even think of it.
As history runs its course, the camp is eventually liberated. There is one death. The women gather together for one final moment, then all are dispersed. There is a final glimpse that they survived and flourished.
I give nothing away by telling this much. It is history, and I suggest doing a Google search of the camp to learn the skeleton of history from which Diamant wove this story. Diamant has a wonderful voice from which we previously heard in The Red Tent: A Novel. This book is also a gem that is worth reading.
I struggled with keeping each character distinct from one another particularly in the beginning. As the book progressed, the characters' stories became more defined by their back story details which made the characters easier to distinguish.
At times the writing seemed very one dimensional with a lack of depth and strength, just writing words on a page, not living the words with commitment.
About halfway through the book, I did feel a connection with the characters. I must admit I was more connected with Esther and Jacob than the four main characters, perhaps because I am the mother of a son. That may be why I was crying when I read the epilogue.