All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Light After The War by Anita Abriel

on February 19, 2020

The Light After The War
Anita Abriel
Simon & Schuster AUS
2020, 337p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

It is 1946 when Vera Frankel and her best friend Edith Ban arrive in Naples. Refugees from Hungary, they managed to escape from a train headed for Auschwitz and spent the rest of the war hiding on an Austrian farm. Now, the two young women must start new lives abroad. Armed with a letter of recommendation from an American officer, Vera finds work at the United States embassy where she falls in love with Captain Anton Wight.

But as Vera and Edith grapple with the aftermath of the war, so too does Anton, and when he suddenly disappears, Vera is forced to change course. Their quest for a better life takes Vera and Edith from Naples to Ellis Island to Caracas as they start careers, reunite with old friends, and rebuild their lives after terrible loss.

Moving, evocative, and compelling, this timely tale of true friendship, love, and survival will stay with you long after you turn the final page.

There are a lot of books written around World War II – it’s not surprising, it was a time of horrific trauma in so many different ways. I’ve read a lot of stories about Jewish people especially from France, Germany and Poland but only a couple of books containing Hungarian Jewish people. The book begins after the war when Vera and her friend Edith arrive in Naples. They managed to escape from a train bound for Auschwitz and spent the large majority of the rest of the time hiding on a remote Austrian farm. A chance encounter with an American military man gives the girls a passage to Naples where Vera quickly finds a job thanks to her fluency in multiple languages. She also falls in love.

From there it’s sponsorship to America only to be stranded on Ellis Island, then Caracas and finally, Sydney. The two girls live a life that look, I’m going to be frank, seems fraught with a lot of drama and trouble but is also…..not really? They do seem to miraculously keep landing on their feet with nothing really feeling that dire or threatening? Vera gets the first job she goes for, despite the man’s reluctance to employ her as his secretary in Naples. They end up falling in love and he’s from a wealthy American family that has high expectations. Edith wants to be a famous fashion designer – she lost her beau in the war but is sort of “boy crazy”. Edith was a bit of a difficult character to connect with. She is lazy at first, in Naples, with Vera working hard to buy Edith things while Edith lays in bed or meets up with boys. She gets into difficult situations but doesn’t care, bouncing to the next pretty Italian man with barely a second thought. Perhaps everything they have suffered (losing their fathers to workers camp and in Edith’s case, her boyfriend, losing their mothers after escaping from the train, everything else) means that Edith doesn’t really have a sense of danger, like maybe nothing after the war could be as bad as what they’ve experienced already. But it made her seem reckless and shallow at times, and it continues after they arrive in Caracas where Vera once again gets a job and starts earning money but Edith is more of the opinion of “you have to spend money to make money” deciding to crash high society parties wearing beautiful dresses she’s designed and made, hoping people will notice and engage her to make their gowns.

A lot of this novel is based on the author’s mother’s journey who with her friend, really did escape from a train headed for Auschwitz and ended up making a similar journey to the Vera of the novel before coming to Australia. I’m not entirely sure what, apart from that is woven into this story and what is embellished for the purpose of fiction. I think because it starts from their arrival in Naples and the actual wartime experience is told only through flashbacks or as Vera explains something to someone else, that this book doesn’t really have the emotion or atmosphere that I perhaps expected it to have. The wartime itself is not precisely explained in great detail, there’s a couple of scenes that show life before the train, one from their escape from the train and then a couple after that. Look any type of survival, especially one actually based on a true story, is remarkable. But it meant that I didn’t get what I felt like was a true picture of their war experience and sometimes the ‘after’ felt well……less intense. It was just one party or outing after another, which may well have been true for that post-war experience as people seek to put their lives back together, or in Caracas, just roll on. Especially in wealthy society. But I didn’t find it particularly interesting, and I felt like Vera ignored a lot of things that she should probably have not in order to tell herself that her life was going to be just fine now, especially in regards to a particular man.

This was a relatively engaging read but I did lose my way with it during the Caracas section at times and I wasn’t overly invested in the characters. When we meet Vera and Edith, they’ve already overcome a lot, which we don’t really get to learn about to the level that I think I would’ve liked. There’s quite a bit about their survivors guilt, which I thought was interesting and well done – that they were on a farm drinking milk and eating soup while some of the people they cared about the most were in the most horrific of camps. But it never really felt like this book gave me much to fear for or worry about in terms of Vera and Edith, or make me feel like I needed to cheer for them for something? It was just a whirlwind of gelato and pasta in Italy, parties in Caracas. There were some points of interest but a lot of it felt like very much a book that was not delving very deep.


Book #23 of 2020

Although she now lives in California, Anita Abriel was born and raised in Sydney so I’m going to count this book towards my Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020. It’s the 9th book completed so far.

2 responses to “Review: The Light After The War by Anita Abriel

  1. This is the second review I’ve read like this. This book is moving further down the tbr each time. I have so many books to read right now that lackluster is not going to cut it. Thanks for helping me sort through the pile!

  2. Marg says:

    This initially was on my list to read but not so sure now. Maybe one day

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