☆☆➹⁀☆ 4 stars ☆➹⁀☆☆
About the Book:
Inspired by an incredible true story of two Jewish friends who survived the Holocaust, this sweeping novel of love and friendship spans World War II from Budapest to Austria and the postwar years from Naples to Caracas.
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.
Anita Abriel’s debut novel, The Light After the War, touches on the Holocaust and the mass exodus of Europeans to South America and the USA after WWII. The focus is more on friendship, survivor guilt, and the struggle to get by after the war. This isn’t a story about WWII per se, but a story of trying to cobble together a life in the wake of a war. Normal has to be redefined. Expectations must be reset. Women spent the war taking care of themselves and others, yet they’re once again expected to live within the confines of old social mores that force them to pursue husbands for safety and stability and social acceptance.
The main characters are lifelong friends who are raised almost like sisters. Edith is talented but a bit flighty. She is understandably despondent over the loss of her fiancé and parents. She is portrayed as man-crazy, but I was left with the impression that her great losses during the war make her pursue life with abandon. She embodies carpe diem! She is going dance and party while she can, for who knows what tomorrow will bring. Vera is smart, but she quickly gives up her dreams to bring home the bacon. She is in survival mode. Vera’s heart is heavy with survival guilt; it is such a driving force for her that it seeps out of her pores. Even though Edith is the one actively looking for a man, it is Vera who repeatedly captures men’s hearts.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and found it so engaging that I finished the book within a couple days. However, there were a few plot points that I found unbelievable enough that they cling to my brain as the most memorable events in the story. Even though the book is based, at least loosely, on the author’s mother’s life, I had a hard time believing that two teenaged girls would successfully escape from a concentration-camp-bound train. Equally difficult for me was the sudden disappearance of Captain Anton Wight as well as the story’s denouement (which I won’t give away).
The story is well paced and the writing is descriptive. There is just enough history included to make it a meaningful and enjoyable novel rather than a memoir. I loved Edith and Vera’s indomitable spirit and fortitude. Their loyal friendship and perseverance are great takeaways in any era.
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