Uncovering History Through Fiction: My Book(Spoilery) Review of Day After Night by Anita Diamant

I was in an absolute state of glee upon randomly opening up this book to its phenomenal epigraph:Day After Night rebbe nachman- bookspoils

This exact phrase is one my mom reads to my sister and I every Shabbat; we know and recite it by heart. I always craved to see it written somewhere as an opening quote, so this was like a personal wish coming true.

I started the first chapter with the tiniest of hesitation. I was thinking back on how impressed I was by the epigraph, and even the prologue captivated me, so surely the first chapter will be the hindrance. But as I read on, it’s to uncover an enchanting storyteller in Anita Diamant. It’s reading a book, knowing that you surely won’t regret doing so. It’s ending a chapter only to want more. This is an author who knows the power her writing holds and how to wield her magic pen. What a journey this book took me on.

Day After Night is based on the extraordinary true story of the October 1945 rescue of more than 200 prisoners from the Atlit internment camp – a prison for illegal immigrants run by the British military near the Mediterranean coast north of Haifa. The story is told through the eyes of four young women at the camp.

It’s the first book in a while that made me excited to read it during the week, stealing time here and there to dive in, instead of settling for a binge-read on Shabbat. Something about that epigraph and that masterful character building on the very first page (pictured below) made me stand still and reappraise what I was getting into. Day After Night- bookspoilsRounded characterization on page one means: nightmares we can only imagine. They hold so much sorrow in their young lives already. The “military-issue pillows that smell of disinfectant” that are the bare-minimum when compared to what they had growing up, but after all they’ve been through it’s a luxury. Set against the unmoving background of Atlit’s Detainee Camp ruled by the British military, this is a part in European Jewish history I personally hadn’t known of before.

“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?”

I like reading historical fiction for the simple act of being educated on a topic completely unheard of before through a story. It humanizes history and makes me remember details long afterward. Like with Sarit Yishai-Levi’s The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem, which delivered both on the historic events of those that tried to detain Jews from coming into Israel, as well as the many romances that still have me worked up. So much of the time period before the founding of the state of Israel holds me enthralled. I recently watched the 2017 film An Israeli Love Story that tackled similar issues in that time frame while residing on the kibbutz.

Following four young women, Day After Night starts with introspective and self-aware Tedi Pastore, who craves nothing more than to assimilate and forget all her horrible memories as soon as her brain lets up, though those memories will sneak up on you as soon as you let your defenses down. My heart connected to her instantly with her quiet nature and this brilliant phrase:

“She wondered if she could fill her head with enough Hebrew to crowd out her native Dutch.”

Yes; though when Dutch peaks its way back into your life down the road (sooner than you’d like), it’ll come flooding back. I feel this so deeply.

We leave her to follow Zorah Weitz, who’s quite the opposite with her scorn and quiet rage at her surroundings. So much of her anger is just, obviously, but because we arrive into her chapter coming from Tedi’s point of view, it became quite jarring to experience such a different tough-to-crack perspective. It became interesting to see how the author would weave their stories together to make Zorah a more multidimensional character. I never doubted for a minute that she wouldn’t succeed. Any author that can character build on the very first page of the first chapter has my full trust.

“She knew they were reluctant to tell their own stories because all of them began and ended with the same horrible question: Why was I spared?”

And Shayndel and Leonie whose specialties include daydreaming and people-watching. They invent stories in their head to escape from their current reality and remain sane under the heinous circumstances thrown their way. They grow close and cling onto each other as people that go through wartime experiences only can.

It’s interesting then to connect and reflect on their stories of coming to Israel to my own Aliyah and how I was more of a Zorah at the very beginning (this realization occurred while writing made me far more forgiving when reading her harsh words after): I felt so helpless with my surroundings and how these circumstances I was in weren’t even of my choice. There was just so much (too much) anger pent-up that I feel so sorry looking back to ten-year-old me. And so came the gradual change of coming to terms with your reality and quietly turning into a Tedi with wanting to forget as quickly as possible all the good and the bad on the tail end. I have the hardest time remembering stuff from the past now, which is why I’m so particular with writing everything down as soon as I complete reading or watching or listening anything.

“It was unspeakable, so they spoke of nothing.”

It makes for an interesting phenomenon when shedding those layers of European culture and reconnecting back to your own Jewish roots. It’s a loss of a comfortable layer and the growth of one that’s been waiting for generations. It’s realizing that the “loss” of your mother tongue isn’t your real mother tongue. The culture of “cold politeness” you’ve become accustomed to isn’t where your heart belongs (“leaving behind the whole poisoned graveyard that was Europe”). The warm connection between the people in our own homeland is one that cannot be replicated.

I felt this distinctly in the piercing moment when all the characters come together to light the candles and say the blessing for Rosh Hashanah, after years and years of hell on earth. The quiet strength echoed throughout this scene felt so real I could almost reach out and grasp it.

“Anschel lifted a cup above his head and glared around the room, waiting for others to do the same. Around each table, the men eyed each other and silently determined which one would stand for the blessing. As they raised their cups, he began, “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe.” The piercing nasal drone of his voice held everyone in thrall at first, but then others joined, creating a baritone jumble of melodies and accents that conjured a congregation of absent fathers and grandfathers. Tears flowed as the goblets were emptied, but Tirzah gave them no time to mourn, banging the door open wide with a tray piled with golden loaves of challah. She was greeted with applause and chatter, which continued through the brief blessing for bread, which was passed and devoured.”

Something slipped over me in reading this that I couldn’t shake off. We’re alive. Our people lived through this hell and multiple others to make it to Israel. I won’t forget.

The one thing that remains alive in that moment is reciting the passages of the past, the same words they heard countless times before the war, only to quietly realize that here they are repeating it in the heart of Israel. Our prayers as a nation are the only thing keeping the past alive and our hope ablaze in the future.

And as much as Zorah resents these moments that bring on memories long repressed, I can only think of this truthful passage from David Bezmozgis’s Natasha and Other Stories“So what am I supposed to do, let the bastards win? Because who wins if a Jew doesn’t go to synagogue? I’ll tell you who: Hitler.”

With each new description in the book, I stop cold at how masterfully Anita Diamant constructs her characters. I personally enjoy exploring little individual moments that make up somebody’s life, and reading about the day-to-day in that unmoored timeline of 1945 through this group of lost individuals is riveting to revisit.

“It seemed impossible that these could be the same stars she had looked up at six months ago, impossible that she was seeing them through the same eyes.”

This had the potential to be a new favorite with all the elements I love in one: Jewish-Israeli characters, survivors arriving in Israel after the Holocaust which is rarely explored, the prime time of Zionism, and displacement. Day After Night operates on so many levels.

Plus, I’m a known fool for the name Noah (read: My Appreciation For the Name Noah in Old Men at Midnight by Chaim Potok), so Shayndel’s brother piqued my interest… Only to be crushed in this brutal reality of Polish antisemitism and pogroms. Lest anyone forget:

“The Poles had been just as monstrous as the Germans. The Nazis did not require her neighbors to spit on her family the day they were taken away. They had spit again when she returned, after the war, to see if anyone else had survived.”

The sad reality is that the Poles are already trying to erase history by making themselves seen as innocent and blame it all on the German Nazis. History will never fully wrap all the horrors and pogroms they inflicted upon the Jews.

On another note, here are some points I want to highlight:

  • The few hints of romance in here I came to appreciate because sometimes it’s a necessary component in feeling alive, feeling seen. This book drew the important distinction between realizing whether your feelings are for that particular individual and simply for the rush of hormones they provide. This phrase puts the idea together well:

“I guess I wanted to be in love with someone. But not him.”

This explains so much on settling for the wrong guy. And how we look into book-romances to project our own desires on the particular couple to get together. We seek that intoxicating rush of feeling without actually doing something that can hurt like being close with another human. It’s predictable, safe, and follows a script, unlike real life.

  • Throw all that away when it comes to Meyer Meyer Meyer, the boy who brings Zorah back from the brink of cynicism. I hung onto his every word. Something about his air of kind honesty left me laser focused on the task at hand: Seeing him interact with Zorah. Their dynamic was so full of promise. He’s the kind-hearted soldier with a sharing packet of Chesterfields, and she’s the rugged girl that loves to say no. I thought at first that the author was pulling us along with an exquisitely outdrawn slow-burn, and it did work at first because I nearly jumped like a cat when he finally arrived in a scene with Zorah after way too long.

“I never heard you sing before,” said a familiar voice at her ear.
Zorah did not turn around. Meyer moved closer and asked, “Did you miss me?”
“Only when I was dying for a smoke,” she said.
“I thought about you all the time,” said Meyer.”

Likewise. Also: why did this make my heart skip a beat?

“I wish I could send you cigarettes,” Meyer said, slipping a packet into her hand. “But they would only get stolen. Still, whenever you get a letter, you should know that I was thinking about sending a whole carton of Chesterfields. I am a romantic, right?”
Zorah fought the urge to face him, to wish him well, to say good-bye.
“Pray a little for my safety, will you, Zorah?” said Meyer. “I will kiss you good night wherever I am.”
Zorah heard him walk away and counted to thirty before she turned. He had reached the gate. Without turning or looking back, he raised his hand to wave. As though he knew she would be watching.”

He’s so damn charismatic.

You know Zorah has it bad when she starts talking to herself in his voice. “Worthy opponent or suitor?” I personally really enjoy seeing this switch happen in books like I mentioned in my review for The Great Alone. There’s something so powerful when you start viewing a person in a different light.

But I guess the author had other things in mind when it came to Meyer, since I can count on one hand the number of times he showed up after, and then never again till the epilogue that I’m not ready to discuss.. (I’m still in the stage of denial, as evidenced by my refusal to even write it down). And I’m too stubborn to let something as powerful as Zorah with Meyer dissipate simply like that. I wanted to see them T A L K deep into the night and share secrets and grow old together… And I got none of that.

  • Speaking of loose ends, there are so many that my mind is busy thinking over… What happens with Tirzah and Danny? Did the group of four ever reunite? WHAT ABOUT THE PICTURE?? Who’s the lucky man that married Shayndel? What happened to Lillian aka the running gag of the book with being put in her place by multiple people?

Like a movie, it ends on a group snapshot of the four young women that made this book shine with tiny inscriptions telling us where they all ended up. The epilogue really made the story feel so vividly real that I was tempted to look up the names of the characters, knowing full well that even if they were based on real woman their full names wouldn’t have been used… I JUST NEED THE PICTURE. I tried hunting for it on my own with zero results. The descriptions of it in the book feels too real. It’s these telling signs that tell the whole story of Day After Night. Like Shayndel and Leonie standing so close together in the photograph led the author to chronicle a close friendship in her mind. And the details of their matching white outfits in that shot then rings similarity in the story when people thought them to be the same even though on the outside they were opposites.

“Leonie and Shayndel grinned at each other, knowing these same girls sometimes called them “peas in a pod” and “the Siamese twins” even though they were a pair of contrasts, too.”

Taking notice of these telltale signs made me feel like a tiny Sherlock. First came the picture, then the story. And now I’m pretty desperate to uncover what came first. Does the picture even exist?

I’d had hoped to see them thrive after Atlit, but since it’s so real the end sequence bears too many loses to feel like closure. The epilogue in itself should’ve been more elaborated on, instead of dropping new information that I have no idea how to take in since the book is already over. All I can say is Tedi deserved to have seen that picture.

If you’re interested in buying Day After Night, just click on the image below to go through my Amazon Affiliate. I’ll make a small commission!


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Historic Female Friends in Bosom Buddies by Violet Zhang, Sally Nixon (Illustrator)

Featuring 25 remarkable and inspiring female friendships throughout history, Bosom Buddies is an illustrated celebration of these empowering relationships between women. From the formidable Trung Sisters and friendly rivals Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf to powerhouse partners Oprah Winfrey and Gayle King, writer Violet Zhang captures the love, challenges, encouragement, and adulation of female friendships across time. With winsome illustrations from illustrator Sally Nixon, Bosom Buddies is a tribute to gal pals everywhere. Great as a Galentine’s Day gift or to share with your best girlfriend, just because.

Bosom Buddies arrived in the mail as a saving grace for the coming Shabbat, since I didn’t have anything left to read (save for dipping in and out of my worn copy of Fangirl) with my local library going through renovations.

Also perfect timing for this book, on female friendships through the ages, to land in my hands, considering the movie I recently watched that expresses the tiny nuances of a friendship between Marlo and Tully, which I rave all about in my film review for Tully here.

The first thing I noticed upon picking up Bosom Buddies is the effort put into producing the book: the feel of the paper in your hands as you flip from page to page and the clear jacket bounding it make for timeless pieces. And I’m just grateful such a neat concept exists in the book world.

I do want to note that at the very start of my reading experience, the entries of the female friends come across a bit Wikipedia-esque, but since they were so quick to go through, I overlooked this tiny hindrance. The essays did provide many unknowns with a prompt speed.

However, since this is about the grandiosity of friendship, which is so personal, I would’ve enjoyed that aspect to be expanded by offering more intimate tales, like an inside joke or an experience the women shared together; something I couldn’t find on my own through googling their names. I wanted someone to write about them through extensive research so that I wouldn’t have to do it on my own.

I did then appreciate the end of each essay giving voice to the women by sharing their quotes. Though it sometimes felt like the entry beforehand and the quote shared after had no shared correlation.

So I was also glad to see that the more I read on, the more my requests were being answered. Featuring remarkable girlships such as:

  • Virginia Woolf & Katherine Mansfield (1910s)
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  • Oprah Winfrey & Gayle King (1970s)Bosom Buddies bookspoils 3
  • Amy Poehler & Tina Fey (1990s)Bosom Buddies bookspoils 1
  • Ilana Glazer & Abbi Jacobson (2000s)Bosom Buddies bookspoils 4Screen Shot 2018-02-28 at 09.46.55

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Expected publication: August 14, 2018

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Review: Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls 2 by Elena Favilli, Francesca Cavallo

This book arrived just as I had completed reading the previous collection with my little sister during the weekend; Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls did just what it promised… meaning that she was put to sleep right away. I think the historical aspect wasn’t quite there yet for my nine-year-old sister.

Still, I was ecstatic to hear the news of this follow-up book to come out. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls 2 boasts a brand new graphic design, a glossary and 100 incredible new portraits created by the best female artists of our time.

I liked, in particular, the inclusion of new, contemporary women in this edition, since I had just finished my reading of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, and here we have her familiar face featured!Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls 2 1-- bookspoilsGood Night Stories for Rebel Girls 2 2-- bookspoils

But my main issue with Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls 2 stems from the fact that these summaries skip one too many significant details and it results in an inconsistent, half-hearted historical biography of these accomplished women.

I also feel like the book reduces the women’s accomplishment a tad by making their hard work sound like a breeze. Like, with Lilian Bland building her own plane, they make it sound like she snapped her fingers and boom there’s a plane: “Lilian read everything she could find by the Wright brothers and other famous aviators about how to build a plane. She succeeded in building a flyable biplane—an aircraft with two pairs of wings—then went on to build a full-scale glider, just like the one her boyfriend hadn’t let her fly.”Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls 2 9-- bookspoilsGood Night Stories for Rebel Girls 2 10-- bookspoils

Putting my hindrances aside, I’d still like to share some of my favorite stories of these extraordinary women:

  • JOHANNA NORDBLAD
    ICE DIVER

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This mentioned a film “made about one of her incredible dives,” and I was utterly hypnotized watching it. I had to replay the video over and over simply to wrap my mind around the scope and expansiveness of Nordblad’s chilling actions.

“It shows a solitary figure dragging a sled to the middle of a frozen lake, leaving a trail of footprints behind her in the snow. She cuts a triangle into the ice with a saw and sits on the edge. Taking a deep breath, she slips into the black water. A different universe unfolds around her: silver and deep blue-black, silent and beautiful. She swims along like a mermaid, at peace with the world.”

  • J.K. ROWLING
    WRITER

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  • BRENDA MILNER
    NEUROPSYCHOLOGIST

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  • VIVIAN MAIER
    PHOTOGRAPHER

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls 2 11-- bookspoilsI can’t stop staring at this utterly haunting painting.Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls 2 12-- bookspoils

  • SKY BROWN
    SKATEBOARDER

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls 2 13-- bookspoilsGood Night Stories for Rebel Girls 2 14-- bookspoilsThis nine-year-old skater is an inspiration.

Screen Shot 2018-02-28 at 09.46.55I am, however, eternally perplexed at their notion of including a Nazi-born girl in this collection, because we should, of course, applaud a fish for swimming, instead of shining light on the many brave Jewish women to survive and oppose the terrors of the Holocaust…

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Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls 2just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!