Title: The Last Year of the War
Author: Susan Meissner
Genre: Historical Fiction
Story Perspective: First-Person
Themes: Identity, Friendship, Relationships, Family, Trust, Memory, Acceptance
Publication Date: March 19th, 2019
Young Elise only wanted to get through school and her teenage-hood, but when her father is accused of sympathizing with the Nazis during World War II, her world is turned upside.
Following her father’s arrest, the family is brought to an internment camp in Texas where families of German, Japanese, and Italian descent are being help captive. There, she meets Mariko, a friend that would make her new life more bearable and even enjoyable at times.
However, after some time, Elise and her family is brought to Germany while Mariko is brought Japan, and the two are torn apart. Seeing the horrors of her family’s country, Elise’s identity is even further lost. When the opportunity of returning to America comes up, will Elise be able to find her own path in life?
This book was recommended to me by a fellow co-worker. The aspect that caught my attention was the internment camp in Texas during World War II. I’ve heard that Japanese families living in the U.S. during that time were held in these camps, but I didn’t realize the families of German and Italian descent were also brought to these camps and held captive. I absolutely love learning something new when I read, so I was excited about this one.
The story is split into the past, during WWII, and the present where the protagonist is older and has signs of Alzheimer’s. As present-day Elise seeks her friend from the past, we are taken back to her time during the last year of the war (hence the title).
Meissner does a great job in capturing the moments in Elsie’s life where she felt her identity slip, her life fall into pieces, and slowly picking those pieces back up again. I really enjoyed reading Elise and Mariko’s friendship. I also found the internment camp scenes to be interesting and eye-opening to yet another way people were affected during the war. Then, entering Germany toward the end of the war was very heartbreaking because even though Germany may have started the war, there were civilians who were innocent and lost a lot, too.
There were times when I felt the writing was more of a check list of things to mention. I found this to be especially true during the internment camp scenes. It was almost as if the author had so much to say and not enough time to say those things, so she rushed through some of the things the kids experienced.
On the other hand, I was very disappointed with the ending. I felt that during the entire story Elise’s identity was taken away from and pushing her to the limit that one would hope her identity would be given back to her as an adult. However, almost every single part of her life is in relation to other people, including the men in her life. Though the author mentions how Elise is able to help others, it was almost in passing and not given any really significance. It is sad that she showed some growth, but it was barely explored. Then, when she gets what she wants, it seems only half-given or quickly taken away. Perhaps this was the author’s message, but it made for a rushed and unsatisfying ending.
Though I enjoyed most of the story, I felt that some of it was rushed and not fully developed.
I would recommend this to those who enjoy historical fiction set during World War II and follows a young woman who tries to grapple with her identity.
Number of books of my choosing versus for review:
6 out of 52 books of my choosing for 2019
7 books for review for 2019