Review: The Last Year of the War

The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner

Berkley Books, 2019. Hardcover, 400 pages.Cover: The Last Year of the War

It’s 1943 in Davenport, Iowa when the war comes knocking at the door of Elise Sontag’s family.  While she and her brother were American born and bred, their parents were immigrants from Germany who never became citizens.  Despite living in America for nearly two decades, Elise’s father, a chemist, is suspected of Nazi sympathies and is arrested. After months of struggling in Iowa, the family reunites with their patriarch at the Crystal City Internment Camp in Texas.  Elise feels like she has been outcast from everything she knew in life and just wants life to return to normal.

When Elise starts her attendance at the Federal High School in the camp, she meets Mariko Inoue, a fellow internee.  Mariko’s family was swept up into an internment camp when the Japanese were forced from the West Coast. The two become close friends and dream of life outside the wires encircling them and plan for the day they turn 18 and, as American citizens, can leave the camp for good.  However, things do not go as planned as actions their parents took will forever change the course of their lives. What happens when each is thrust into a culture they do not understand? How will the remainder of the war and its aftermath change each girl?

A few years back, I was introduced to the history of the Crystal City Internment Camp when I reviewed The Train to Crystal City.  Fictionalizing the experience drove the unjustness of it home even more than the nonfiction did.  I think that is due to the emotions felt by the characters, especially after leaving the camp. When Elise or Mariko were upset, it was felt by the reader.  When they were desperate, the reader felt desperate. Meissner had to have conducted meticulous research to help write this novel in a way that presents both history and this high level of emotions.  In all, I think this is a worthy book to read and pairing it off with The Train to Crystal City would not be a bad idea to learn more after completing The Last Year of the War.

This review is based on a digital advanced copy of the novel obtained from NetGalley.  It will be released on March 19th, 2019.


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