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Excerpt from The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Last Year of the War

by Susan Meissner

The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner X
The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2019, 400 pages
    Apr 2020, 416 pages


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Print Excerpt

"You need to tell your family," the doctor had said. "You need to tell them right away, Mrs. Dove."

It's not that I want to keep my diagnosis from Pamela and Teddy. I love them so very much and they are awfully good to me. It's just that I know how hard this will be for them. For all of us. Agnes will swallow me whole, inch by inch. Every day a little more. She will become stronger and I will become weaker. It's already happening. I will forget forever the important things. The things that matter.

God help me, I will forget my old friend Mariko completely. She will fade into a fog of nothingness, and strangely enough, that pains me more than knowing I will forget the names of my grandchildren, and Pamela's and Teddy's names, too. More than knowing I'll forget I was married to the most wonderful man in the world. To know I will lose Mariko is the worst ache of all because she and I had only those eighteen months at the internment camp. That's all the time we shared before my family was sent to Germany and then hers to Japan. I've had a whole lifetime with my beloved husband, children, and grandchildren. And only such a short while with Mariko.

As I sit here on the edge of my life, I know I'm a different person for having known her, even though our time together was brief. I can still hear the echoes of her voice inside me despite what separated us, and what kept us apart for good. I still feel her.

It was this feathery and renewed sensation of Mariko's presence, and knowing that soon it would be taken from me, that had me stunned after I'd returned home from the doctor's office. My cleaning lady, Toni, had come into the living room, where I was sitting, her car keys in hand, ready to go home. The house where I had been gifted a million happy moments is beautiful, and spacious. Toni is the fourth housekeeper I've had and the youngest. Teddy thinks I hired her despite her pink highlights and the starry stud in her nostril because she came highly recommended. I hired her because of them. Her youthful look makes me feel not quite so old.

So there I was, letting remembrances of Mariko that had been long neglected play themselves out. On my lap was a notebook, weathered by age. It had once been Mariko's. It had been mine for far longer. I must have looked as astonished as I felt. Toni asked me if I was all right.

"Oh. Yes," I lied.

"You look like you've seen a ghost," Toni said. "You sure you're okay?"

I smiled because that is what Mariko's presence felt like at that moment—a wisp. There, but not there. "I was just thinking about someone I used to know. A long time ago," I replied.

"Oh, sweetie. Did you just get bad news? Is that why you're sitting here like this?"

I shook my head. This, again, was somewhat of a lie. Toni was surely wondering if I'd just received word that this old friend of mine had died. I hadn't. But I had just gotten bad news. "No," I answered. "I actually don't know what became of this person. We were childhood friends. That was a long time ago."

"Ah. And so you were suddenly wondering where he or she is?"

It was that, but it was more than that. Much more. But I nodded.

"Well, have you googled the name?" Toni asked.

"Have I what?"

"You know. Looked him or her up on Google. It's hard to be completely invisible these days, Miss Elsie."

"What do you mean? What is a ... google?"

"You just type the name into Google and see what results you get. Google is that search engine on the Internet. Remember? Where's your iPad?"

"In the kitchen."

"Come on. I'll show you."

I followed Toni into the kitchen, where there was no iPad, but we went next into the breakfast room, and there it was on the table where I'd eaten a bowl of raisin bran hours earlier. I handed Toni the iPad. I'd written my pass code on a yellow Post-it note that I'd stuck to it. She tapped and swiped and soon there was a screen with the word Google there in happy, colored type.

Excerpted from The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner. Copyright © 2019 by Susan Meissner. Excerpted by permission of Berkley Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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