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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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  • Published:
    Mar 2019, 400 pages

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Patricia E. (Sugarcreek, OH)

Great Historical Fiction
As a young married woman, main character Elise Dove sums up the theme of "The Last Year of the War" as a quest for home. That quest includes travels in Iowa, Little Tokyo in Los Angeles, California and Texas well as various cities in Germany and Japan. As the world and worldview is shattered by World War II, the friendship between two young teenagers and their families blossoms. The author captures a moment in U. S. history that many Americans are still trying to process and reconcile with our nation's ideals - the internment of legal Japanese and German immigrants in camps across the U. S. In the right hands historical fiction can entertain, educate and evoke strong emotions. Susan Meissner has the right hands. I highly recommend this book. As a young married woman, main character Elise Dove sums up the theme of "The Last Year of the War" as a quest for home. That quest includes travels in Iowa, Little Tokyo in Los Angeles, California and Texas well as various cities in Germany and Japan. As the world and worldview is shattered by World War II, the friendship between two young teenagers and their families blossoms. The author captures a moment in U. S. history that many Americans are still trying to process and reconcile with our nation's ideals - the internment of legal Japanese and German immigrants in camps across the U. S. In the right hands historical fiction can entertain, educate and evoke strong emotions. Susan Meissner has the right hands. I highly recommend this book.
Jean Lewandowski

The Last Year of the War
A person chooses to read historical fiction because the reader wants to learn something while being entertained by a strong story line connected by real events in time. The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner accomplished both of these elements.

Did you know that over eleven thousand legal German immigrants were interned during World War II in detention facilities within the United States? Many of them were also pressured to be repatriated to war torn Germany as a part of an “Exchange Process” during the last year of the war in Europe

This story details the life of Elise Sontag and her family. When Elise’s father is arrested by the FBI under Executive Order 9066 as an enemy alien, a peaceful life in Davenport, Iowa, is disrupted. Poverty and uncertainty will follow the family as they are separated from each other, reunited in an internment camp in Texas, and finally repatriated in Germany where allied pilots were still bombing German cities. The story is also about a friendship between Elise and Mariko,a Japanese internee at that same camp in Texas.

Now at the age of 77, Elise has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She knows her mind is slipping. She wants to reconnect with Mariko who she has not seen or heard from in over 60 years.

The Last Year of the War was a book that I enjoyed. At my age (75) a person can not waste time reading something that is not enjoyable. I also appreciated all the new things I learned while I was reading this book. I cared about the characters and was interested in the story line. I plan on reading other books by Susan Meissner.
DeAnn A. (Denver, CO)

Stellar Historical Fiction
I simply loved this book and the characters that Susan Meissner brings to life, by the end of the book they felt like old friends. The historical research is evident but seamlessly woven into a very realistic story. There are broad themes of friendship, love, identity, family loyalty, the damages of war -- all with an important historical backdrop.

We meet Elise Sontag when she is an elderly woman and then learn more about her early life as a typical teenager living in Iowa while WWII rages in Europe. Her German father is arrested and sent to an internment camp and the whole family later follows. Elise befriends Mariko – a teenager in the same boat she’s in – Mariko’s parents are Japanese. The girls become fast friends over the long months in the camp, but circumstances force them apart and they struggle to remain in touch.

I adored the character of Elise Sontag and cheered for her to overcome the huge obstacles placed in the way of her happiness. I highly recommend this story if you enjoy WWII historical fiction.
Lillian

There's no place like home...
The Last Year of the War written by Susan Meissner, tells the story about Elise Sontag, a German American born Teenager whose life changes forever when her immigrant family is sent to a Texas internment camp for 18 months during World WAR II.

The story is narrated in first person through the eyes of Elise during her childhood years and switching through her elderly age accompanied by Alzheimer’s disease and which she likes to call “Agnes”. The narrative structure is simple, the dialogues are very realistic, easy to read and yet difficult to forget.

Elise comes to understand her fate when one cold night during the last year of war, her father confesses to her on a dinnerless table, the 5 things he wished he had done differently. For every page you turn you will follow Elise’s painful, yet memorable journey to returning to what she calls home.

I really enjoyed this book and learned a lot from it. It is not the common World War II novel that you usually read. I acknowledge the author has done a good amount of research on the topics of Internment Camps in the US and the repatriation of Japanese and German families to their countries.

A remarkable story of love, hope, promises, friendship and never giving up on who we are. I would highly recommend it to historical fiction fans readers and book clubs.
Laura G. (Buffalo, NY)

A Life of Bravery
This book takes us on the life journey of an American born German girl named Elise as her life changes due to Word War II. Her circumstances make her question her identity and where she belongs. The short but powerful friendship between Elise and Mariko, an American born Japanese girl teaches Elise to stay true to herself in spite of how she is perceived by the outside world. There are many frightening moments for the girls throughout this book. Mariko has an amazing quote about bravery that stays with me: “Maybe being brave is different from being unafraid. If you’re unafraid, what is there to be brave about?” I hope you enjoy this book about lifelong bravery as much as I did.
Mary D. (Claremont, CA)

The Last Year of the Wat
I absolutely loved this book! It is the story of two young girls, from completely different backgrounds (one Japanese and one German) thrust into a situation far beyond their control at a very impressionable stage of their lives. I think most of us are aware of the internment of Japanese citizens and families from the West Coast during World War II, but I was not aware of a couple of facts: the internment camps were spread throughout the United States (Texas in this case), Germans were also targeted, and that there was a repatriation program that sent people back to their ‘home’ countries. This is a marvelous tale of how a woman, on the brink of losing all memories to Alzheimer’s Disease, embarks alone on a search for her friend Mariko, who shared her life at the camp. It is a sad story, yet comforting and amazing, full of details about being thrust into new, very unfamiliar lives, dealing with language issues, and trying to get through adolescence. The scenes involving the bombing attacks and devastation are particularly heart-breaking. Even with the inclusion of much historical information, it was very easy to read, very engaging and definitely hard to put down! I can easily recommend this book on so many levels: historical, a young adult tale of growing up in troubling times, how an adult deals with the knowledge of a terrible disease.
Marianne L. (Syosset, NY)

The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner
In a nutshell, Susan Meissner does it again! I cannot be more enthusiastic about this book. Author of As Bright As Heaven, Meissner creates instantly likeable characters again. Who cannot root for an aging woman looking to connect to her past in one meaningful act while fighting off the continual advance of forgetfulness. Indeed, Meissner's characters embody a sincerity and clarity that makes them come alive to the reader and memorable long after the book is read. Impeccably researched historical fiction that speaks to the events of today, this book is truly a must-read.
Laurie F. (Brookline, MA)

Engrossing Read of Separation
As I read this wonderful book I saw a reoccurring theme of separation and reunion of individuals, families, memories, citizens, etc.

The forced separation of Elise's father and her family. The separation of Elise and Mariko from their homes/communities. Elise's separation from her memories due to "Agnes". Mariko's separation from life due to her deadly disease.

As the reader follows these separations and how they sometimes come back together makes a read you will not want to end too soon.

The book also gives us an educational tour of how our country unfairly treated these hard-working immigrant families in the internment camps. Shameful how history keeps repeating itself.

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