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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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Barbara C. (Hamburg, NY)

Highly readable and educational too!
Susan Meissner's latest (3/19) historical novel explores the life long impact of U.S. internment camps on two American teenage girls with German and Japanese parents. Easily accessible, well written characters and a subject I found interesting and enlightening made for an enjoyable read. The story moves between present day and 1945/46 as Elise tells the story of her friendship with Mariko and her search for the meaning of "home". Thanks to BookBrowse for the ARC and a chance to provide a review.
Lori H. (Puyallup, WA)

Everlasting friendship
This is a lovely story of friendship beginning during WWII and ending when the two main characters are in their 80s. This is also a story of internment and repatriation and family bonds. Susan Meissner highlights an overlooked period in American history with skill. A fine historical pick for any book club.
Henry W. (Lake Barrington, IL)

Unbelievable ending
Two thirds, a really good read. The contrast between the two main characters was well done. The role that previous life experiences had in their development was evident. Their experience in the internment camp was different as a result. The contrast between naïveté and street smart was obvious. The extent of the prejudice that would likely have been experienced upon repatriation was understated. For the last third of the book too many serendipitous events take place to produce a happy ending. One wonders what would have happened if Mariko continued to have an influence on Elsie. It was interesting to learn about the German internments as well as the prisoner exchanges and forced repatriation. The entire episode from the internment to the repatriation reminds us of the importance of constitutional protection.
Marianne D. (Crofton, MD)

Not Just Another WWII Book
I'm not sure what I expected from "The Last Year of the War," but author Susan Meissner surprised me. For at least the first 100 pages, I was unimpressed. I found the writing flat and rarely above the fourth grade level. The central fact around which the story is spun, that both Germans and Japanese living in the United States were interned during World War II, is something many may not know. Meissner's storyline is interesting and, for the most part, plausible (maybe anything was plausible during and after WWII), but the simplicity of the telling left me wanting more. Some of the main characters seemed two-dimensional, despite the amount of space given to their description.The last 75-100 pages of the book took it from three stars to 4 for me. "The Last Year of the War" is bittersweet throughout, with what will happen to the now 80 year-old main character left to the reader's imagination at the very end. At least Ms.Meissner did not try to tie everything together with a big bow.
Barbara P. (Mountain Center, CA)

We All Need a Place to Call Home
Susan Meisner has introduced us to a family, and most specifically, a young woman, to whom we can relate and empathize with her desires to find a true friend, fit in and be her real self. Along the way we are introduced to atrocities that have gone wholly unrecognized by our society and authors of hundreds of other books dealing with WWII. Thank you, Ms Meisner, for giving us a fresh voice and new understanding of what it was like to be a German American during this dark time in our world.
Harriette K. (Northbrook, IL)

The Last Year Of The War
The onset of World War 2 finds two teenage girls, both born in the U.S., but one with parents who had been born in Japan, one with parents born in Germany and now declared undesirable aliens. The girls, Mariko and Elise become close friends in the internment camp to which the families are sent. Through different circumstances each family is repatriated to its country of origin. The girls have been writing a story together and vow to keep working in it even though separated. They also vow to meet again. The reader follows Elise's story as the family is sent back to Germany in exchange for Americans who had been caught behind enemy lines. The family reunites with the father, Otto's, mother and family and share with them the hardships and bombing raids that are prevalent at the end of the war. The war ends and occupation by the U.S. finds them in slightly better circumstances. The author gives a wonderful picture of this terrible period in our history, Elise and Marino reunited in a very poignant manner. I would have given this book a 5 if the author had written Elise's return to the U.S. in a more logical manner. I found the entire marriage with Ralph and her relationship with his family contrived and rather silly. It's still worth a read. Just skim over the last 125 pages.
Joy E. (Rockville, MD)

Last Year of the War
The Last Year of the War is at its best when it tells the story of Elise Sontag's experience as the child of a German immigrant falsely accused of being a Nazi sympathizer during World War II. Unlike the mass incarceration of Japanese families in the U.S., individual German citizens were arrested, and held with minimal due process, and offered internment with their families. Elise's parents and brother are sent to a camp in Texas and then "repatriated" to Germany for the last months of the war. The story is a compelling and interesting piece of historical fiction, with a believable account of how an American-born teenager might have reacted.

The book is less successful when it verges into soap opera after the war with the drama of Elise's marriages and interactions with her in-laws. The picture of Elise in old age feels contrived and does not add to an otherwise good book.
Daryl B. (Poolesville, MD)

Never Give Up On Your Dreams
I loved the fact that Elise, in the early stages of Alzheimer's, was able to reconnect with her childhood friend after so many years and surviving the horrors of war. I think her dreams of finding Mariko were what kept her going through all the devastating losses she endured . The story of the war being told from the perspective of an American girl living in an internment camp was new for me. I didn't realize Germans had been placed in internment camps as well as Japanese. I really enjoyed the book. I would recommend it to historical fiction lovers as well as book clubs.

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