Summary and book reviews of The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner

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
    Paperback:
    Apr 2020, 416 pages

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Book Summary

From the acclaimed author of Secrets of a Charmed Life and As Bright as Heaven comes a novel about a German American teenager whose life changes forever when her immigrant family is sent to an internment camp during World War II.

Elise Sontag is a typical Iowa fourteen-year-old in 1943--aware of the war but distanced from its reach. Then her father, a legal U.S. resident for nearly two decades, is suddenly arrested on suspicion of being a Nazi sympathizer. The family is sent to an internment camp in Texas, where, behind the armed guards and barbed wire, Elise feels stripped of everything beloved and familiar, including her own identity.

The only thing that makes the camp bearable is meeting fellow internee Mariko Inoue, a Japanese-American teen from Los Angeles, whose friendship empowers Elise to believe the life she knew before the war will again be hers. Together in the desert wilderness, Elise and Mariko hold tight the dream of being young American women with a future beyond the fences.

But when the Sontag family is exchanged for American prisoners behind enemy lines in Germany, Elise will face head-on the person the war desires to make of her. In that devastating crucible she must discover if she has the will to rise above prejudice and hatred and re-claim her own destiny, or disappear into the image others have cast upon her.

The Last Year of the War tells a little-known story of World War II with great resonance for our own times and challenges the very notion of who we are when who we've always been is called into question.

PART ONE
1

Los Angeles, 2010

I've a thief to thank for finding the one person I need to see before I die.

If Agnes hadn't slipped her way into my mind to steal from it willy-nilly, I wouldn't have started to forget things, and Teddy wouldn't have given me the iPad for my birthday so that I could have my calendar and addresses and photos all in one place, and without the iPad, I wouldn't have known there is a way to look for someone missing from your life for six decades.

It's been a very long while, more years than I care to count, since I've spoken Mariko's name aloud to anyone. And yet, from the moment I found out Agnes is not only here to stay but here to take, my childhood friend has been steadily on my mind, having emerged from that quiet corner where the longest-held memories reside. It's these oldest and dearest of my recollections that presently seem to be the hardest for Agnes to filch, but I know the day is coming when she'll find every moment I've ever had. The thief will...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The Last Year of the War is a work of historical fiction, but the internment camp at Crystal City was a real place where families just like Elise Sontag's were detained and then repatriated in prisoner exchanges. How do you feel about what happened during World War II to German Americans like Elise's family? Was such an action justifiable in a time of war? Why or why not?
  2. What do you think it was like for Elise, going from milk shakes at the local diner in Davenport to living off bread crumbs to survive in Stuttgart after the war? What about her character do you think allowed her to cope with those changes?
  3. Was Elise's father right to volunteer for Crystal City, knowing that by doing so he and his family might possibly be repatriated?
  4. ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

This was a truly outstanding book about a little-known series of events during WWII. I had no idea that American citizens of German heritage were interned at the same time as those of Japanese heritage (Janet H). Warning: when you begin this volume, ensure your next day or two are unencumbered. It is guaranteed you will not want to stop reading once you begin Meissner's tale of tragedy, hope and reconciliation (Maribeth R)...continued

Full Review (755 words).

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Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
[Meissner] has created a quietly devastating story that shows how fear and hatred during World War II changed (and even ended) the lives of many innocent Americans.

Publishers Weekly
Vivid historical detail and elegant prose bolster this rewarding story of profound friendship, family, fear, and the pain that arose for American-born children of immigrant parents.

Booklist
A heartbreaking, thought-provoking work of historical women's fiction.

Author Blurb Kristina McMorris, New York Times bestselling author of Sold on a Monday
A beautifully poignant tale, The Last Year of the War explores the complexities of love, friendship, and the fleeting truths of identity. With vividly drawn characters and ever-elegant prose, Meissner highlights a dark, often-overlooked piece of American history. This timely novel will stay with the reader long after its thoughtful, heartwarming conclusion.

Author Blurb Michelle Gable, New York Times bestselling author of A Paris Apartment
Powerful and at times chillingly contemporary, and it reminds us why we read historical fiction in the first place.

Reader Reviews

Kate Rock

Fabulous Read
Susan Meissner writes a brilliantly vivid piece of important and little known history. It combines friendship, love, family during a devastating times and the questions of identity and the important story of immigrant parents that is perfectly placed...   Read More

Elizabeth of Silver's Reviews

The Last Year of The War - LOVED this book
A friendship made in an internment camp during WWII that lasted only eighteen months, but bonds and memories that lasted a lifetime. Elise and Mariko met during WWII while attending school in an internment camp for Japanese and German Americans. ...   Read More

suzanne leopold

Touching Story & Emotional Journey
Elise Sontag is a German American teenager living in Iowa during World War 2. Her parents have lived in the US for twenty years but are not legal citizens. While the war in Europe is escalating, her father is arrested and charged with being a Nazi ...   Read More

Betty Taylor

Forever Friendships and Family
Susan Meissner’s newest book is about a German American teen girl who meets her best friend in an internment camp during World War II. We meet present day Elise Sontag Dove as an elderly lady who is battling Alzheimer’s. She is determined to find her...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Internment of Japanese, German and Italian-Americans During WWII

Overhead shot of Crystal City Internment Camp near Crystal City, TexasIn The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner, the novel's main character is a child of German descent confined to the Crystal City internment camp during World War II, and later repatriated with her family to Germany. Many of us are aware of the exclusion, removal and detention of 120,000 people of Japanese heritage that occurred as the country entered WWII. Less familiar to most are the proceedings the government took against those of German and Italian birth.

The groundwork for action against foreign-born individuals actually began in the mid-1930s, as part of J. Edgar Hoover's campaigns against communism and Nazism. Under his direction, the FBI developed a list of individuals, referred to as the Custodial Detention Index or the ABC ...

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