Day After Night
Published by: Scribner
Buy the Book: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop
Set in 1945, in the summer immediately following the end of World War II in Europe, Day After Night tells the stories of four young Jewish women—survivors of four different kinds of hell. They make their way to the land of Israel where they confront an uncertain future haunted by the past.
The protagonists — Leonie, Tedi, Shayndel and Zorah — are interned when they arrive, locked up behind barbed wire fences in a place called Atlit, a prison camp run by the British, who ruled Palestine at the time. In Atlit, the women meet and befriend one another as they grapple with a new life in a new land.
Named a Best Book of the Year by The Washington Post and The Salt Lake City Tribune
“Day After Night demonstrates the power of fiction to illuminate the souls of people battered by the forces of history.”
—Washington Post Book World
“A compelling account of pain and hardship linked to one of history’s great tragedies.”
“Extraordinary… Like characters in the The Red Tent, Shayndel, Leonie, Tedi and Zorah are indomitable…Thanks to Diamant, we can believe that anyone can start anew.”
“Diamant… has a knack for juxtaposing public fact with private truth… Diamant, sensibly, shies away from creating heroes and heroines, but instead sketches honest portraits of everyday people trying their best in challenging circumstances.”
“A rich portrayal of female friendship in the face of great adversity, with psychologically complex characters that leap from the page.”
—The Age (Australia)
“Compulsively readable… [An] astutely imagined story… Diamant opens a window into a time of sadness, confusion and optimism that has resonance for so much that’s both triumphant and troubling in modern Jewish history.”
“Although the history is compelling, the real interest lies in the way Diamant shows these women learning to go on—forming new bonds, rediscovering simple daily pleasures, coming to terms with the past. Fluid storytelling and well–drawn characters make this a sure bet for a wide range of readers.”
“[A] searing novel.”
“The circumstances, setting and generous sensibility of her book compel… The factual details of the novel are so persuasive and interesting (if troubling) they make one long for the nonfiction book Diamant might also have written.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“With luminous, fluid prose, Diamant dips deep into the girls’ hidden wells of emotion and memory. When each woman rises from her nightmares, gasping as she awakens, the readers feel like they’re catching their own breath as well. For this novel is not just about women who have survived the Shoah –– it’s a universally human tale about hope and healing.”
Reading Group Guide
- Shayndel “was overcome by the weight of what she had lost: mother, father, brother, friends, neighbors, comrades, lovers, landscapes.” Reflecting on her past Leonie remembers a vision in which “her own voice, [said] yes to life, as miserable as it was.” For Zorah, remembering the worst of what happened to her and others is a sacred trust. Although loss and suffering have shaped each character, they are remarkably resilient. How might terribly memories actually keep a person going? What does the book tell us about the strength of the human spirit?
- What is the significance of the book’s title? How can it be interpreted
- How do food and celebration play an important part in the novel?
- How do Tirzah and Bryce’s similarities and differences influence their love for each other? There are great silences between them; how do small physical gestures communicate their thoughts and feelings?
- As Zorah’s feelings for Esther and Jacob change, she reflects that “the world was an instrument of destruction” but that “the opposite of destruction is creation.” How does this idea reflect the novel as a whole? Diamant also writes (in Zorah’s voice) that “‘luck’ was just another word for ‘creation,’ which was as relentless as destruction.” What does this mean? How is this a turning point for Zorah?
- All of the characters have strengths that helped them to survive the war. How do their strengths and weaknesses influence each other? How might one person’s weakness help to develop another person’s strength?
- “Everyone in Atlit had secrets… Most people managed to keep their secrets under control, concealed behind a mask of optimism or piety or anger. But there were an unfortunate few without a strategy or system for managing the pastÉ” How do secrets play a role in all of the women’s experiences at the camp? How have each of them been shaped by secrets?
- Discuss the theme of identity and how it plays an important role in the characters’ lives. Consider Esther and Jacob’s story, Shayndel’s memories of her skills as a fighter in contrast to the way others at the camp view her, Leonie’s past, etc.
- What does Tedi’s keen sense of smell symbolize? How does her sense of smell provide insights into the other characters?
- How do the characters find common ground despite seemingly impossible circumstances? Consider the relationships between Tirzah and Bryce, Leonie and Lotte, and Zorah and Esther, among others.
- “Leonie’s skin was unblemished. She had not hidden in a Polish sewer or shivered in a Russian barn. She had not seen her parents shot. Atlit was her first experience of barracks and barbwire. She had survived the war without suffering hunger or thirst. There had been wine and hashish and a pink satin coverlet to muffle her terrors.” Discuss this passage. What does it say about the nature of fear and horror? How would you compare Leonie’s experiences during the war with those of her friends? How can internal and external horror be equally destructive?
- How did you feel about Lotte’s story? Did the way it ended surprise you? What do you make of the main characters’ silence about what happened?
- On their last night together each of the women has a vivid dream. How would you interpret these?
- What did you think of the epilogue? Was it satisfying?
- How would you compare Day After Night with other World War II-era novels that you’ve read?
- What are some of your favorite passages from the book? What were some of the most difficult parts to read?
Enhance Your Book Club
• Cook a meal in honor of Tirzah’s Rosh Hashanah feast. Check out traditional recipes at allrecipes.com, epicurious.com and jewishrecipes.org or peruse the Jewish cooking section at your local bookstore.
• For information about Yitzhak Rabin, one of the Palmachniks who orchestrated the Atlit escape and a future Nobel Prize winner and prime minister of Israel, click here.
How did you come to write Day After Night?
Day After Night began in the spring of 2001. My daughter was a high school sophomore spending a semester in Israel and my husband and I went to visit her there. It was our first trip to Israel and we spent a good part of the week going on class field trips with the other parents. One of our stops was at the Atlit detention camp, which had been turned into a living history museum. There we learned how Holocaust survivors were imprisoned by the British authorities, and about the story of the October 1945 break-out, when all of the prisoners were taken to safety in the nearby mountains. I remember thinking, "Now there’s a novel."
How much of the book is based on historical accounts?
Although the rescue from Atlit is well-known in Israel, I found contradictory accounts of exactly what happened that night, including different stories about where the freed prisoners ended up. I worked from generally accepted facts; ccounts in the English-language Jerusalem Post, for example. However, since I wrote the novel from the point of view of my characters, I had a lot of leeway in terms of details and perceptions.
Though it is historical fiction, Day After Night is more contemporary than your other historical novels (The Red Tent, The Last Days of Dogtown). How does writing about recent history differ from writing about the distant past?
Writing about the ancient Near East in 1500 B.C.E. means that no one can really challenge my recipe for goat stew. The closer you get to modern times, the easier it is to make mistakes. In my second novel, Good Harbor, which describes treatment for breast cancer in the present, I was acutely aware of the need to be factually and emotionally accurate. With Day After Night, I worked to avoid factual errors and anachronisms. I expect there may be objections to my portrayal and interpretation of various events and locations, but I'm okay with that because there are differing accounts from people who were there.
How did you create your four central characters—Leonie, Tedi, Shayndel, and Zorah?
Creating characters is a long process. They develop on the page and unfold over time as I write, rewrite, and revise. I really can't come up with a tidy answer to this question, but for some reason, getting the names right is a big first step.
I wanted to create four women with different experiences of the war and I was interested in exploring the ways people survive terrible trauma yetd persevere and even reinvent themselves.
As the readers slowly learn the hidden history of each of these women, the characters do not all tell one another their stories. Why was it important for some of them to keep their stories secret?
There was a great deal of silence and secrecy about the horrors of the Holocaust in this period. It was a world filled with guilt: survivors who felt they didn't deserve to be alive when their loved ones had died; and for Jews who lived in Palestine or America, guilt and also shame at not having known more or done more to save those who perished. Talking about pain was not considered therapeutic and there was even a sense that it was unhealthy to "dwell on the past;" better to face the future and move on. It wasn't until the Eichmann trial in 1961 that frank and public conversations about the Holocaust began in earnest and continue to this day.
You write both fiction and non-fiction. Do you find one easier to tackle than the other?
I find nonfiction writing much easier, in part because I have more experience and confidence in that form. Fiction is harder: so many choices, so many possible paths to follow. I like the clarity of nonfiction but I also enjoy the challenge of fiction. In some ways, however, they are not all that dissimilar, especially in terms of revising and rewriting.
Would you make some suggestions for further reading for those interested in learning more about the period in which Day After Night takes place?
I would recommend the works of Primo Levi, an Italian chemist who survived Auschwitz and returned to Turin after the war; his memoir The Reawakening tells the story of his liberation and journey home. He is a beautiful writer. Tom Segev's One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs Under The British Mandate is a fascinating history of the years from 1922-1948.
The nightmares made their rounds hours ago. The tossing and whimpering are over. Even the insomniacs have settled down. The twenty restless bodies rest, and faces aged by hunger, grief, and doubt relax to reveal the beauty and the pity of their youth. Not one of the women in Barrack C is twenty-one, but all of them are orphans.