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The Last Year of the War
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The Last Year of the War
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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...
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...
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  • 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.

Excerpts-

  • From the book ***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***

    Copyright © 2018 Susan Meissner

    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 uncover those ancient memories—the good ones and the bad—and she will take them, as gently as dusk swallows daylight. Right now, however, my memories of Mariko are still mine.

    I’ve been told by my doctor that this Alzheimer’s I’ve got will eventually kill me.

    It is so strange to be diagnosed with a fatal disease and not feel sick. What I feel is that I’ve been saddled with a sticky-fingered houseguest who is slowly and sweetly taking everything of mine for her own. I can’t get rid of her, the doctor assured me, and I can’t outwit her. I’ve named my diagnosis after a girl at my junior high school in Davenport—Agnes Finster—who was forever taking things that didn’t belong to her out of lockers. My own Agnes will be the death of me; I know this. But not today.

    Today I am sitting at LAX at a Delta gate waiting to board a plane. I have written Mariko’s name—first, last, and married surname—and her daughter’s name in felt-tip on the inside of my left wrist, and Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco on the inside of the right one, just in case I forget why I’m at the airport with a carry-on bag at my feet. Agnes is adept at seizing little moments of my day, and when she does, she takes control of my mouth and then says the most ridiculous things, some of which I can remember when I’m me again and some that I can’t. Yesterday she asked the mailman where the children were. For heaven’s sake. Pamela and Teddy are not children anymore. They are both married. Retired. They have gray hair.

    I feel badly that Pamela and Teddy don’t know about this trip I am taking, but I couldn’t tell them. They wouldn’t have allowed me to go. Not alone. Maybe not at all. They don’t know about Mariko, and they don’t know about Agnes, either, but I believe they suspect something is up with me. I have seen it in the way they look at me and more so in the way they look at each other. They are wondering whether it’s time to move me out of my home of sixty-three years, perhaps into one of their homes. Or maybe to a facility of some kind. A nice one, they would say. But still. A facility. They are thinking the iPad that Teddy gave me will reveal whether my recent trouble with remembering routine minutiae and even calling to mind how many grandchildren I have is more than just the simple forgetfulness of an eighty-one-year-old woman. I’m not the only one using the...

Reviews-

  • Kirkus

    January 15, 2019
    A German-American girl becomes best friends with a Japanese-American girl in an internment camp during World War II.Elise Sontag feels like a normal American teenager in 1943 even though her parents grew up in Germany. But then her father is arrested because the authorities think he might be a Nazi sympathizer, leaving Elise, her mother, and her brother all alone. Eventually, their family is able to be together again--in a family internment camp in Texas. Although there are others of German descent and also some Italians, the majority of the camp's residents are of Japanese descent. People of different nationalities don't often mix, but Elise becomes friends with Mariko, a Japanese-American teenager who lived in LA before coming to the camp with her parents and siblings. Elise and Mariko make big plans to move to Manhattan together when the war ends, but before that can happen, Elise's family is sent back to Germany. As the war rages on, Elise never stops hoping that she and Mariko will eventually reunite even as the world crumbles around her. Meissner (As Bright as Heaven, 2018, etc.) 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. Although Mariko is a central character, Elise's personal growth is what drives the story--she must learn how to take control of her life even as she's at the mercy of a government that sees her family as enemies. Readers may wish they could see more of Mariko's experiences and hardships, but Elise's story is still compelling and important.An emotional and informative look at a shameful chapter of U.S. history that's often swept under the rug.

    COPYRIGHT(2019) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    March 15, 2019
    Elise Sontag is American, but when WWII breaks out, the fact that her parents are German immigrants trumps that. Soon Elise and her family are sent to Crystal City, an internment camp in the Texas desert. Though there are unspoken divisions between prisoners of German and Japanese descent, Elise befriends Mariko, a fellow first-generation American with a vivid imagination. The two lose touch when their families are repatriated, and the focus shifts to Elise struggling to adjust to life in Germany, where she faces a language barrier and bombings in equal measures. The story is driven by present-day Elise, struggling to make a connection before she loses her memories to Alzheimer's. Meissner (As Bright as Heaven, 2018) gently explores a little-known aspect of American internment camps: things are hot and unpleasant, but there is plenty of food and friendship among the German and Japanese prisoners. Despite the hardships she endures, Elise remains optimistic and open to love, which comes from an unexpected place after the war. A heartbreaking, thought-provoking work of historical women's fiction.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2019, American Library Association.)

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