The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner

The Last Year of the War

Susan Meissner

When Elise's family is sent to an internment camp for being Nazi sympathizers, Elise feels stripped of everything beloved and familiar. She must discover if she has the will to rise above prejudice and hatred and re-claim her own destiny.

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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.


Advance Galley Reviews

I loved this novel! It took us through the lives of two teenaged girls who were placed in internment camps during World War II. We were able to get a glimpse of their lives before their placement in the camp as well as their life after the camp and then after the war.

This is the second Susan Meissner novel I’ve had the privilege to read this year and it has made a devoted fan of me. It’s an epic WWII story from an angle you typically don’t see, the German-American side. Elisa Sontag, born and raised in the United States, is forced to live through an internment camp where she finds a connection with another prisoner, who will guide Elise through her life choices when she is sent back to Germany and beyond. It’s not JUST a coming-of-age-in-a-wartime story!There is an immense draw that will have you reading way past your bedtime and have you crying in sadness, happiness and all the feelings in between.

The Last Year of the War is everything I love about World War II fiction books, and historical fiction in general. It's moving, poignant, and it taught me about a subject I had little knowledge of before reading it. In the US, it seems we have all but erased internment camps from our history. I had never learned about the Japanese internment camps until I read Jamie Ford's Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet about a year or two ago. Until I read this book, I didn't realize that German Americans were subjected to the same treatment. Though the US internment camps were nowhere near as horrific as the atrocities committed by Hitler, we still imprisoned innocent American citizens and legal residents simply because of their heritage, and in some cases repatriated them against their will. It's so important to learn about history, even the bad parts, and this book does a wonderful job of bringing World War II in America's investment camps, and later in war-torn Germany, to life. The hardships and injustices are clearly illustrated, but so are the lifetime bonds created by surviving awful situations together. Elise and Mariko's friendship, spanning decades even after they lost touch, was heartwarming to read, as was Elise's relationship with her family and her husband's family. Though Elise is a fictional character, her experiences felt real. I loved this book. The Last Year of the War is an important story, well worth reading, and I can't recommend it highly enough.

I am always intrigued by books about some aspect of WW11. It’s difficult, though, to find an interesting, well written book that provides a different perspective or one that presents a story yet untold. I have read several books about the interment of Japanese citizens after Pearl Harbor but I never considered the same treatment of Germans. The camps were miles away in their humanity from the concentration camps in Germany but still deprived many people of their freedom. I also never realized that many internees were swapped for Americans trapped inside Germany. I learned much reading this book. But aside from a story of WWII it’s a story of love; a life long love of two friends, one Japanese, one German who spent just a short period of time together, but a crucial time in their lives. It’s also a story of finding love when so much had been lost. I loved this book

I enjoyed this book, the girls' friendship forged during a harsh environment of an internment camp, but Elsie's struggle to hold onto her memories, most importantly of her friend, Mariko, were inspiring and sad due to her encroaching disease.

This has to be one of my favorite books that I’ve read all year. I loved the different viewpoint it gave of World War II and how it opened my eyes to a part of the war that I did not know much about before. I knew about the camps that were on American soil but never read anything on the subject before. I enjoyed reading Elise’s story and how she grew on her journey from America to Germany and back again. I liked reading a story from a German civilian’s point of view and how life would have been for her then. I really could not put this one down. Once I started I didn’t want to stop rooting for Elise. I’d be interested for more of Mariko’s story and how she survived the war but even if there isn’t anymore to this story, I’m one hundred percent putting this author on my list for more books to read. I’ve also preordered the book because I know I will think of it after my rental is up.

I love how this historical fiction book explored the topic of interment camps in World War 2 as it's something you don't see very often in the genre. To be quite honest it's basically a "let's just pretend it didn't happen" type subject here in the United States. I grew up in the 80s and 90s and I don't ever remember talking about it in school. So I'm glad this author decided this was a story worth telling. It's 1943 and fourteen year old Elise Sontag is living in Iowa with her parents and brother. Even though her German born father has been a legal resident in the United States for two decades, he is still arrested on suspicion of being a Nazi sympathizer. The family is sent to live at an interment camp in Texas where Elise soon meets Mariko Inoue, a Japanese teen who has also been sent to live at the camp along with her family. The two strike up a friendship but as a brutal war rages on, things will never be the same. When I first started reading the book I thought the girls' friendship would be the main focus. While it was a key part of the story, for me the real strength of the book was Elise and her life story. She brought an interesting perspective as someone who has lived her whole life as an American and yet she and her family were treated like the enemy and eventually sent to live in Germany. When the story moved to Germany it brought with it even more tension as you knew from history the war was coming to a close but yet was still bringing destruction. I found this to be a really compelling historical fiction read. It's one of those good ones in which it holds your interest but you also learn a thing or two. The only criticism I have is I expected to feel something more when reading. I thought there was so much buildup with the friendship between the two girls and by the time the story caught up to the present day, it just felt lackluster and almost rushed. In general, while I certainly had enough interest in Elise to want to keep reading, I just never felt a real emotional connection to her. I might be in the minority with that opinion though. Thank you to First to Read for the opportunity to read an advance digital copy!

Two friends, one German the other Japanese, become friends in a Texas internment camp during WWII. While the war eventually separates them, their friendship lives on in their hearts for forever. Such a beautiful, powerful, well written story and one of the best books I read all year!

 


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