by Susan Meissner
Narrator: Kimberly Farr
Length: 16 hours and 37 minutes
Genres: Historical Fiction
Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliate
Narration: 5 cups Speed: 1.2x
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.
The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner was a poignant, powerful story that shared friendship as it shined a light on American internment camps during World War II. Narrated by Kimberly Farr I found myself immersed in the stories of Elise Sontag and Mariko Inoue.
What a beautiful story, despite the ugliness of war. We meet Elise Sontag, in the advanced years of her life when she is first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Her thoughts soon turn to the memories of her childhood friend, Mariko Inoue. Through a stroke of luck, Elise sets off to find her friend. As she begins her search we the listener hear their story.
Elise transports us to her youth. Here we bear witness to events as they unfolded in 1943 through her. Elise’s world is turned upside down. She is a fourteen-year-olds American of German descent who loves her home, family and friends. Her parents are both, legal U.S. residents and have been for nearly two decades. Their world crumbles when her father is suddenly arrested on suspicion of being a Nazi sympathizer.
Meanwhile in California, Mariko Inoue who lives with her parents and siblings in Little Tokyo. We gain Mariko’s perspective as she too witnesses her father being arrested after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Mariko and her family are ordered to pack up only what they can carry. They are being sent to an internment camp.
The author did a wonderful job conveying the families emotions, neighbors reactions and the tension felt throughout the world during these troubling time. I loved the blending of historic details and sentiments of the people.
Both Elise and Mariko’s families end up in a family camp, where German and Japanese family’s are housed behind wire fencing. Here the two become friends despite the racial tension.
The tale that unfolds was as beautiful as it was painful. Meissner through Elise’s POV and Mariko’s shared the tension of the time, the frustration their families felt and the ugly hatred brought on by fear. Yet despite that, the two young girls find friendship and dream of the future.
Before their stories are complete we will travel to worn torn Europe, suffer losses and wrap ourselves in the everlasting bonds of friendship.
I laughed and I cried as Meissner gave face and heart to the events that unfolded. The audio was narrated by Kimberly Farr. I felt she did a splendid job giving voice to each of the characters. I have no idea if her German or Japanese was accurate, but it felt authentic.
This period is one of my favorites to read about both in fiction and non-fiction. I especially enjoy when an author takes facts and breathes life into them with fictional characters.
While, The Last Year of the War made me cry, it also made me laugh and clutch my fists in anger. I love when I become completely connected emotionally with a story. The story ended on a high note. One that made me laugh aloud.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
I can imagine it is a tear jerker. Just reading the blurb can do it. I have not had a book do that to me yet but his might. I have this added to my list already and think I will just have to take the plug and grab in on Audio. Tissues ready.
I read The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet which is about Seattle and the Chinese and Japanese living there when the war broke out. Very much like this and about interment camps. This sounds intriguing and emotional too. A great one to pair with the above. ❤️❤️
Katherine @ I Wish I Lived in a Library
I’ve been on the fence about this one because it seems like I”m going to seriously ugly cry through it sounds amazing. I think I may try audio. It looks so good.
Sure sounds like an emotional read!
Teresa Mary Rose
This sounds like a great yet gut wrenching read…. not my normal genre but it sounds wonderful. Great review!
Suzanne @ The Bookish Libra
This sounds incredible! I’m always on the lookout for new historical fiction for this time period, so definitely adding to my TBR. Wonderful review!
I can understand how this would be an emotional read.
Got me with this, I like a good cry
I’m a sucker for a good war novel!
You know you hit the jackpot when a story causes you to laugh and cry. Great review.
Anne - Books of My Heart
It sounds so sad and certainly there are some nasty things going on these days. I hope we don’t have more. Excellent review. I don’t always like historical fiction but this one sounds like it would work for me.
Angela @ Simply Angela
I’ve been wondering about this one. It’s nice to know you were able to connected with the emotions in it. Great review!
Lindy@ A Bookish Escape
I love when a story can make you both laugh and cry! This is one of my favorite time periods to read about too! I think that adding read historical facts lends itself to the story feeling more authentic. Great Review Kim!
Love that cover. Makes me think of that Bette Midler movie…Beaches.
I also love the WWII era, I will have to add this to my list, I almost did but passed, now I am sorry I did. I will have to check out the audio from the library. Lovely review.
Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out
Sounds wonderful, thanks for sharing your thoughts:)
Oh yes it sounds really intense there!
I’ve had this one on my wish list since I spotted it on GoodReads. I knew it would be a tearjerker. 🙂 Glad there are happy moments, too.
Oh Kim this sounds unforgettable and it’s also my favorite time in history too, a time the US would like everyone to forget about. I remember reading Sandra Dallas’s Tall Grass and can you believe having never lived near one or ever being taught about them in school didn’t know we had camps here in the States. I felt like I was cheated out of the truth growing up. This sounds powerful and it’s going on my audible wish list. When I saw how long the audible was I was surprised it was only 397 pages. Thanks Kim for this wonderful review, I’m clicking links right now to see if I can afford it!
Genesis @ Whispering Chapters
Wow, this is really interesting. I know a lady who’s father was a Nazi. And the stories she has told me and the fear she lived in growing up were terrible. They even went bankrupt 3 times when she was a kid because of the government and it reminds me to what you wrote in your review, that they could only take with them what they could carry. This book sounds like a really in-depth one and thoughtful.
Genesis @ Whispering Chapters
I love this author and have read most of her books. This sounds like a great book and Kimberly, you have written an amazing review! I am reading this book ASAP. Thanks so much for sharing.