REVIEW: The Light After the War by Anita Abriel

In brief: Vera and best friend Edith find themselves in Naples after World War II, trying to build a new life after losing their families. It won’t be easy and it will take them across the world to find their happiness.

The good: Based on a real story with never a dull moment.

The not-so-good: Very sad in places.

Why I chose it: Enjoy historical fiction, and this one sounded a bit different. Thanks Simon & Schuster for the ARC.

Year: 2020

Pages: 307 (ARC)

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Setting: Hungary, Austria, Italy, America, Venezuela and Australia

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

I’ve read quite a few historical fiction novels in my time, but very few have dealt with the aftermath of World War II. The story of what happens after the war seems to be a new trend, and why not? This period is rich with history as people are displaced after the war with little or nothing to come home to so they forge new paths in different countries, often a long way from their homeland. The Light After the War is a semi-biographical novel of Anita Abriel’s mother, a Hungarian refugee.

Vera and her best friend Edith escaped the train of Jewish women heading for the labour camps thanks to some clever thinking by their mothers. The young women find themselves in Austria where they work on a farm. After the war, they go to Naples where Vera has been offered work in the American embassy. Living with next to nothing isn’t easy, especially when the ghosts of their loved ones (now presumed dead) haunt them. Vera finds love with her supervisor but in a cruel twist of fate, Anton decides he can’t give her what she wants and disappears. Fortunately, a photo of Vera and Edit has made it to America, where a wealthy businessman will sponsor them. But on arrival at Ellis Island, things are not what they seem to be and the friends must be on the move again. Will they find love and the careers they want?

The story starts after the war in Naples and the descriptions of life in the city are rich with detail – the Italian way of life, the food and the decimated buildings. Through flashbacks to the past, the reader begins to understand what happened to Vera and Edith during the war. Occasionally these are a little disconcerting because I wasn’t sure where the story had gone, but once I got used to them, I looked forward the sudden segues into the past. Rather than focusing on the atrocities of war, the story focuses on the friendship between Vera and Edith. It’s almost a coming of age story, set in a very different time to what the modern reader is used to. The two look out for each other, with Vera being very protective of Edith (in particular her love life). Sometimes this was a little grating, as the friends are the same age but Edith always seemed to be being questioned by Vera. (She doesn’t have the best of luck, but then nor does Vera). The other main theme is romance for Vera. (Edith doesn’t really have much luck in this field, and when she does, it doesn’t get a lot of page time). Vera has one great love with Anton, but it’s cruelly torn away from her. After some mishaps, she finds a new love – but is it all it seems? Will she find happiness?

Overall, the story is more sweet than harrowing with the focus firmly on life after the war. There are many happy moments with only a few devastating ones for the characters. It’s a glimpse into several cultures during a unique time.

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