Day After Night

Scribner  2009

 

Clipped, terse sentences nearly devoid of emotion punctuate the early chapters of Anita Diamant’s new novel, Day After Night. In effect, they create a cadence, a kind of tension that alerts the audience and causes the reader to pick up speed and maybe even to hyperventilate when reading. Slowly and systematically, though, the sentences increase in length and description, as Diamant introduces the four women who drive the plot in this fictional depiction of the Atlit Internment Camp in Haifa—a British-run prison for Jews considered illegal after the war.

One could easily argue that this novel is the story of these four women: Tedi, a Dutch Jew; Zorah, a survivor of a concentration camp; Shayndel, a Zionist from Poland; and Leonie, a Jew from Paris. Each is under age 21, but each has her own tortured memories, fears, and experiences, her own strengths and weaknesses, and her own unique attachment to the other three. They are, as Diamant describes, “leaves falling off the same tree,” and she tells their stories in separate chapters. With that, the reader comes to know and understand the moral and ethical dilemmas they face—individually and collectively—and the ways in which they handle these issues.

Beyond that, Diamant’s intentions are clear. On the one hand, she illustrates the will and resilience of four young women in an untenable, horrendous situation, who faced the end only to find the beginning. On the other hand, she invites the reader to learn, and perhaps even justify the behaviors and choices destined to yield each a particular set of consequences.

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Discussion Questions

1. The epigraph to Anita Diamant’s novel is, “Know that every human being must cross a very narrow bridge. What is most important is not to be overcome by fear.” How do you understand the image of the “very narrow bridge?” How do the characters in Day After Night cope with their fears? 

2. The novel presents some difficult moral dilemmas, including Leonie’s war-time “refuge,” Tirzah’s affair with Bryce, and the “execution” of Lotte. What do you think of these choices – or do you consider them choices at all?

3. One of the challenges for the inmates of Atlit was learning a new, and for many, totally unfamiliar language. Have you ever been in a situation where you couldn’t speak the language and urgently needed to communicate to strangers? Did you succeed or fail? How and why? 

4. How do the characters change during their stay in Atlit? Which one do you think was most transformed by her experience there? 

5. What do you make of Esther’s “conversion?” Do you think Zorah was right to tell Esther that she was a Jew – regardless of what anyone else might say? 

6. Not all the inmates of Atlit are portrayed as dedicated Zionists. Did the novel challenge or complicate how you understand what Palestine/Israel meant to survivors of the Holocaust?

7. What did you think of the Epilogue and of the thumbnail portrayals of what happened to Leonie, Shayndel, Zorah, and Tedi after Atlit? 



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