Day After Night

By – October 27, 2011

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.

Malv­ina D. Engel­berg, an inde­pen­dent schol­ar, has taught com­po­si­tion and lit­er­a­ture at the uni­ver­si­ty lev­el for the past fif­teen years. She is a Ph.D. can­di­date at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Miami.

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?