Diamant (The Last Days of Dogtown, 2005, etc.) tenderly portrays four women in transition, from the killing fields of Europe to the promised land of Eretz Yisrael.
In August 1945, however, they’re stuck in Atlit, a British detention center for illegal immigrants to the Palestinian mandate. “Not one of the women in Barrack C is 21, but all of them are orphans,” the author tells us on the first page. Zorah lost her entire family in the first concentration-camp selection. Tedi spent two years hiding in the Dutch countryside, then escaped from a train bound for Auschwitz. Shayndel, a prewar Zionist, fought with the partisans. Leonie was saved from a roundup of Parisian Jews and forced into prostitution. These memories are their constant companions, but people at Atlit avoid talking about the past: “It was all about Palestine.” The underground Jewish fighting force plans to break out the detainees and lead them to the kibbutzim. Meanwhile, the camp is riddled with intrigue. The Jewish cook is sleeping with the British commander to gain information, but she also happens to love him. Leonie spots an SS tattoo under the armpit of a crazed new arrival. Shayndel spars with a swaggering Jewish soldier and wonders if all the men in Palestine are this arrogant. Zorah becomes the fierce protector of a Polish gentile who rescued her Jewish employer’s son and is raising him as her own. The novel climaxes with the breakout (an actual event), but the real story here is about healing, about being able to love again and to believe in the future. Diamant quietly leads us into her characters’ anguish, guilt and despair, then gently shows them coming to renewed life almost in spite of themselves. A moving epilogue traces the four protagonists’ paths after leaving Atlit, reminding us that their wartime ordeals and internment were “just the beginning.”
A warm, intensely human reckoning with unbearable sorrow and unquenchable hope.