by Anita Diamant
(Scribner, 294 pp., $27)
In her best-selling novel, The Red Tent, Anita Diamant reimagined the lives of women in biblical times, the community of support between them, and their unmarked footsteps in history. Her new novel, Day After Night, seeks out a woman’s narrative in a real event that took place in Israel three years prior to statehood.
The Atlit Detention Camp, located near Haifa on the Mediterranean coast, was created by the British to enforce the White Paper of 1939, cutting off Jewish immigration to Palestine. “Illegal” or clandestine immigration continued, however, especially after World War II, and those captured were held at the Atlit camp. For Holocaust survivors, the camp, with its watchtowers, “delousing barracks,” and barbed wire fences, was a cruel reminder of places they had fled.
In this novel, four young women under the age of twenty support each other in facing an uncertain future in Atlit: Shayndel, a former partisan from Poland; Zorah, a concentration camp survivor; Tedi, a tall, blond Dutch Jew who survived in hiding; and Leonie, the youngest, a French Jew ashamed of her past. On the night of October 9, 1945, the girls help the Palmach (a unit of the Haganah) stage a breakout from the British camp, liberating more than 200 prisoners on the eve of their deportation to Mauritius.
The escape is followed by a night trek in the Carmel Mountains to the kibbutz, Beit Oren, where a miracle takes place at dawn. Diamant tells this true story through the eyes of her characters—inspired by a photograph of four unknown women standing arm in arm that she found in Beit Oren’s archives.