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It is 1946 when Vera Frankel and her best friend Edith Ban arrive in Naples. Refugees from Hungary, they managed to escape from a train headed for Auschwitz and spent the rest of the war hiding on an Austrian farm. Now, the two young women must start new lives abroad. Armed with a letter of recommendation from an American officer, Vera finds work at the United States embassy where she falls in love with Captain Anton Wight.
But as Vera and Edith grapple with the aftermath of the war, so too does Anton, and when he suddenly disappears, Vera is forced to change course. Their quest for a better life takes Vera and Edith from Naples to Ellis Island to Caracas as they start careers, reunite with old friends, and rebuild their lives after terrible loss.
Book Club Questions for The Light After the War
- The author said the story is based on her mother’s life—let’s talk about this. Which parts do you think actually happened? Did knowing that the story was based on a real person impact your perception of the character of Vera at all?
- Why was Naples the right choice for Vera and Edith? What did you think about the descriptions of Naples?
- We first meet Vera when she’s applying to work with Captain Anton Wight. What did you think about that first interaction? When do you think they truly started to fall for each other?
- Let’s talk about Vera and Edith’s friendship and everything they overcame.
- Whenever Vera experiences a bit of happiness, she feels instantly feels guilty as if she doesn’t deserve happiness because she survived but her family didn’t (which we learn they are alive later on). Let’s talk about Vera’s survival guilt.
- What did you think about the romance between Vera and Anton? Did you think there was enough focus on it or did you want more?
- Vera and Anton get engaged but he leaves her because he can’t have children. Let’s talk about this.
- Vera and Edith believe they’re going to get to live in New York City but plans changed and they end up in Caracas. Let’s talk about this change for them.
- What did you think about Ricardo? Did you trust him or did you suspect that he had a darker side?
- While in Caracas, Vera finds out that her parents survived! Let’s talk about this development and how that changed things for Vera.
- What did you think about the end with Vera in Australia with her son and reconnecting with Anton?
- What do you think are some of the key themes of this novel?
What to Read Next
Here are some more historical fiction recommendations, along with links to book club questions!
The Golden Hour by Beatriz Williams
For another story with vivid settings, definitely check out The Golden Hour by Beatriz Williams. This one an epic style story about two women fighting for what they love.
The Bahamas, 1941. Newly-widowed Leonora “Lulu” Randolph arrives in the Bahamas to investigate the Governor and his wife for a New York society magazine. After all, American readers have an insatiable appetite for news of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, that glamorous couple whose love affair nearly brought the British monarchy to its knees five years earlier. What more intriguing backdrop for their romance than a wartime Caribbean paradise, a colonial playground for kingpins of ill-gotten empires?
Or so Lulu imagines. But as she infiltrates the Duke and Duchess’s social circle, and the powerful cabal that controls the islands’ political and financial affairs, she uncovers evidence that beneath the glister of Wallis and Edward’s marriage lies an ugly—and even treasonous—reality. In fact, Windsor-era Nassau seethes with spies, financial swindles, and racial tension, and in the middle of it all stands Benedict Thorpe: a scientist of tremendous charm and murky national loyalties. Inevitably, the willful and wounded Lulu falls in love.
Then Nassau’s wealthiest man is murdered in one of the most notorious cases of the century, and the resulting coverup reeks of royal privilege. Benedict Thorpe disappears without a trace, and Lulu embarks on a journey to London and beyond to unpick Thorpe’s complicated family history: a fateful love affair, a wartime tragedy, and a mother from whom all joy is stolen.
The stories of two unforgettable women thread together in this extraordinary epic of espionage, sacrifice, human love, and human courage, set against a shocking true crime . . . and the rise and fall of a legendary royal couple.
When We Left Cuba by Chanel Cleeton
Some of the best historical fiction is written by Chanel Cleeton. When We Left Cuba is a moving story about loss and love.
The Cuban Revolution took everything from sugar heiress Beatriz Perez—her family, her people, her country. Recruited by the CIA to infiltrate Fidel Castro’s inner circle and pulled into the dangerous world of espionage, Beatriz is consumed by her quest for revenge and her desire to reclaim the life she lost.
As the Cold War swells like a hurricane over the shores of the Florida Strait, Beatriz is caught between the clash of Cuban American politics and the perils of a forbidden affair with a powerful man driven by ambitions of his own. When the ever-changing tides of history threaten everything she has fought for, she must make a choice between her past and future—but the wrong move could cost Beatriz everything—not just the island she loves, but also the man who has stolen her heart…