Editorial note: I received a copy of The Light After the War in exchange for a review.
The Light After the War by Anita Abriel is a moving historical fiction novel set in post-WWII.
Historical fiction is a genre I’ve come to really enjoy the past few years. I’ve always loved history and I’m so impressed how these historical fiction authors can weave fact and fiction into a compelling story. While I’ve read a lot of historical fiction, I don’t think I’ve read one as personal as The Light After the War.
The author Anita Abriel said that the story is inspired by her mother’s story of survival during WWII and you can really tell this is a passion project for her. The writing is vivid and the journey is epic in scope. But at the heart of the novel is about survival, friendship and love.
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.
We follow the story from Vera’s perspective and she’s a very likable protagonist. The story goes from the present of post-WWII life to flashbacks from the past when Vera and her mother are on their way to Auschwitz. The sections dedicated to the past—particularly when they’re on the train are very chilling. The whole time I kept reading it, I just kept thinking, I can’t believe the story is real – it’s incredible the author’s mother was able to survive it.
While I do quite enjoy stories that take place during WWII, I truly think the aftermath is just as interesting and how people were forced to try and find a new normal.
We meet Vera where she is hired by Captain Anton Wight. Vera is haunted by her past and guilt that she survived but her family didn’t. That guilt overshadows her every move but she then begins to open up with Anton. I thought where the love story was going but it actually takes quite a different turn than expected.
The story takes us from Naples to Ellis Island to Caracas and to Sydney. I thought the settings really made this book stand apart (beyond the true story aspect). I really loved all the details of life in Naples—from the food to the descriptions of the location. It was interesting reading Vera’s comparisons of Naples to that of Hungary.
I also thought Caracas was also very vivid and you felt like you were right there with the characters.
A story of survival
Vera and Edith are able to escape Auschwitz but it doesn’t mean that live will be easy. In fact, they have many more challenges and heartbreak to overcome. But they’re able to preserve through inner strength and relying on their friendship. I love stories about female friendship and thought that it was the true love story in this read.
Historical fiction is at its best when you learn something from it. The author wrote, “in writing my mother’s story, I hope to honor a whole generation of courageous people. They didn’t have the luxury of simply turning away. I hope that present and future generations show the same kind of courage by never letting it happen again.”
It’s so important that we continue to teach and read stories from the past—especially about the Holocaust.
Final review thoughts: this is a thoughtful historical fiction novel that will no doubt stick with you long after you finish the last page.