cover image The Last Year of the War

The Last Year of the War

Susan Meissner. Berkley, $26 (400p) ISBN 978-0-451-49215-9

Meissner’s propulsive latest (after As Bright as Heaven) is the story of a teenage German-American girl sent to an American internment camp near the end of WWII, where she’s befriended by a Japanese-American girl. The friendship lasts only 18 months, because Elise Sontag; her brother, Max; and her German-born parents—torn first from their lives in Iowa and then from a Texas compound called Crystal City—are repatriated to Germany before the final bombings. The girls quickly lose touch, but at age 81, Elise remembers Mariko Inoue, who had been relocated to Crystal City from California with her siblings and Japanese parents, and eventually repatriated to Japan. The elderly Elise relives the depth of her brief friendship with Mariko (“I’m a different person for having known her”), submerging readers in those memories and in recollections of the terrifying 1945 carpet bombings in Germany and suffering heartbreaking losses during her teen years. Saved by marriage to a wealthy American who brings her back to the U.S., Elise nevertheless holds the memory of her friend close throughout the following decades and becomes determined to locate Mariko one last time. Vivid historical detail and elegant prose bolster this rewarding story of profound friendship, family, fear, and the pain that arose for American-born children of immigrant parents. [em](Mar.) [/em]