Review: Lana’s War by Anita Abriel

Title: Lana’s War

Author: Anita Abriel

Published: 2nd December 2020, Simon & Schuster Australia

Status: Read January 2021 courtesy Simon & Schuster

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My Thoughts:

Lana’s War is Anita Abriel’s second historical fiction novel set during World War II.

Discovering she is pregnant, Lana Hartmann (née Antanova) hurries through the streets of occupied Paris, anxious to share the happy news with her husband, a music teacher. She is horrified when she finds her husband being questioned by the gestapo and devastated when she witnesses his callous execution while trying to protect a young Jewish girl. Miscarrying their child that same day, Lana staves off despair by volunteering at a convent where she is offered an opportunity to join the resistance. Eager to honour her husband’s sacrifice and save Jews from the Gestapo, Lana accepts and is sent to the Riviera region of France. There Lana is asked to trade on her Russian heritage and, as Countess Lana Antanova, help Swiss resistance member, Guy Pascal, with his efforts to smuggle Jews out of the country.

I like that Abriel has chosen a setting for her novel in an area of France usually overlooked in WWII historical fiction, which tends to favour Paris or the French countryside. Nice, and its neighbours including Cannes, St. Tropez, and Monaco, are part of the French Riviera, on the south east coast of France. Just 30km from the Italian border, Nice was occupied first by the Italians, and then the Germans before being liberated in 1944.

When Lana arrives in November, 1943, she is surprised that the city seems largely unaffected by the war. Unlike in Paris, stores are open and well stocked, and the casino’s, hotels and cafe’s are well patronised, though the place is overrun with German soldiers. Abriel ties the plot of her novel in with the escalation against Jews in the area, where Lana is tasked to learn the timing of upcoming raids, giving them an opportunity to evade being sent to Drancy Internment Camp. I liked the premise which promised adventure, tension and romance, unfortunately the execution fell short for me.

I liked Lana well enough but I didn’t find her to be a particularly consistent or convincing character. While her motivation for her choice to work with resistance is strong, and she’s obviously intelligent, given her education, she doesn’t seem wise enough to be so adept at espionage. It’s also a bit of a stretch that within days of her arrival she has four men essentially in love with her. I did like the romantic attachment Lana formed, but I wasn’t keen on how it played out. Lana’s relationship with Odette, a young Jewish girl, however was lovely.

Unfortunately, despite finding the broad strokes of the the story to be engaging, I thought the prose itself was rather flat, and a touch repetitive. Though I dislike the phrase, I also thought there was far more ‘telling than showing’ and as such, tension rarely eventuated, or fizzled out.

A story of war, vengeance, courage and love, Lana’s War was a quick read, but for me, not a particularly satisfying one.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Indiebound

Also by Anita Abriel reviewed at Book’d Out

Review: The Light After the War by Anita Abriel

Title: The Light After the War

Author: Anita Abriel

Published: February 1st 2020, Simon & Schuster Australia

Status: Read February 2020 courtesy Simon & Schuster Au

++++++

My Thoughts:

World War II fiction tends to focus on the wartime experiences of German or French Jews, and most often takes place in France, Germany, or the UK. The Light After the War by Anita Abriel has an interesting difference, in that it is set over about two years immediately post war with two main characters who are Hungarian Jews, and primarily takes place in Italy, and later, Venezuela.

Best friends Vera and Edith are barely seventeen when they escape during transport to Auschwitz from Budapest, and find refuge in a small Austrian village for the duration of the war. Eventually the girls make their way to Naples, where Edith, who dreams of becoming a fashion designer, finds work as a seamstress, and Vera is employed by the American embassy as a secretary, and falls in love with her boss, Captain Anton Wight. When Vera’s relationship abruptly ends, the friends are fortuitously offered the opportunity to emigrate to America, but denied entry, they settle in Caracas where they hope to forge a new life for themselves.

I was intrigued by the inspiration for this novel, the main characters of The Light Before the War are based on (and even named for) members of Abriel’s own family. Her mother, Vera Frankel, and best friend, Edith, really did escape a train carrying them to Auschwitz, how closely subsequent events mirror their experiences isn’t entirely clear though Abriel confirms some key incidents (one which in particular shocked me) are true in notes found at the end of the novel.

I was surprised to learn that Venezuela granted asylum to Jews fleeing the Nazi regime and the deprivations of the post-war period. I wasn’t aware of that fact, and was interested to later discover that at its peak the country hosted a community of around 65,000 Jews, (though recent political strife has reduced those numbers considerably).

Unfortunately, despite finding elements of the story fascinating, I found the prose itself rather flat, and the pace largely monotonous, in part I think because of the past-tense narrative used in both the ‘present day’ storyline and the flashbacks. Though I dislike the phrase, I also thought there was far more ‘telling than showing’, and a lack of emotional depth. Resilience is all well and good, but the girls never really seem to be afraid, or even more than mildly anxious, with any obstacles they were faced with too easily overcome.

I’m glad that Abriel was able to share her family’s story, her mother’s survival in such circumstances is a triumph. Though The Light After the War wasn’t as engaging as I hoped for, I agree with the author that tales like these ensure the Holocaust will never be forgotten, and never be repeated.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Indiebound

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