The Light at the End of the Day by Eleanor Wasserberg

‘Are you leaving?’

The novel opens in Kraków, Poland in 1939.  Jewish families are starting to leave.  By the time the wealthy Oderfeldt family decides to flee, it is too late for them to travel together, too late for them to take their possessions.  Of all the possessions they must leave behind, Alicia’s most prized possession is a painting.  It is a portrait of her that her father commissioned, painted by Jozef Pienta. The family: parents Adam and Anna, sisters Karolina and Alicia, are separated by the war.

Anna, Karolina, and Alicia travel together, trying to find refuge and safety. Their life of luxury in Kraków becomes a distant memory.  After the war ends, Alicia wants to recover the painting.

There are several characters with different stories in this novel and, sadly, not all endings are happy.  Once I started reading, I found it difficult to put the novel down. The contrasts between the Odefeldt’s life in Kraków and the indignities and horrors of war, the courage shown by Anna, Karolina and Alicia.  The significance of the painting to Alicia, and the journey to find it and reconnect with others is the heart of the story. Recommended.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith