Preview Reviews: The Light at the End of the Day by Eleanor Wasserberg

Preview Reviews: The Light at the End of the Day by Eleanor Wasserberg

When Jozef is commissioned to paint a portrait of the younger daughter of Kraków’s grand Oderfeldt family, it is only his desperate need for money that drives him to accept. But when he is ushered into their house in the winter of 1937, he has no inkling of the way his life will become entangled with the Oderfeldts’. Spanning countries and decades The Light at the End of the Day is a heart-breaking novel of exile, survival and how we remember what is lost.

Read our Preview reviewer thoughts here:

I enjoy reading this as it started out quite good then as it went on it slowed a bit in the story.  Plus it jump around the characters a lot.  But overall it was a good read – Beth, TAS, 5 stars

For me, The Light at the End of the Day was a good book. It was very nearly a great book, but there were just a couple of things that, in my opinion, stopped the book from flowing as it could have and made it, at times, slow to get through.    I really enjoyed getting to know the characters. Despite many of them being flawed, I found them relatable and believable. The trouble with this was, I wanted to know them more. There were a lot of characters and I felt that very few of them were explored and explained adequately. I found myself forgetting who was who at times. Many of my favourite characters just disappeared until they were briefly mentioned again at the end. I wanted more from and about many of the personalities in the story.    I loved the setting/s which were so far removed from anything I’ve experienced. Despite this, though, I did find the frequent place and time hopping a bit difficult to keep up with at times and regularly found myself flipping back to remember what year I had been in in relation to the section I was about to begin.    I also felt that there were a few occasions where the build up to a certain event/change/moment was insufficient. There was often a lot of talking about what seemed like fairly unimportant parts of the story and then something fairly major would happen, seemingly out of nowhere (or maybe I’m just not good at picking up on subtle hints?!). I felt as though more build up would have made the story and characters more compelling.    Despite the above comments, however, I was so impressed by the originality of this story. It is truly unlike anything I’ve ever read before. I would certainly recommend it to lovers of historical fiction (though I would perhaps warn them of the few faults).    Many thanks to the author, Better Reading and Harper Collins for allowing me a sneak peek preview in exchange for my honest review. – Rebecca, QLD, 3 stars

This is far from just another survival story, or a sad family tragedy. I was so caught up in the emotional tale towards the end, and hoping the survivors could be reunited… The characters were all very human and I felt for all of them, even crotchety old Janina (their neighbour). The bulk of the book concerns Alicia, the younger sister, and her growth from a spoiled child to a resilient survivor. I was glad there was some resolution for her, and eventually for the different branches of her immediate family – though rather belatedly… – Ayesha, NSW, 4 stars

There exists a fascination with the the identification of the original owners of many of the confiscated and hurriedly sold off artworks of the persecuted Jews from the time of the Second World War. Works of the Old Masters as well as obscure pieces by unknown or virtually unknown painters can potentially tell a story in reverse. Eleanor Wasserberg has crafted a beautiful story around one such creation.    Polish Jews from late 1930’s Krakow are the main characters of this novel. The central family, who with one exception are not particularly likeable people, are enjoying the status of having their younger child sit for a portrait. The selection of the artist and the painting of the portrait places us within the walls of the privileged life of their beautiful apartment.  Their inherent selfishness does not impact on our  sympathy for their plight as we plunge into the terror of their horrifying reality with growing alarm for their safety.  Having one family member who, though remaining unflinchingly loyal to her kin, has empathy and softness to offset the general tone of arrogance is a blessed relief and in itself a source of light for the reader.    The courageous people who lived these times and experiences were all too seldom rewarded with their longed for light at the end of their day. – Deidre, VIC, 4 stars

The Light at the End of the Day is a fantastic book with a real in sight into what life was like during world war 2 and the impact on every day life and families as well as those of the generations which followed. Highly recommend this book. – Heather, NSW, 4 stars

Reader’s will be warmed by the strength of the Oderfeldt family in this historical fiction novel. Eleanor Wasserberg transports her audience to Kraków as Poland is invaded during the Second World War. Through the course of interconnected journeys familial bonds will be strengthened and tested as readers vicariously experience the weight of the despair inflicted during this time. Love is sure to leave an indelible mark on readers of ‘The Light at the End of the Day’.  – Marie, NSW, 4 stars

The Light at the End of the Day opens on the eve of the German invasion of Poland. Adam and Anna think they have left their Jewish roots and the Krakow ghetto behind. Life is good and they believe their wealth and status will protect them.     A struggling artist is commissioned to paint a portrait of their youngest daughter. From the long, languid days spent with the young artist, the narrative rapidly switches to the family’s terrifying flight across Poland. They face chaos, squalor and cruelty. They are scattered. After the war ends, the survivors search for each other. While I did not warm to any of the characters at the outset, I grew to like them more through their journey. A compelling story of exile and survival, and ultimately the power of love.  – Teresa, TAS, 3 stars

I was given the opportunity by Harper Collins Publishers to provide a review for The Light At The End of The Day. To be honest reading the blurb it’s not something I would’ve voluntarily picked to read, but I am so glad I did! I have very mixed emotions about the book as a whole. It took a while for me to get into the book at first and I was becoming confused with the characters. I felt the story didn’t flow, I had to go back and reread sections thinking I’d missed something or to refresh on who was who. When it came time for Anna and the girls to escape, the whole flow of the story seemed to change. The characters became more likeable, the settings more graphic and the storyline more exciting; but the twist at the end was definitely my favourite, one I definitely did not see coming! – Katrina, QLD, 3 stars

For fans of The Book Thief, All The Light We Cannot See and The Lavender Thief you will absolutely love The Light at the End of the Day. It starts in 1930s and is a complex lengthy story that crosses different decades and countries that simply flies by as Wasserberg’s writing is superb. Your heart will break as what the family endures to stay safe. Alicia is the main character but the portrait painting is a character all of its own. This book would make a blockbuster movie and I’d love to see it on the big screen. You will be left breathless right to the end. I’m going to read it again! – Rodney, NSW, 5 stars

Light at the end of the day by Eleanor Wasserberg.    “Today the light was good, rich and lightly pinked by the late winter sunset. Alicia could trace in her mind’s eye how the shadow on her left side would make the glow where her hand was placed on the sill seem to bloom more richly and how the smock she wore would absorb the golden pink light like a delicate thin petal…”    We are taken back to Krakow, Poland in 1939, where the Oderfeldt family, parents Adam and Anna with daughters Karolina and Alicia, dwell in their luxurious apartment aside the splendour of Wawel Castle. Their lives abundant in opulence and all privileges of the rich. Jozef Pienta enters their lives to paint a portrait of the pampered youngest daughter, and finds his life changed in an unforeseen direction…then the Russians enter Poland and the Jewish are removed from their homes or find themselves on the run. This is a story about a family, a portrait, love and loss. War becomes an equalizer, money no longer means privilege or exemption. Will they find each other again? – Joanna, VIC, 3 stars

In Krakow in 1939, Alicia is concerned about choosing the right shade of red for the dress she will wear in Josef’s portrait.   There are rumours that Polish Jews, like her family, are experiencing problems in Berlin.   But that’s just a few German soldiers and it’s a long way away.  It could never happen here.  The Light at the End of the Day follows Alicia and her family as their world narrows from the opulence of high society in Krakow to a story of survival and finding out what really matters.  Author Eleanor Wasserberg’s light touch in the most harrowing of scenes propels the story forward. – Beth, TAS, 4 stars

This historical novel depicts the experiences of a well off Jewish family in Poland during WWII.   It centres on Alicia, the precocious youngest daughter of Adam and Anna Oderfeldt, and the portrait her father has commissioned of her. This portrait becomes the driving force behind Alicia’s survival through the difficult war years and beyond.   Although the family’s experiences are all too familiar, unlike other novels with the same theme, I found it difficult to connect with the characters. The author tended to focus on negative personality traits like dishonesty, weakness, infidelity and betrayal in her characters, which left me struggling to engage with their stories.   The writing, at times, was difficult to follow as the timelines jumped around randomly. A lot of seemingly important details were skipped over or left out completely, leaving me as a reader with many unanswered questions.   The story itself was interesting but I just felt it was lacking that special something to make it an enjoyable read. I would rate it 3 out of 5 stars. – Lee, VIC, 3 stars

The premise of the book was quite appealing, and a genre I have previously enjoyed. However, it fell flat. The writing felt quite disjointed and I just couldn’t connect with the characters. Too much time was devoted to the first part of the book leaving the end feeling quite rushed. – Kayla, SA, 1 star

I found the book very interesting. Great story and great characters. I won’t tell you what’s it about . I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. Once I started reading the book ,felt like I was really there. Experiencing everything the characters experienced.All people of different ages would really enjoy it – Suzanna, NSW, 5 stars

I must admit I struggled with this book. I usually love Historical Fiction set in ths time period, but there was just something lacking that I am finding hard to put my finger on. The story just did not seem to go anywhere. I also struggled with the lack of depth to the characters. – Mel, NSW, 2 stars

I was intrigued by the historical notion of the summary that was given, as I love a good historical novel, especially one that includes the holocaust. I was left a bit confused by all the different characters and who belonged to who. The author was able to capture some of the horrific scenes that happened during WWII, which was thoughtfully written out. I felt the book took a while to warm up but then finished in such a rush. Apart from some of my confusion, this was a good read. – Charlotte, QLD, 3 stars

Thank you for allowing me to review this book.  This was very interesting overall though I thought it took a while to get going, I thought the first half of the book was quite slow.  The second half of the book, with details and events of their journey was much more intriguing and I do think the book was well written and researched.  I can’t say I was drawn to any particular characters, they all had their own unique traits but none were particularly warm.  Generally speaking, a worthwhile read. – Danielle, VIC, 3 stars

This book follows the lives of one jewish family through the horror of world war 2. The juxtaposition of their starting wealth and life of luxury and the poverty they are forced to endure as they flee their home is jarring and eye opening. Not even the rich could evade the concentration camps. Filled with moments of beauty, friendship and hope, this novel was unforgettable. – Kristy, NSW, 5 stars

What a book!  Absolutely thrilling to the end, set in Poland and filled with the elegance of times passed. This was a very enjoyable read.  Highly recommend. – Emma, QLD, 4 stars

The Oderfeldts and their acquaintances are an interesting cast of characters, but what we get is not enough. The story flicks between various perspectives but I didn’t ever really connect with any of the characters. I felt like I knew Alicia or Anna best but I couldn’t tell you if I liked them or not. Alicia’s petulance and cunning as a child was frustrating and her whining drove me to distraction, and I felt that if I heard another word about the lost painting I would reach through the pages and strangle her. But by the time she emerges on the other side of the war, her growth was clear and by the time we catch up with her in Krakow, I understood why the painting is so important. I would have liked to see that character growth on the page.    With the varied perspectives, I was itching for more information on Karolina and Jozef and felt their summation towards the end was rushed. What was strikingly and heartbreakingly clear was how easy it was for people to lose each other during the chaos and confusion of war. While I wasn’t sure I believed in Karolina and Jozef’s love – it felt like an infatuation between people who are bored with their lives – it still shows that devastating fact. Even at the end, when you think you are so close and you are safe, you would assume that you will be able to find those missing pieces of your family. That’s what got to me the most. It’s not often I stay up until midnight, but I just couldn’t stop reading this one.  – Brit, VIC, 4 stars

‘The Light at the End of the Day’ by Eleanor Wasserberg is an insightful and thought provoking read. From a life of wealth and privilege to experiencing the war first hand, the novel is built around the portrait commissioned of young Alecia and it, and their, journey through history. I would have liked to have understood all the characters stories and outcomes a little more fully, that said was a though provoking and well written fictional account of this family and their history as it unfolded during the events of WWII and beyond. The characters and scenes were richly described leaving you with an empathy for even the most challenging of characters, and appreciation for basic human kindnesses. An insightful read. – Caroline, QLD, 3 stars

As an avid reader of WWII books including The Diary of Anne Frank, The Nightingale and The Book Thief I really enjoyed this new novel by Eleanor Wasserberg. Her ability to create beautiful and at times confronting and painful imagery reminds me of my favourite novels, The Power of One and Jessica by the late Bryce Courtney. Her main characters, especially Alicia and Josef are lovingly flawed human beings who despite their circumstances never completely lose sight of hope for a reunion and finding happiness. I found it to be a somewhat ironic and inspiring read in this time of the Covid-19 pandemic. – Amanda, SA, 5 stars

This is a powerful story of love, loss, family ties and the human spirit set in Poland at the start of World War 2. The novel takes place from just before the Nazis invade Poland through to the tragedy of World War 2 and beyond.  The story centres on a wealthy Jewish family (the Oderfeldts) living in Krakow and in particular the painting of a portrait of the youngest daughter (Alicia).  Just as the portrait is almost finished, Krakow is invaded and the family must flee, leaving the treasured portrait behind.  The family are separated with the mother and Alicia being sent to a labour camp in Russia. But Alicia never forgets the portrait or the artist behind it and this sustains her through the most horrendous times. She vows to reclaim her painting and to find her family.  This book really relayed the depths of misery faced by Polish Jews in the face of anti-Semitism displayed not just by the Nazis but their fellow Poles and the Russians.  The loss of family, property, belonging and security was portrayed so well.  But it also showed how people can ultimately triumph over evil.  Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction. – Kecia, NSW, 5 stars

Although this is not a genre I would normally read, I gave it a go. It was a little slow throughout and confusing in some areas however it was still an acceptable read however not one that I think I would read again. It was disappointing that the characters were not ones that you would easily connect with or remember and their stories seemed fragmented at times so I wasn’t always fully engaged in the story however being interested in the history of World War 2 I kept on reading till the end.    An e-copy of this book was kindly provided to me by the publisher via Better Reading in exchange for an honest review – Michelle, NSW, 3 stars

It’s 1937, Adam Oderfeldt commissions a painting of his daughter, Alicia, as a birthday gift.  Artist, Jozef Pienta comes into their apartment and their lives as Alicia sits for this portrait.  His life is changed and his art work changes the lives of the Oderfeldt family through the decades that follow.  Two years later, Poland is about to be invaded and the Oderfeldt family prepare to flee Krakow.  In trying to escape, Adam is separated from his wife, Anna and daughters, Karolina and Alicia. The painting, Alicia’s prized possession, is left behind.  Eleanor Wasserberg, weaves her story around this painting and the horrors of Poland and Russia during WWII.  Family secrets, first love, and survival.    Some of the descriptions of light in this book are delightful.  The historical information about Jews in Russia is interesting. While a little disjointed and it finishes in a bit of a rush in the last few chapters, I did enjoy this read. – Deborah, VIC, 3 stars

Such a beautifully written story. But the most heart wrenching stories were those that began, but were unfinished due to the  cruelty of real events. A reminder to cherish each moment with those we love, we never know what tomorrow brings. – Kiralee, SA, 5 stars

This is the type of book in which one can lose oneself in.   I would have loved to have read this in one sitting curled up in front of a fire. I loved the way that Eleanor Wasserberg used her descriptive skills to bring the characters to life .   The way she fleshed them out on their journeys both physical and emotional was done beautifully and believably. Her description of the Olderfeldt’s apartment and their way of life created a vivid picture of the family, where and how they lived, which set the scene for the horrors to come.   The textures of fabrics the warmth of the room chilled by fresh crisp air from an open window the rustle of pages turned, all helped to create the world of the Oderfeldt’s.  Eleanor Wassberg built the tension felt by the family and their friends at the beginning of the war slowly and skilfully.  The concept that things like that don’t happen to people like us even if we are Jews were all understandable.   The title is so relevant on many levels and this is so much more than a book about the Jewish experience and definitely worth reading. – Angela, VIC, 5 stars

The Light at the End of the Day by Eleanor Wasserberg is a story describing a period in a life of a Polish Jewish family set shortly before, during and after the World War II. Being Polish, I expected the book to take me home, instead it took me to an apartment in Krakow, where 50% of the story takes place, and its privileged occupants, who are impossible to relate to. The characters lack depth and their stories don’t always make sense. There is no build-up to any of the major events, they just come out of nowhere and it makes you wonder whether you have skipped a few pages as it is hard to understand the logic behind them. The first half of the book feels drawn out with its focus on the process of painting of a portrait of one of the main characters, which can be assumed was meant to set centre to the story, but the parallel plots are unclear and confusing at the best of times. The historical aspect of the book is correct and quite informative, but unfortunately this was the only positive for me. – Ewa, VIC, 1 star

Set in the time of World War 2, this book encapsulates the life of a family escaping the Nazis during the Holocaust.    This book shows the struggles of many as they leave behind everything and flee. Once-thriving families find themselves with nothing. Everything is ripped away from them, especially for Alicia – where only memories of her past life remain….or so she thought. As time passes, Alicia is gripped with the memories of a painting. Not just any painting, but a portrait which ultimately was the key to family secrets spanning over decades.    This historical novel sheds light on the battles of many escaping the Nazis. Innocent beings who fight to retain what is rightfully theirs.    Awesome read, particularly for those who appreciate the events leading up to and during WWII. – Chloe, VIC, 5 stars

This is a genre I normally love, and I was looking forward to this one, but I just didn’t like it. I felt the writing was a bit disjointed and big events just happened without any explanation… for example I didn’t understand the relationship between Adam and his wife and his French lover. Nor did I feel any chemistry between Karolina and Józef, all of a sudden, she was in love with him. I really didn’t connect with any of the characters and I think for this reason I found it hard to remember who was who, and had to keep reading back to remember what was going on.  The pace of the book was a bit slow for me, I found I had read 40% and we were still in Kraków and only now was the painting finished. I struggled to get through this one and if it hadn’t been for a Better Reading Review, I don’t think I would have finished. A positive of the book was how the Polish Jews ended up in the labour camps, this part of the book was interesting and well written, but it wasn’t enough to make me like the book anymore. 2 Stars – Diana, QLD, 2 stars

Another devastating account of the Nazi reign and the terror persecuted upon the Jewish community.  I am not sure that I fully understood the running theme/storyline about the painting that haunts Alicia but I was once again amazed at the resilience that some human beings possess.  So much of these themes and ideas are so relevant in this era of the pandemic and the unfolding #BlackLivesMatter – Lisa, NSW, 3 stars

‘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, ACT, 4 stars

Light at the End of the Day  Eleanor Wasserberg    I started reading this thinking it was just another novel telling another story about the Holocaust even though I am very sympathetic to these harrowing stories.  I enjoyed reading the beginning chapters, about the lives of the very well-heeled Oderfeldt family, especially the over indulged Alicia.  Their arrest and consequent transportation to Russia was described in detail but their time in the camp was glossed over. Followed was the story after the war when Alicia returned to Krakow looking for her lost sister and father.  With so many millions lost during the Holocaust there are so many similar harrowing stories, and it must be difficult to write a story with a different slant. I think this has been achieved to some degree. The link throughout the story was painting of young Alicia.  An enjoyable read for the fans of this era and genre.  – Sue, WA, 4 stars

I loved reading the ‘The Light at the End of the Day’.  It is a powerful, compelling story that covers confronting history in a sensitive and informative way.  I enjoyed the descriptions – particularly the colours, shades and brightness mentioned throughout.  The characters were realistic and well developed and, in some cases, endearing.  I especially liked the way the inner thoughts of the characters were conveyed.  I had no difficulty following the changing timelines and places across chapters. I desperately needed to know what happened so read the book quickly.  I found the ending rewarding as my queries were generally resolved. The story is still in my head (in a good way).  I do not think I will forget it.  I highly recommend this book. – Sandra, ACT, 5 stars


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            Publisher details

            The Light at the End of the Day
            Eleanor Wasserberg
            08 July, 2020


            A family scattered. Lovers torn apart. A painting that unites them all.When Jozef is commissioned to paint a portrait of the younger daughter of Kraków's grand Oderfeldt family, it is only his desperate need for money that drives him to accept. He has no wish to indulge a pampered child-princess or her haughty, condescending parents – and almost doesn't notice Alicia's bookish older sister, Karolina.But when he is ushered by a servant into their house on Kraków's fashionable Bernady ska street in the winter of 1937, he has no inkling of the way his life will become entangled with the Oderfeldts'. Or of the impact that the German invasion will have upon them all.As Poland is engulfed by war, and Jozef's painting is caught up in the tides of history, Alicia, Karolina and their parents are forced to flee – their Jewish identity transformed into something dangerous, and their comfortable lives overturned …Spanning countries and decades The Light at the End of the Day is a heart-breaking novel of exile, survival and how we remember what is lost.
            Eleanor Wasserberg
            About the author

            Eleanor Wasserberg

            Eleanor Wasserberg holds a BA in English and classics from Oxford and an MA in creative writing from the University of East Anglia. Foxlowe was her first novel.

            Books by Eleanor Wasserberg


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