Friday, February 27, 2015

Review: The Sunlit Night by Rebecca Dinerstein

Artists have always chased the light and a certain quality they see in it. Some choose to go to the South of France, some prefer the golden fields of middle America, and some surely prefer the 24 hour glow of a far north summer. We spend as much of the summer as we can in northern Michigan and there certainly is something special about days that seem to stretch on into infinity. I can only imagine it in a place where the sun never sets in the summer. Rebecca Dinerstein's debut novel, The Sunlit Night, takes place in this perpetual light of a Norwegian summer.

Frances has just graduated from college and broken up with her boyfriend when she decides to take an internship she'd previously declined, working as an apprentice with an artist on The Yellow Room Project on a Norwegian island inside the Arctic Circle. Nils paints only with yellow and he's trying to have his installation added to a national map so that others will come and look at his yellow room. Frances will live in the artist's colony and paint with him for the summer, escaping the unhappy drama of her parents' impending divorce and their disapproval of her sister's upcoming marriage to a non-Jew. She will not have to witness the separation of belongings as her parents prepare to move out of their tiny apartment nor will she have to continue to witness her father's unhappiness with his chosen career as a medical illustrator.

Yasha Gregoriov is finishing up high school. He has lived with his father above their bakery in New York for 10 years, ever since they came to the US, leaving Yasha's mother behind in Russia. His father, who has a dangerous heart condition, has never once stopped missing his wife and he is determined to go back, find her, and convince her to join them in the US. But Yasha finds out what his father does not know, that his mother is already in New York City, living with her lover, and intending to divorce his father. When his father dies suddenly on the trip back to Russia, the only thing that Yasha can concentrate on doing is to fulfill his father's final wish, to be buried in peace at the top of the world. It is this honoring of his father's last request that takes him to Lofoten.

Frances and Yasha come into each others' orbit in this land of perpetual sun. Each of them is dealing with grief, Frances for her idea of family and Yasha for his father, the center of his whole world for the past ten years. They find each other in the closing stages of one part of life and the very beginning of another, recognizing need and love and potential in the other. The secondary characters are fleeting but important and the whole of the novel exudes a surreal feel. The prose is unadorned and dreamlike, detailing the spare isolation and suffused landscape of the Arctic night. The character development of Frances and Yasha is a little thin and the odd quirks of some of the secondary characters don't make it easier to relate to them or to the color-bleached main characters for that matter. The writing is poetic and full of precise observations and Dinerstein has really captured the warm, golden barrenness of this small island at the edge of the world. This is a readable novel of family dysfunction, overcoming grief, and finding and valuing love that will surely appeal to readers of literary fiction.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book for review.

1 comment:

  1. I've been really curious about this novel. So glad to hear you enjoyed it! It sounds fantastic.


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