The Sunlit Night, by Rebecca Dinerstein *****

thesunlitnightWhen was the last time I read something this poignant? No, it’s more than poignant. This novel is a real powerhouse, and my heartfelt thanks go to Net Galley and Bloomsbury, USA for letting me read it as a DRC. It affected me to the extent that I needed to let it steep in my mind for a few days after I read it, before I could review it. That’s always a good sign.

You see, Yasha has grown up without his mother, at least for most of his life. He, his father, and his mother all received much sought-after plane tickets to the USA from Russia. Not all were scheduled to depart at the same time, and not all of them did. And so Yasha and his father have lived above the bakery, and now and again they phone to see when Mama might be coming. It isn’t like she is dead or in jail. She just hasn’t come. She puts them off; she makes excuses. So Yasha helps his father run the bakery, rising early every day and jetting home from school promptly when the bell dismisses him. Season follows season,and year follows year;the loss grows deeper and stronger, as does his bond with his father, a flour-speckled, graying eccentric with the world’s kindest heart. His father is his life, and the place where his mother once was is a constant void. “No mother. No mother. No mother.” Unless you are made of brick or cement, you have to feel his pain.

I think the narrative that alternates here, that of Frances, who is destined to meet Yasha, is supposed to be equal in force, but to me she is an also-ran. The book is really about Yasha, and I am fine with that. Frances also hails from a family that is coming unstuck; her parents have given her and her sister notice that they need to get out of the tiny Manhattan apartment in which they grew up, because they are going to separate.

At the same time, Frances’s boyfriend, the man she loves so much that she has turned down a prestigious art fellowship in order to follow him to the ends of the earth, dumps her. Doesn’t even stay with her till she boards; he just leaves her there all by herself, hurt and stunned. He’s gone.

Yasha and Frances will meet at the top of the world, or the nearest possible place. It’s in Norway, not far from where the Sami hunt reindeer. In the summer, the sun never goes down.

Generally I am not a reader of romances. I am perhaps too cynical; I hear the violins starting up and slam the book shut. No schmaltz for me, thank you kindly. But once in awhile an amazing story comes along. Think of The Thornbirds; think of The Prince of Tides. The Sunlit Night is such a story, an exceptional story for which rules were meant to be broken.

It comes out in June, and you just have to read it. Don’t let yourself be left out.

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