by Michael Lowenthal ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 1, 1998
A closely observed study of the corrosive effect of a family's long-held secrets and, more particularly, of the struggle of siblings to defuse their anger and find some common ground. Jacob, the 25-year-old protagonist, is bright, Jewish, and gay. His parents are at best unhappy with their son's homosexuality; his twin brother Jonathan, studying at an Orthodox Yeshiva in Israel, is angry and withdrawn. Jacob, urged on by his parents, leaves his job in Boston and goes to Israel to try to talk his brother into returning home. Instead, though he has had little interest in his faith, Jacob finds himself increasingly impressed by the innocent high spirits of the students, and by some of their teachers. Things go disastrously wrong, though, when Jonathan finds Jacob in a fervent embrace with another Yeshiva student. Back home, matters turn grim when the boys' beloved grandmother is felled by a massive stroke. Jacob gets to meet his aunt Isabel, long in exile from the family, and through her to learn about the existence of a figure whose memory they has long suppressed: Josef, his uncle, left behind as a teenager when the family fled from Nazi Germany, was abandoned by Jacob's grandfather, it turns out, because he was gay. Lowenthal's rendering of the hesitant attempts at communication in a family scarred by bitterness and regret are precise and deeply moving. Jacob's increasingly focused efforts to reconcile his heritage and his homosexuality allow Lowenthal to introduce some pointed meditations on sexuality and religion. And a tentative dÆ’tente with Jonathan, summoned home in the wake of his grandmother's stroke, is adroitly rendered. Jacob, however, sometimes seems too good to be true, and the romantic relationship that emerges late in the story too sketchy and curious to be entirely convincing. Nevertheless, as an examination of the deforming effect of a family's secrets, and as a portrait of a young man attempting to rediscover his faith without jettisoning his identity, a fresh and provocative first novel.
Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998
Page Count: 304
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1998
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