Burdened by guilt about his father’s accidental death, a 12-year-old New York boy develops fantasies that will only be dispelled after he helps a refugee from Nazi Germany save a group of desperate Jewish children.
First, Jack Quinlan loses his normal vision on the day the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, and then he loses his father under a subway train. These events and Jack’s fantastical imaginings that his father might have survived the accident drive the opening and most successful section of Newman’s (Mary: Mrs A. Lincoln, 2006) second novel. Several characters have special abilities, and Jack’s is to “see” the radio, i.e. to picture in extraordinary detail the worlds of the programs he listens to. But after his father dies, Jack’s imaginative leaps extend to the world outside his home, and soon he's playing truant from school, looking for Nazi spies on the streets of the city. He thinks he’s found one, but the man, Jakob, turns out to be a Jew from Berlin. Jakob’s story of political turmoil, hopeless love for Rebecca—a fellow Jew with an incurable heart complaint—and perilous escape from Germany to New York, without official papers, marks the novel’s shift into more predictable, sentimental territory. But there’s more. Now Jack and Jakob join forces, and the story switches gears again, into an episode of derring-do involving the rescue of some two dozen children fleeing France by submarine, assisted by Jakob’s mechanical brilliance and Jack’s street savvy and school pals. Overfreighted with symbolic motifs—sight; messages; hearts; photographs—and juggling love, loss, magical gifts, and profound pain, Newman’s story speeds up yet thins out in its efforts to deliver charm and resolution.
An initially appealing, increasingly strenuous assault on the heart strings.