THE DARK LIGHT by Mette Newth
Kirkus Star


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From Newth (The Abduction, 1989), a dense, unusual novel about Tora, 13, who is dying of leprosy in a hospital in 19th-century Bergen, Norway. When Tora contracts the horrible disease, she is yanked from her family's farm and sent to spend the remainder of her life at a leper hospital in Bergen. It's a wretched place, where the ill wail in agony from sores and lost limbs, and cry out at night in desperation and hunger. Tora, one of the more able patients, helps tend to others, and in the process, bonds with the most cruel and miserable patient, Mistress Dybendal, who teaches Tora how to read; reading becomes Tora's sole comfort, giving her the courage to accept her condition. The subject matter is uncommonly intriguing, and the writing evocative, although some of the relationships are troubling: A childhood friend and soul mate, Endre, is presented as a major character and then fades away, while Tora's father, hardly a presence at all, plays a vital role at the end. More authentically depicted are Tora's revelations, forgiveness, and innate goodness; many passages are emotionally harrowing, such as the scene when her feet are amputated. Newth's work is compelling, often heartbreaking, and more than once, triumphant.

Pub Date: April 24th, 1998
Page count: 246pp
Publisher: "Farrar, Straus & Giroux"