Disrupted love affairs, guilt, and secrets of faith and identity are looped across centuries and around the globe in Dweck’s impassioned, originally self-published debut.
Making up in confidence what it lacks in polish, Dweck’s saga is constructed on a theory of cosmic balance. The novel’s first part explains how “a debt lingers in the heavens” after devoted couple Murad, heir to the 16th-century Ottoman Empire, and Tamar, the child of Jewish refugees from the European Inquisition, are separated. Such debts, according to the author’s theory, must be repaid, which leads to the novel’s second half, set in 2002, the story of Selim Osman, last descendent of the Ottoman sultans, and Jewish Hannah Herzikova, whose relationship restores the connection and repays the debt established half a millennium earlier. Part I is the faster-moving of these two sections, tracing Tamar’s parents’ discovery of their Jewish heritage and flight from Portugal in 1544, haunted by scenes of auto-da-fé. Taking refuge in Istanbul, the family serves at the court of the sultan, whose enlightened attitude has saved them; but a royal engagement and the possible loss of Jewish identity is more than Tamar’s father can countenance. Part II opens in Istanbul some five centuries later with the gloomy tale of attractive, successful Selim, who's haunted by his brother’s death. Although worse is to follow, in the form of grave illness, that’s the universe’s bittersweet way of pointing Selim toward his savior, Hannah, whom he will meet in a New York hospital. Awkwardly phrased and simply characterized, Dweck’s romance doesn’t linger over the finer details but does ensure that the universe is back on its axis as the story ends.
Full-throated if lightweight storytelling.