The Sunlit Night by Rebecca Dinerstein

The title refers to the setting of this novel in the northernmost part of Norway, in the summer, where two unlikely Americans meet at a Viking Museum. I need to back up to set the scene for this unusual, affecting story.

Francis, a young artist, has just broken up with her boyfriend, who tells her that painting is of no use to the world: “What you do doesn’t help anybody.” Other parts of Francis’s life are broken: her parents are divorcing and her younger sister Sarah is getting married to a man that her parents dislike. Everyone is unhappy. Francis has the opportunity for an internship in Lofoten, a group of islands 95 miles north of the Arctic circle and it seems like the right time to get away. She’ll be working on something called the Yellow Project.

Yasha, a young man of 17, lives with his father in Brighton Beach where they own a bakery. Their lives are broken, too. Yasha and his father Vassily immigrated from Russia 10 years ago, but Yasha’s mother never followed them and refuses to communicate with them. They both miss her terribly and after Yasha’s high school graduation they decide to return to Russia to find her. Vassily suffers a heart attack in Russia and Yasha, according to his father’s wishes, takes his body to–you guessed it–Lofoten, to bury him as he wished. In the time Yasha spends in Lofoten, he finds much more than he ever imagined–he grows up, for one thing.

The joy of reading this unusual novel is in Dinerstein’s writing, which is circular, elliptical, and utterly captivating. She manages to convey the way we think and converse–the serious and mundane things that crash about simultaneously in our heads; the emotions we can’t or won’t convey; and the feelings of loss and loneliness that we all share. The setting and supporting characters are delineated in a few quick strokes, but their voices are unique.

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