Although this remarkable epic novel begins at the very end of the eighteenth century, the great bulk of it is set in the nineteenth century, primarily in Portugal. Chock to the brim with enduring characters, monumental and often chaotic historical events, the brutality of bigotry and slavery and the redemption of love and compassion, this is Zimler at his best.
John is our guide and narrator. We meet him at age 7, in 1798, living in Portugal with his parents – his father a Scotsman and his mother, native Portuguese – and he concludes the book in 1825 in New York. John’s life is a see-saw of raw emotions, loving and losing, over and over again. Surrounded by powerful ties he does not understand and not realizing that he has been “protected” from his Jewishness at a time in history when Jews are once again (if not always) abhorred, John is an amazingly complex creation.
When John’s father returns from a business trip, a freed slave named Midnight in tow, John’s life changes forever. Midnight – a healer, a Bushman with a connection to the eternal, the metaphysical and the real – influences John in a way no other has or will do again. Later, when John discovers that he has lost Midnight forever because of the treachery of his family, he begins a search for his once and forever friend, a search which John will not let end until the truth is revealed.
The story is, ultimately, about reconciling an unspeakable and horrible family betrayal and faith. Spanning two centuries and three continents, Zimler manages to weave all the elements of historical fact, character and plot development into a seamless fabric. A bit daunting in its length, the pages turn almost by themselves. This is a wonderful and memorable book, a must read.