How to Find Your Way in the Dark

Written by Derek B. Miller
Review by Katharine Quarmby

As the Second World War looms, a young Jewish boy in the United States, Sheldon Horowitz, loses both his parents, one after the other. His mother’s death was an accident in a theatre fire, but Sheldon thinks that his father was murdered when another driver runs the truck they are both in off an empty road. But nobody believes him—at first. Sheldon takes his own kind of revenge, framing an anti-Semitic family that stole from his father. Sheldon’s widowed uncle takes him in, and he moves from rural Massachusetts to Hartford, Connecticut and is warned to leave the past behind him. His cousin, Abe, disagrees, and together the boys start on a mission to discover the truth. Eventually that quest takes Sheldon to a Jewish-owned hotel in the Catskills, back to his childhood home and eventually on to New York.

This clever, poignant novel is a prequel to Miller’s debut in 2013, Norwegian by Night. There, Sheldon is far older, but here, as a young boy of only 12 when the novel starts, the losses he has experienced are raw. Miller’s skilful rendering of the threat of fascism sets the scene for an entertaining book that has heart but is also realistic about life for Jewish people in 1930s New England. Sheldon, his cousin and his friend Lenny are outcasts, but that identity also gifts them a perilous freedom. The middle part of the book is set at a Catskills resort, where Sheldon works as a bellhop with his friend Lenny. It is an outstanding section, in which a strolling company of characters dabble in comedy, infidelity and thievery—and where Sheldon gets embroiled in the consequences of his impetuous actions.

This is a lovingly crafted novel, with a light touch examination of anti-Semitism, revenge and love whilst also being a coming-of-age story.