Large Print Edition
By Jesse Kellerman
Thorndike Press (2006), 560 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - June 30, 2010
On page 53, Jesse Kellerman reveals the theme of his magnificent first novel. While Gloria thinks about her early life, she remembers that: "On Friday nights, you went into the closet and you lit secret candles to make the day special." Kellerman never explains this weird seemingly irrational practice because the act itself has nothing to do with the book.
This is what it means. In 1391, Spanish Jews were persecuted and butchered, and in 1492 they were driven out of Spain. Many Jews became Marranos, Jews who outwardly acted as Christians but secretly observed at least some Jewish practices, such as lighting the Sabbath candles on Friday night in some back room, concealed area, or closet. Generations passed and their descendants forgot that their ancestors were Jewish, but they continued the acts without knowing their origin, as with Gloria's family, who were Christians.
Sunstroke has nothing to do with Jews or Marranos. But Kellerman planted this early hint that the book deals with people who live lives totally different than what they lived in the past because of reasons that become clear in the novel, but whose pasts affect their current lives in dramatic fashions. His book is an excellent drama, written interestingly with clear clever language and wit, and a keen understanding of psychology.
Gloria loves her employer with whom she worked for ten years, but he never seemed to recognize her feelings. She was certain that she understood him. When he disappears during what she was told was a vacation in Mexico and she hears that he died in an accident, she drives to Mexico to recover his body and uncover the facts. Little by little she learns that she never really knew anything of significance about her employer. In fact, he was totally different from what she thought.
Gloria meets a number of interestingly drawn people during her quest, all of whom, like her employer, are not what they first seem to be. She gets to understand what they really are and, as a result, she also comes after close to four decades to understand herself.
Dr. Israel Drazin is the author of fifteen books, including a series of five volumes on the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible, which he co-authors with Rabbi Dr. Stanley M. Wagner, and a series of four books on the twelfth century philosopher Moses Maimonides, the latest being Maimonides: Reason Above All, published by Gefen Publishing House, www.gefenpublishing.com. The Orthodox Union (OU) publishes daily samples of the Targum books on www.ouradio.org.