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November 05, 2015

In Sunlight and In Shadow

In Sunlight And In ShadowIn Sunlight and In Shadow

By: Mark Helprin

Nancy Pearl, a noted American librarian, has said that books are made up of four elements: story, character, setting, and language.  A great book, like To Kill a Mockingbird, would be memorable for three of these elements.  Some books I read only focus on one. A book that’s a real page turner is one that focuses exclusively on the story. If you describe a book as being beautifully written, then it focuses on the language.  With a focus on the setting, you feel as if you’ve been to that place.  And when you finish a book that focuses on the characters, you think about them long after you finish reading the book.  The better the book, the more elements of the story the author develops.

In Sunlight and in Shadow by Mark Helprin is a beautifully written book which focuses on the language and characters as well as the setting.  The book is set after World War II in New York.  When Harry Copeland catches a glimpse of Catherine Hale while boarding a ferry, it marks the moment both of their lives change forever.

The story seamlessly flows between the present and the past – exploring Harry’s past service as a pathfinder during WWII and Catherine’s upbringing in a prominent family.  After the war Harry returned to New York and soon his business was targeted by the mob.  At the same time Catherine, a very talented singer and actress, opened in a new show to abysmal reviews.  As Harry tries to save his business and Catherine goes on nightly, losing confidence in her performance and herself, and as the threats made to them and their families escalate, they try to find a way out.

As with all great books, you’ll want to keep reading and reading to know how everything will resolve. But it is not a page turner.  Helprin takes his time, exploring the characters, their lives and motivations, instead of writing a direct path to the end.  You’ll find yourself reveling in the language and thinking about Harry and Catherine long after you have finished the book.

If you already love this type of book, I highly recommend it.  If you normally read page turners, you might give this a try.  Slow down and enjoy a story told by a writer of enormous talent.

Review By: Kathy Sasseman