A Bend in the Stars by Rachel Barenbaum, Grand Central Publishing, © 2019; ISBN 9781537-46288; 451 pages plus acknowledgments; reading group guide; author Q&A; $16.99.
Now in paperback, A Bend in the Stars takes its name from the idea posited by Albert Einstein that light during a solar eclipse will bend around the darkened celestial object. One of the main characters in this novel is Vanya Abramov, a mathematician who believes his calculations together with photographs not only could prove Einstein’s theory but improve upon it.
However, more than a few obstacles face Vanya’s potential bid for international recognition and perhaps even a Nobel Prize.
1. He is a Jew living in Imperial Russia, where his career is dependent on an academic patron only too ready to claim Vanya’s ideas as his own.
2. He will have to travel many miles without his “patron” learning his whereabouts to a spot where he can both observe the eclipse and hook up with an American scientist whom he has learned will be bringing the necessary photographic equipment.
3. World War I is about to begin, and everyone is subject to conscription into the Russian army, especially Jews.
4. His family, including a sister who is one of the nation’s first female doctors and his grandmother, want to immigrate quickly to America, but not without him.
As it develops, Vanya travels a half continent away to view the eclipse, protected by the more street savvy Yuri, a doctor who is the fiancé of Vanya’s sister Miri. Meanwhile, after safely depositing Vanya’s grandmother at a home where they plan to rendezvous before they attempt to emigrate from Mother Russia, Miri and Sasha, a Jewish deserter from the Russian Army, decide they must try to meet Vanya and Yuri to alert them to a change in plans.
And so we have a double set of adventure stories – with Vanya and Yuri on one hand, and Miri and Sasha on the other – encountering different sets of obstacles as they travel across a war-mobilizing country filled with traditional Jew hatred. With Miri finding herself ever more attracted to Sasha, there is even a love triangle to consider in this engrossing story of pre-Communist Russia.
Republished from San Diego Jewish World