Saturday, May 26, 2018

Richard Zimler - Hunting Midnight

At the dawn of the nineteenth century in Portugal, John Zarco Stewart is an impish child of hotheaded emotions and playful inquisitiveness, the unwitting inheritor of a faith shrouded in three hundred years of secrecy--for the Jews of the Iberian Peninsula have been in hiding since the Inquisition. But a season of loss and bitter discovery brings his innocence to an abrupt end. It is only the ministrations of a magical stranger, brought to Porto by his seafaring father, that restore his safety: Midnight, an African healer and freed slave, the man who will become John’s greatest friend and determine the course of his destiny.
When Napoleon’s armies invade Portugal, violence again intrudes on John’s fragile peace, and seals his passage into adulthood with another devastating loss. But from the wreckage comes revelation as he uncovers truths and lies hidden by the people he loved and trusted most, and discovers the act of unspeakable betrayal that destroyed his family--and his faith. And so his shattering quest begins as he travels to America, to hunt for hope in a land shackled by unforgivable sin.
With stunning insight and an eye for rich historical detail--from the colorful marketplaces of Porto to the drowsy plantations of the American South, from the Judaism John discovers as a young man to the mystical Africa that Midnight conjures from his memories--in Hunting Midnight Richard Zimler has crafted a masterpiece.

Comment: In my path to read all the books by Richard Zimler, an author I've come to enjoy, this time I got Hunting Midnight at the library. This is the second book in the Sephardic Cycle series which tells us the story of the Zarco family though the adventures of someone from the family, usually in different moments in time. This second book features John Zarco Stewart, a young boy who is born in Oporto and who see his life change a lot during the disturbing days of the french invasions in Portugal in the beginning of the 1800s and how his life goes from there.

In this story, set around the Napolean invasion of the Iberian Peninsula and more specifically in Portugal, we follow the adventures of John, a bright dedicated boy whose aim in life seems to be the best friend he can be even if he can't avoid the tragedy surrounding his childhood. John has a bright mind but he feels very guilty to not have helped his closest friends when he could and that shapes the rest of his life, in particular after his father brings home Midnight, an African freed slave who becomes John's best friend. With Midnight, John will learn many new things until the day something happens and Midnight is gone which turns his family upside down.
Going through many historical situations, John will then create a life that can't be peaceful if he doesn't try his best to know what happened with the man he considered his best friend...

It took me a week to read this book. It's not that it's a bad one, actually far from it, but there was something about it and my own sort of slumping mode that stopped me fro enjoying this as much as I did others by the author. 
Al his books have a certain dark tone, they are very raw when it comes to human behavior throughout history and society. But I have always seemed to focus on the beauty of the writing or on the compelling characters but this time I think the latter must have been my let down.

The plot of this is book is complex. There are some minor references to the previous book so this can be read out of order. This also means the plots are quite independent and can be read without previous knowledge. The author does seem to travel in time, this plot is set during the early 1800s mostly, the previous was 16th or 17th century if I remember correctly. In all these time periods, though, humans have behaved atrociously towards one another and this is the harsh part of the author's books.

Some of the content of this book is difficult, for the author describes a lot of- based without a doubt on historical registers - situations and scenarios that should be the imagination of a mad person but are, sadly, true. I'm talking about wars and its consequences, rape, racism, prejudices, slavery, death, many abasing things people do to one another without any reason except the product of corrupt and ignorant societies. Although these subjects are all difficult to read about, the author has talent and inserted them all along other historical issues but always through a lens one can be able to process well. At least I thought the content was understandable despite the negative scenes here and there.

Usually, reading about such sad realities is bad but the author always include something that makes it bearable, like things seen through the innocent eyes of a child which give us a different perspective. I liked this here too because while John was a child it was a pleasure to see things through his POV. However, I must say I felt too disconnected from the "good" characters in this novel, including John after a certain point. It's all very well explained, psychologically makes sense but... I got to a point I couldn't focus on the good sides of the character but focused only on their flaws. This sort of made me less eager to read which, alongside my overall slump, didn't help me in getting much will to read.

Of course the moment we read doesn't have anything to do with the real content of a book but we are always affected by our will/taste/state of mind and I guess I wasn't in the best to read this. Still, there were some things I didn't enjoy as much, the characters weren't all very appealing to read about, their lives too harsh and the positive elements eclipsed by the negative ones so... not the best for me. I hope the next one is better suited to my taste.
Grade: 6/10

No comments:

Post a Comment