Wherever There is Light, by Peter Golden
Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: Atria Books; 1st edition (November 3, 2015)
Reading Sara Rating: 4/10
Reading Sara Review: It has taken me a few weeks to write this review because I was not entirely sure what to say. I wanted to like this book. And there were some pieces of it that I enjoyed. But for me, it wasn’t one of the great books that I will read this year (or even have read in recent memory). But other people have loved it – this is solely my opinion!
Wherever There is Light has glimpses of greatness – following the characters through their personal development and growth all set within a backdrop of New York City and Paris between 1930s-1960s.
The story is about Julian, a German Jewish immigrant, who we are told has a shady mobster past and Kendall, a young (and dare I say impressionable) African American aspiring artist. Their love is supposed to be one for the ages – their families do not support them, society does not approve of their mixed races, and turmoil haunts their relationship. It has the ingredients for an excellent story – but unfortunately, it did not come together for me.
The story could have gone in so many unheard-of and exciting directions because of the incredible time that it is set in. Julian’s parents had just fled persecution in Nazi Germany. How did Julian feel about what was happening over there? Did he understand what a close call it was for his dad to secure a position as a professor in America? Additionally, the mixed race relationship was prime for an interesting dialogue with glimpses of the past as good historical fiction would provide. This did not do that. Their love affair did not feel genuine to me. Instead, it felt safe and melodramatic. This was set on the brink of the Civil Rights movement while Jim Crow laws ruled the South, it seemed like so much more could have been said (and would have been said, realistically) between these characters.
Instead, the characters were half-developed. We were told that Julian had a shady past, but never had the opportunity to witness it (remember future writers: don’t tell – show!). And Kendall seemed lost between who she thought she was and who she felt like she should be. Her rebellion against her mother felt like wasted energy.
This comes from someone who loves World War II historical fiction – and I believe that some excellent books have been published recently in this genre. I was hopeful for this one, but in the end merely disappointed.