At the beginning of Ehud Havazelet’s precisely crafted and beautifully written first novel, we meet Nathan Mirsky, a deeply troubled yet well-meaning medical school student living in Boston. Nathan soon learns that his long estranged brother, Daniel, has been murdered. Formerly a prominent student protestor and activist in the 1960’s, Daniel had recently fallen on hard times, and mystery pervades the circumstances surrounding his death.
Nathan approaches his widower father Sol about going to San Francisco to collect Daniel’s body. Sol, whose days are ritualistically filled with swimming and writing letters to fellow Holocaust survivors, somewhat hesitantly agrees to come along to pay his final respects. Once Nathan and Sol reach San Francisco, they meet Daniel’s grieving girlfriend Abby, and her son Ben. The two men eventually come to realize that Daniel had a life beyond what they could have imagined, indirectly causing them each to reflect upon their past behaviors.
These glimpses into their weaknesses, obsessions, longings, and memories are brilliantly conceived and utterly memorable. Havazelet leaves us with the overwhelming sense that family and tradition can shape our identities in surprising and unconventional ways.