This novel switches between a detective story set in present day Washington Heights, NYC and the community of Sosua in the Dominican Republic in the early 1940s. Detective Tolya Kurchenko is called in to solve the murder of Max Redmond, an elderly man found dead in his apartment by his Dominican maid. Max’s surviving son, Shalom Rothman, and his wife, Rachel, have had a difficult relationship with Max, though their autistic son Baruch spent quality time with his grandfather. Shalom and Rachel have become very religious, ba’alei teshuva, while Max turned away from observance in his younger days. Max escaped Hungary during the war by getting visas for himself and his wife to the Dominican Republic. President Trujillo opened the doors of his country to Jews fleeing Eastern Europe on condition that they settle and farm the land in the jungle, in a newly formed community called Sosua.
When Tolya finds Max’s diaries he thinks he has the key to solve the murder case. We learn about the tragedy of Jewish life in Sosua through these diaries. Though the Jews of Sosua were survivors given a second chance, they faced much hardship relocating to their new home and many of them lost most of their family left behind in Europe. We also read about Tolya’s childhood in communist Russia in the 1970s. Tolya and Max both endured difficult pasts with some similar experiences which help Tolya to understand Max and to move on in his own life. The author describes the clashing cultures of Washington Heights, Orthodox Jews and Latinos uneasily sharing their neighborhood. This book is a great read with an interesting mystery and fascinating information about the little known history of Sosua and its residents.