In Sun­light and in Shadow

Mark Hel­prin
  • Review
By – June 19, 2013

Mark Helprin’s In Sun­light and in Shad­ow is an ode to post-war New York City and the incom­pa­ra­ble ecsta­sy of find­ing one’s true love. Hel­prin has an uncan­ny abil­i­ty to observe and describe the most mun­dane objects and expe­ri­ences and spin them into prose. His words paint vivid images of char­ac­ters, who almost con­sis­tent­ly fail to fol­low con­ven­tion­al stereo­types. Yet, at over 700 pages, the book demands a com­mit­ment of time that not all read­ers may be will­ing to undertake.

At its core, In Sun­light and in Shad­ow is a love sto­ry, and a com­pelling love sto­ry it is. There is also the req­ui­site par­al­lel Jew­ish-man-gets-mixed-up-with-the-Mob sub­plot. The fact that the Jew­ish man, Har­ry Copeland, is a war hero is an inte­gral part of the sto­ry line, as Hel­prin repeat­ed­ly weaves in flash­backs of Harry’s expe­ri­ences as a para­troop­er in the War. Although it is clear that Hel­prin has made the War a char­ac­ter in itself, and a sem­i­nal expe­ri­ence in Harry’s life, the nar­ra­tive about the War is often pon­der­ous and over­writ­ten — it is dur­ing such points in the nov­el that the read­er may be inclined to put the book aside. To do so, how­ev­er, would be a mistake.

The lyri­cal and com­pelling lan­guage of the nov­el man­ages to over­shad­ow a high­ly improb­a­ble love sto­ry. Cather­ine Hale is an heiress with seem­ing­ly impec­ca­ble blood­lines. Although an Ivy league grad­u­ate, Har­ry is not in her league. Yet, their love man­ages to tran­scend soci­etal vagaries and even finds favor with Catherine’s upper crust parents.

There are sev­er­al themes, preva­lent in 1940s Amer­i­ca, incor­po­rat­ed into the nov­el. Racism, anti-Semi­tism, and social mores all play a role in the sto­ry. Although Hel­prin, at times, wax­es preachy about these issues, they are a minor dis­trac­tion only. In Sun­light and in Shad­ow proves to be not only a lit­er­ary plea­sure, but a full sen­so­ry delight.

Paula Lubin is a human­i­ties teacher at the North Shore Hebrew Acad­e­my Mid­dle School. She has writ­ten for a vari­ety of pub­li­ca­tions, most recent­ly the New York Health­care Law Update.

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