The Sound of the Sundial

Hana Androniko­va; Rachel Miran­da Fein­gold, ed.; David Short, trans.

  • Review
By – May 19, 2015

In 2002, Hana Androniko­va pub­lished her first nov­el, The Sound of the Sun­di­al, for which she was award­ed the Czech Republic’s esteemed prize for best debut nov­el. Rec­og­nized as a tal­ent­ed young writer, Androniko­va ini­tial­ly began work­ing on trans­la­tion of her nov­el into Eng­lish. Her untime­ly death to at 44 years old delayed the pub­li­ca­tion of the Eng­lish edi­tion until David Short’s trans­la­tion was released last year. It is most unfor­tu­nate that the author can­not cel­e­brate her suc­cess, but her writ­ing lives on in this allur­ing, vivid, cap­ti­vat­ing, and heart-wrench­ing nov­el, prov­ing that a Holo­caust sto­ry can still sur­prise us with a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive and/​or a diver­gent pre­sen­ta­tion of the material.

At first glance, one might assume that Androniko­va intro­duces a pro­sa­ic top­ic of for­bid­den love between a Jew and Chris­t­ian, but her inge­nu­ity and cre­ativ­i­ty intro­duces unique mate­r­i­al that is both twist­ed and thought-pro­vok­ing. The plot reveals itself non-sequen­tial­ly, inter­spersed with streams of con­scious­ness, often keep­ing the read­er guess­ing which at part came first.

The sto­ry­line begins and ends with an illic­it love between two Ger­man-Czechs, Tom, and Rachel. They both define them­selves as athe­ists, hav­ing renounced their respec­tive faiths pri­or to meet­ing each oth­er: Tom favored ratio­nal­is­tic think­ing and found his Chris­t­ian upbring­ing to be full of super­sti­tions; Rachel, pas­sion­ate about study­ing art and cul­ture, rec­og­nized long ago the inequal­i­ties and unfair expec­ta­tions that Judaism placed on women.

Fast-for­ward decades to a dif­fer­ent con­ti­nent, where Daniel, Tom and Rachel’s son, is forced to con­front his past. Daniel is Czech-born, but has nev­er revealed to his wife or chil­dren much about his child­hood or the neg­a­tive cir­cum­stances around the lives and deaths of his par­ents. In fact, Daniel nev­er quite under­stood why his moth­er was sent away and why she nev­er returned, but while vaca­tion­ing with his fam­i­ly in Col­orado he final­ly receives some of the answers to his questions.

Daniel rec­og­nizes that the own­er of the bed and break­fast has a Czech accent. Reveal­ing his iden­ti­ty to the pro­pri­etor, he learns that Anna, too, has some­thing to reveal: she and his moth­er were close friends in the con­cen­tra­tion camps. Through Anna, Daniel comes to acquaint him­self the per­son­al­i­ty and the pas­sion of his moth­er as he nev­er knew her and the ardent love his par­ents shared.

As Daniel and his fam­i­ly leave to return home, Anna tells Daniel that Tom was Rachel’s sun­di­al.” Rachel, full of ener­gy and pas­sion, was anchored by Tom’s tem­pera­ment. Daniel then mus­es to him­self — if Tom was Rachel’s sun­di­al, Rachel was Tom’s sun. Tom may have been a great builder, smart, an intel­lec­tu­al, but Rachel was his light source, his ener­gy. What­ev­er he accom­plished, what­ev­er he built, Rachel was his inspi­ra­tion. When Rachel failed to return after the war, Tom revert­ed to soli­tude, dis­con­nect­ed and sto­ic for the rest of his life, because his sun no longer rose.

Androniko­va suc­cess­ful­ly encap­su­lates the inher­ent cru­el­ties expe­ri­enced by the vic­tims of the Holo­caust, bal­anc­ing the hor­rors of his­to­ry with a tes­ta­ment to how love and opti­mism can at times buffer the pain in the present, with the hope that the next gen­er­a­tion will either car­ry their sto­ries or cre­ate their own.

Relat­ed Content:

Dr. Julie Stern Joseph has been edu­cat­ing Jew­ish high school stu­dents and adults for over 15 years. She spent five years study­ing Tal­mud and Jew­ish Law, earned an MA in Medieval Jew­ish his­to­ry from NYU, and holds a doc­tor­ate in Jew­ish Edu­ca­tion from Yeshi­va University.

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