Wher­ev­er There Is Light

  • Review
By – May 18, 2015

In this panoram­ic nov­el span­ning from 1938 to 1965, Peter Gold­en details the life of Julian Rose, a man who left Berlin at fif­teen to explore oppor­tu­ni­ties in Amer­i­ca despite his par­ents’ vocif­er­ous objec­tions. In 1938, hav­ing made a for­tune through boot­leg­ging, Julian gets his par­ents out of Europe. His father is ensconced as the only white pro­fes­sor in a black col­lege in Flori­da, and upon vis­it­ing his par­ents Julian meets the love of his life, the beau­ti­ful and tal­ent­ed Kendall Wake­field, whose moth­er is the Dean of the uni­ver­si­ty. The two fall in love almost imme­di­ate­ly, drawn togeth­er by their sim­i­lar rela­tion­ships with their par­ents: Pro­fes­sor Rose would like Julian to set­tle down and work in edu­ca­tion as he does; Kendall’s moth­er, Dean Wake­field, would like Kendall to learn how to run the col­lege instead of mov­ing to New York to become an artist. The nov­el tells of Julian and Kendall’s on-and-off pas­sion­ate rela­tion­ship that spans coun­tries and decades.

There are strong sub­plot deal­ing with the racism and prej­u­dice in the times of the nov­el. Kendall’s fiancé is lynched for swim­ming at a Mia­mi beach for­bid­den then to Negros.” After boot­leg­ging, Julian becomes an adept land investor and devel­ops malls, apart­ments, and the first hotel owned by a Jew in Mia­mi (which he iron­i­cal­ly names The Jerusalem”) — the sources of the end­less rich­es Julian amass­es and freely shares with Kendall.

Along the way, Julian meets Bessie Smith, Jean Paul Sartre, Picas­so, Frank Sina­tra, and Jack­ie Glea­son, to name a few notable, and serves in the O.S.S. dur­ing World War II, after which he sub­se­quent­ly trans­lates for the Nurem­berg Tri­als, since he did live in Ger­many for years. Through­out Julian’s trav­els, if Kendall is not with him, she is on his mind. Her inde­pen­dent spir­it and her fame as a pho­tog­ra­ph­er pre­vent her from set­tling down with Julian, a man so rich that she believes he tries to con­trol her. Their love sto­ry seems des­tined to end unhappily.

This nov­el is a pleas­ing read; the com­bi­na­tion of fic­tion with real human issues can be riv­et­ing. Golden’s writ­ing is clum­sy, how­ev­er, overuti­liz­ing strained sim­i­les such as the rib­bon of beach glowed whitish-gold, and the ocean was pale green close to shore, turn­ing a dark­er, more omi­nous blue as the Atlantic spread out to the hori­zon, all of it bathed in the vio­let-and-peach light of sun­set, as though flow­ers and fruit had burst into flame.” Although the sto­ry­telling of Wher­ev­er There is Light has mer­it, the novel’s prose falls short.

Suri Boiangiu recent­ly semi-retired from the posi­tion of assis­tant prin­ci­pal at an all-girls high school. She has either been an admin­is­tra­tor or taught Eng­lish at Yeshiv­ah of Flat­bush and Magen David High School. She loves read­ing mod­ern fic­tion, or any fic­tion, and Ama­zon knows her by her first name.

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