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Summer Lightning
Belle and Isaac meet by chance at Lindbergh’s historic flight from Roosevelt Field in 1927 and thus begins the story of a family trying to find its place in tumultuous mid-20th century America. Set in Europe, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Long Island, England and the Berkshires, the story spans multi-generations. Although the bonds between family members are strong, there is also a yearning for something more. Belle and Isaac and their daughters, Sophy and Vivie negotiate the Depression, WWII, McCarthyism, and the fight for Civil Rights. Living against the grain these vivid characters take risks as they strengthen their ties to the turmoil in Europe, to the Manhattan art scene of Larry Rivers and Frank O’Hara and their “gang,” and to the Black community. They experience profound happiness and are also tested in ways they could never have imagined. Their triumphs are a testament to the resilience of the human spirit; what makes them so memorable and compelling is that they never forget who they are and where they came from.
Silman (Secrets and Shadows) highlights the lives of a Jewish couple encountering prejudice in pre- and post-World War II New York in this affecting family saga. Bookkeeper Belle Brand marries salesman Isaac, who arrived in New York from Europe in 1922 as Itzhak Kaplow. The couple lives in Brooklyn while arranging for Isaac’s parents to emigrate to the U.S., and eventually move to Long Island with their daughter Sophy, a bright, inquisitive child who soon becomes a big sister. Through the tragedies and triumphs of their lives, Belle and Isaac instill in their daughters the value of caring for others regardless of social or racial, or ethnic differences, though their commitment to equality will be tested by Vivie, the youngest, in the Civil Rights era.

Silman’s lyrical writing quickly immerses readers into a Depression-era New York marked by people jumping to their deaths and immigrants changing their names to reduce the prejudice against them. The narrative is propelled forward by the inclusion of historical figures. Though Silman vividly depicts the despair of the Depression and the tumult of the years that followed, she contrasts this against the moments of happiness Belle and Isaac discover after their chance encounter at Lindbergh’s takeoff leads to a happy marriage and growing family.

Silman finds engaging drama in the efforts of a Jewish family facing hatred and blame for the involvement of the U.S. in the second World War, while trying to find out what happened to family members left behind, like Isaac’s brother. Silman’s focus on New York’s vivid art scene is a study in contrast against Belle’s conservative upbringing and her acceptance of her acquaintances’ views on sexuality. Yet what will resonate most with readers is Silman’s intensely emotional depiction of the Kaplows’ commitment to family and helping others. Silman portrays the Kaplows as genuine people who manage to instill true integrity in their children.

Takeaway: This touching historical novel finds a Jewish family facing prejudice and embracing equality in 20th century New York.

Great for fans of: Roberta Kagan’s Not in America, Barbara Pressman’s Help Me Hannah.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A