Sunday's Silence

Overview

East meets West in acclaimed author Gina B. Nahai's mesmerizing story of a journalist on a search for the truth about his father's death — and his own past — among the mystical, snake-handling Holy Rollers of Appalachia. When Adam Watkins, illegitimate son of ninety-year-old preacher Little Sam Jenkins, learns that his father has died from a snakebite and that a woman named Blue, a fellow handler, is being charged with murder, Adam abandons his assignment in Lebanon and goes home for the first time in twenty ...

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Overview

East meets West in acclaimed author Gina B. Nahai's mesmerizing story of a journalist on a search for the truth about his father's death — and his own past — among the mystical, snake-handling Holy Rollers of Appalachia. When Adam Watkins, illegitimate son of ninety-year-old preacher Little Sam Jenkins, learns that his father has died from a snakebite and that a woman named Blue, a fellow handler, is being charged with murder, Adam abandons his assignment in Lebanon and goes home for the first time in twenty years. Almost immediately, he is drawn into a dark and exhilarating relationship with the purple-eyed beauty Blue. Carried to Appalachia from the mountains of Asia as the child bride of a languages professor, she is both outsider and enigma. Through Blue's and Adam's interwoven stories, Nahai brings to life a land of stunning beauty and heartrending poverty and explores both the triumph of passion over reason and the cross-cultural mysteries of faith.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Chicago Tribune A bold, passionate tale of fanaticism and seduction. Sensitively and vividly rendered. Exotic, mythic, a tale told by a Scheherazade.

San Francisco Chronicle Sunday's Silence is exactly the kind of book that Americans need to be reading right now, a book in which East and West collide, not only in war but in love.

Los Angeles Times Exquisite....Nahai is especially adroit in her storytelling...Because [she] is not interested in sensationalizing....extreme religious notions, Sunday's Silence demands that we pay them attention and lets us understand a little bit better their powerful lure.

Publishers Weekly
How different is Iran from Appalachia? Iranian-born writer Nahai's first two novels, Cry of the Peacock and Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith, were set in her native land, to great effect and rave reviews. Now, in a thoughtfully executed third novel, Nahai takes on Appalachia, illuminating another region whose people are united by a fundamentalist faith, their beliefs as exotic to, and misunderstood by, most Western readers as those of the people of Iran. Foreign correspondent Adam Watkins is stationed in Lebanon when he receives news that Little Sam Jenkins, the father he barely knew, has died of snakebite. A snake-handling preacher who had survived nine decades of hard living and 446 snakebites, Sam finally succumbed to the venom of a snake given to him by Blue, a gorgeous Kurdish woman born in Iraq, and herself a skilled snake-handler who never fit in with the Holy Rollers. Adam, having tried for 18 years to create a new life for himself, returns home looking for answers: What drove Sam? And was Blue merely testing Sam's faith, or did she intend to kill him? A strong sense of geography and religious history provides the backdrop as Nahai explores the enigma of charisma, opening a window on an insular world and rendering the "other" America explicable. Alternating with Adam's story is the first-person account of Blue, her voice charged with the mythic, seductive power of a Scheherazade. Faith versus fanaticism, fear as a motivating force for seeking salvation these themes are examined, as events both tragic and redemptive unfold. This multifaceted work expands Nahai's fictional universe in new and curiously fitting directions. Agent, Barbara Lowenstein. (Nov. 1) Forecast: Moonlight onthe Avenue of Faith was a bestseller on the West Coast and has been translated into 16 languages. The Appalachia setting of Nahai's latest may startle her fans and lead to slow sales at first, but strong reviews should attract new readers. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
KLIATT
From the first sentence the reader is hooked on this intriguing story. Reporter Adam Watkins arrives in Knoxville, Tennessee to discover his own past and to write a story about the murder of his father, preacher Little Sam Jenkins, who had abandoned Adam when he was a boy. In this Appalachian backwoods town where Holy Rollers demonstrate their holiness by snake handling and drinking strychnine poison, Adam meets the beautiful, enigmatic Blue Kerdi, daughter of a Kurdish Arab nomad. Blue had married Professor Kerdi to escape her mother's madness and her family's problems. She and her husband remain nomads of the world, however, because the professor, an Arab Jew, carries a deep, dark secret, a burden of guilt. Many of the characters try to pursue goals and dreams only to be met with disappointment and loss of hope that eventually destroys them. Even religion fails to meet their need with its "Sunday silence." The pace of the novel accelerates and suspense builds as Adam and Blue's passionate and treacherous relationship develops. Although Adam is the primary narrator, Blue shares her personal stories in italicized words, communicating directly with the reader. What is the truth Adam seeks, and can their love survive it? The novel is an enticing blend of East and West, as both cultures struggle to understand each other and the forces that have shaped them. An excellent story for our times, which will appeal to adults and some in the teenage audience as well. KLIATT Codes: A—Recommended for advanced students and adults. 2001, Pocket Books, Washington Square Press, 309p., Allison
Library Journal
Adam Watkins, the estranged bastard son of an Appalachian snake-handling minister, has removed himself from his hick past. Now a foreign correspondent in 1970s Beirut, he must return to Tennessee when he learns that his father has been murdered. His search for the perpetrator leads to Blue, a beautiful Kurdish Jew and child bride of a University of Tennessee linguistics professor who has hidden his background as an Arab Jew. This is only a morsel of this novel's highly convoluted plot. Nahai (Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith) claims that she wanted to compare the fundamentalist religions of Appalachia with those of her native Iran, but readers looking for objective insights into America's bizarre backwoods faiths won't find much. The book is populated with atypical characters isolated from their respective cultures, so they have little to say about their society. Depictions of Appalachia's miserable poverty and snake-handling traditions are shockingly detailed, but the novel doesn't display an understanding of the fabric of Appalachian society as a whole, focusing only on its fascinating anomalies. Long flashbacks of Blue's life in Kurdistan ring truer than the American scenes, but the hurried overview lacks immediacy. An optional purchase, but this could still be a good read for those who enjoy novels with unusual settings and tangled plots. Reba Leiding, James Madison Univ. Lib., Harrisonburg, VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A sensitive if uncompelling exploration of cultural alienation: an abandoned son searches for understanding and redemption after his snake-handling father is fatally bitten. The member of a notorious Appalachian sect who handles venomous snakes and ingests poison during religious services to prove his faith should be an intriguing subject-especially if, like Little Sam Jenkins, the figure also seduces young women, fathers numerous children, and cynically uses his preaching gifts to win fame and sexual favors. Even so, the Iranian-born Nahai (Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith, 1999, etc.) adds a second story, this one with Middle Eastern origins. Sunday's Silence opens when journalist Adam Watkins, stationed in Beirut, learns that Little Sam Adams has been killed by a snake handed to him during a service by a woman named Blue. Little Sam had married Watkins's grandmother, a coal miner's widow, then later had had an affair with Clare, her teenaged and sexually precocious daughter, who gave birth to Adam, tried to raise him, finally left him in a local orphanage. Now back in Knoxville, Adam tries to discover more about both Little Sam and the beautiful Blue Kerdi, the wife of an elderly professor. He soon meets her, and the two begin an affair, as Blue tells him her life story. The daughter of Kurds, one Muslim and one Jewish, she was raised as a nomad and married young in Iran to a professor, a nonpracticing Jew. In Knoxville, she joined Sam's sect because the members made her feel welcome. As Adam learns about his family's hard life and recalls his own years in the orphanage, he also hears why Blue killed Little Sam. And when the professor is found dead, with Blue is suspected ofpoisoning him, Adam realizes he must stay and fight. Well intentioned, though the tale-partly of Appalachia, partly of Middle East-loses more strength than it gains through being double-stranded.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743459457
  • Publisher: Washington Square Press
  • Publication date: 4/1/2003
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 0.72 (w) x 5.50 (h) x 8.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Gina B. Nahai is the author of the bestselling Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith and Cry of the Peacock. She lives in Los Angeles and teaches creative writing at the University of Southern California.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1


SHE WENT TO find him when he most longed to see her, walked through town in her white cotton dress and her bare feet, and all along the way men stopped and stared at her as if to wonder if she were not a figment of their imaginations. Adam sensed the men's agitation before he became aware of Blue's presence, heard the murmurs of their hearts and their faint, embarrassed gasps as she traveled past them like a breeze in the heat of the two o'clock sun of a Sunday afternoon in August. Then he recognized the stirrings of an old sadness, felt Blue move toward him with the beat of his own breath, and by the time he went to the door and saw her, he knew he should never have come back.


She looked like rain.


She stood before him with her purple eyes and her innocent's smile, a storm of golden-red hair against her tulip-white skin, her body long and lean and Unself-conscious, her arms bare and cool and hinting of desire-and he realized that he knew nothing about her at all, that he had spent days investigating the woman without gaining the slightest understanding of her.


"I wanted to see you," she said.

They stood in front of the Lamar-Church Boardinghouse in downtown Knoxville. An old colonial mansion built on one of the original sixty-four lots that had comprised the city in its early days, the house had been abandoned for close to forty years-victim of the urban flight that overtook Knoxville after the Great Depression and that lasted well into the mid-1970's. For forty years the house had sat, unoccupied, along a deserted street, its windows smeared with dust, its steps crumbling with age and covered with kudzu. Around it thecity had slept in shells of empty department stores and locked offices, houses overrun by colonies of mice and giant cats, cobblestoned alleys frequented by naked ghosts and orphaned children, railroad tracks that transported only freight cars, and a station where no train ever stopped. Then the city's leaders had embarked on a plan to invite life back into its center. The boardinghouse had been sold for a pittance to the first and only bidder, and money had been loaned for a renovation. Investors had been invited to take over stores and businesses. Streetlights had been installed. The train station had revamped. A year after it had opened its doors, the boardinghouse was still among only a handful of buildings that held a semblance of life downtown.


That Sunday Adam shared the hotel with three other guests-college students from Amsterdam on a year-long cross-country tour of the United States. One of the boys had heard her come in and was now standing at the window of his room overlooking the street. Even without turning to see him, Adam could imagine the look of stupefaction on the boy's face, the way his eyes watered as they strove to swallow Blue's image whole, the way he whispered to his friends "come-to-the-window-and-look-for-yourselves-this-is-definitely-a-sight-to-see, the-one-we'll-remember-when-we're-old."


Adam had been in Knoxville for ten days already. He knew where to find Blue, of course. She had lived in the same house in Fort Sanders since she had moved here from a far-off and exotic land twenty-four years ago. Her husband, a man everyone knew as as "the Professor", had brought her here with no fanfare and with little explanation of her background. In Knoxcille the last few days, Adam had followed Blue's trail around town and talked to people who knew her, looked up her records at the county courthouse and the DA's office, searched the archives of the local press for references to Blue and her past. He knew he had to call on her, of course-to look her in the face and determine for himself the truth or falsehood of the rumors surrounding her. Yet every time he came close to seeing her, he was overcome by an instinctive sense of danger, a feeling that he would lose objectivity the moment he set eyes on her, and so he had kept his distance, from hour to hour and day to day, until she made the first move.


"You've been asking about me," she said.


The smile had spread from her lips into her eyes, and spilled like heat onto everything she looked at. Adam watched the edges of her mouth, the soft dimple in her right cheek, the curve in the nape of her neck. Her dress, cut at the top in the shape of a V, was almost transparent. Through it he could see the bareness of her breasts, the line that ran from the center of her chest down over her stomach, the tips of her hipbones against the sheer fabric. She was like a creature from another world, he thought-a child's drawing of a woman, all those vivid, improbable colors, the red and purple and blue that belonged more to trees and to fish than to humans. She must have picked up a box of crayons, he thought, once when she was three years old and her world was filled with promise, picked up the colors and painted herself into what she thought a woman would look like.


Blue shook her head to move the sun out of her eyes. Her hair fell in long, soft curls onto her back and shoulders, reflecting a thousand variations of light, giving her an aura of unreality. She walked closer to Adam and out of the sun. At the second-floor window, the trio from Amsterdam inhaled uneasily and remained glued to their spots. Aware of their desperation Blue raised her eyes at them for a split second, acknowledging their presence, accepting their eagerness. Then she looked back at Adam.


It occurred to him then that she was not afraid of him at all, though she must realize why he was here-because he had read about Little Sam Jenkins' death and come back to investigate how he had died, because Sam may have well died at Blue's hands-he had said as much to the sheriff in the hours before his death-because Adam was determined to establish the truth or falsehood of that claim.


She came even closer to him and stopped. He thought he could feel the warmth of her body spreading under his skin-like water moving through the earth, finding every pore, filling a longforgotten but excruciating need.


She was not afraid of him at all.


"Come inside," she said.

Copyright © 2001 by Gina Barkhordar Nahai, published by Harcourt, Inc. All rights reserved. For permission to reproduce this information, go to our Permissions and Copyright Requests page at http://www.harcourtbooks.com/pol-copyright.html

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