Set in 1914 Kovno, Russia, Barenbaum’s rousing debut follows two headstrong siblings striving to build their lives amid the fog and confusion of impending war. Jewish Miri Abramov and her fiancé, Yuri, both work as doctors, but Miri is often shunned (even by patients) in a society where a woman surgeon is so uncommon that some even believe she is a witch. Miri’s brother, Vanya, is a brilliant physicist bent on expanding and/or disproving Albert Einstein’s still unpublished theory of relativity. He believes that proof of his equations lies in the August 1914 solar eclipse, which locals see as an omen of the devil. Vanya hopes to photograph the celestial phenomenon to show that light, in fact, bends as day turns into night. He also hopes to sell a photograph to American scientists, thereby buying safe passage for him, Miri, and Yuri. But as WWI intensifies, Miri is called away to the front lines, and Vanya must risk being captured to complete his observations. Barenbaum deepens the narrative with strong secondary characters marked by competing desires, such as the passions of Russian soldier Sasha Petrov and the deviousness of Russian Kir, who is trying to steal intellectual property. Fans of Kristin Hannah will enjoy Barenbaum’s exhilarating tale. (May)
"[A] rousing debut...Fans of Kristen Hannah will enjoy Barenbaum's exhilarating tale."Publishers Weekly
"A Bend in the Stars is a vivid and wrenching debut, full not only with the darkness of history but also with hope a literary saga for fans of The Invisible Bridge and All the Light We Cannot See. Love and war and Relativity weave together seamlessly, and we're left understanding that there's more than one way for the universe to bend." Rebecca Makkai, author of the National Book Award Finalist The Great Believers
"A sweeping epic that transports the reader into another era, even as the struggles of its characters feel powerfully modern and timely."Madeline Miller, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Circe
"With the timelessness of a folk tale, the twists and turns of an adventure story, and the pleasures of a science thriller, A Bend in the Stars both fills the reader's heart and keeps it beating fast. This novel's strong gravitational pull draws you powerfully alongside Miri and Vanya in their harrowing quests, and its emotional payoff makes you never want to let them go."Christopher Castellani, author of Leading Men
"Rachel Barenbaum's A Bend in the Stars is a beautiful thrill ride steeped in the history of Czarist Russia, from its poverty-ridden shtetls to its roaring trains, and the awesome lure of science. This is a book of history rewritten, dreams realized, and justice served-a book about relativity, war, hatred, and the weight of our assumptions and our great loves."Michelle Hoover, author of The Quickening
"A romantic adventure with a neatly dovetailed ending that will appeal to fans of Kristin Hannah and Pam Jenoff." Booklist
"A riveting and deftly-plotted novel that leads us through the twisted labyrinths of Riga, hurtles us atop a pile of crates on a train rumbling toward Kiev, and illuminates how the violence of history and the thrill of scientific discovery unfold in startling simultaneity." Ilana Kurshan, Sami Rohr Prize-winning author of IF ALL THE SEAS WERE INK
DEBUT Early on, Einstein's theory of relativity was a little shaky and needed more work. In Kovno, Russia, Jewish physicist Vanya Abramov devises promising equations in hopes of proving them with photos of stars to be taken near Kiev during the solar eclipse on August 21, 1914. Terrible obstacles arise: powerful competitors steal his work, the tsar conscripts all able men to fight the kaiser, and a wave of pogroms threatens all Jews. His sister Miriam and her fiancé Yuri, both surgeons at the Jewish hospital, join him in his quest to meet a well-equipped American group at the eclipse site. The Jewish travelers suffer difficulties and loss. Former hedge-fund manager Barenbaum weaves breakthrough science, overwhelming anti-Semitism, a romantic triangle, and cataclysmic war in this debut that starts out slowly but soon roars like a runaway locomotive as the three face challenges while striving to retain their essential goodness. VERDICT As with Boris Akunin's Erast Fandorin and David Downing's Jack McColl in two series about czarist Russia, Miri, Yuri and Vanya make an unforgettable impression. Their creator, a talented, confident new writer, transforms historical facts and traditions by adding propulsive action and convincing emotional insights. [See Prepub Alert, 11/19/18.]—Barbara Conaty, Falls Church, VA
A young Jewish physicist in 1914 Russia wants to photograph a solar eclipse to prove Einstein's theory of relativity while his sister, a doctor, struggles to ensure their survival.
Readers not steeped in physics may not be aware that a British astronomer proved Einstein's theory after a 1919 solar eclipse. In Barenbaum's first novel, a historical thriller about physics and the travail of Russian Jews, fictional physicist Vanya lives with his sister, Miri, and their grandmother Baba in Kovno, where anti-Semitic violence erupts regularly. Vanya has been promised a position at Harvard and a life in America for his family if he can prove Einstein's theory with equations and photos of the coming eclipse. On the eve of war, Miri's fiance, Yuri, secretly agrees to enlist for military duty in exchange for Miri's promotion to surgeon at the hospital where he's trained her. To escape an influential university colleague itching to appropriate his research, Vanya also enlists, heading off with Yuri to Riga, where he hopes to join an American physicist bringing the necessary camera to photograph the eclipse. Meanwhile, as the noose tightens around the Jewish community in Kovno, Mira and Baba escape with the help of Sasha, a Jewish soldier Miri has met under harrowing circumstances. Baba heads to St. Petersburg while Miri and Sasha set off to find Yuri and Vanya. Unbeknownst to Miri, the two have left Riga searching for the elusive American. The siblings separately face multiplying crises that begin to run together—several train incidents, several knife incidents, etc. Vanya unexpectedly bonds with Yuri while Miri, no surprise, is inescapably drawn to passionate, valiant Sasha. Too bad for her because Yuri's careful self-control is misleading. In fact, while Miri and Vanya are annoyingly gifted as well as earnestly moral and Miri's darling Sasha is typically dashing and heroic, Yuri evolves into Barenbaum's one fully developed character, heartbreakingly full of human contradictions.
Barenbaum has an eye for visual detail, but her story bogs down in sentiment, overplotting, and lecturing.