A story of connections

October 9, 2017

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On the Sickle’s Edge
Neville Frankel
Dialogos, an imprint of Lavender Ink, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-944884-10-9
474 pages, $16.95, paperback

Stories based on family history are a strong current in Jewish literature. It is by remembering and retelling that we honor our loved ones and perpetuate their memory, while instilling resilience and hope in the young. Neville Frankel’s On the Sickle’s Edge is a fictionalized, but riveting account of his family’s complex history that inspired the writing of the book. This sweeping novel spans four continents, many decades, and multiple pivotal global events. It also delves deeply into the inner lives of its characters and their connections to Judaism.

Frankel, a native of Johannesburg, South Africa who immigrated to the United States at the age of 14, uses the voices of three compelling characters to tell the story of three generations of one far-flung family. There’s Lena, who was born in turn-of-the-century Latvia, brought to South Africa, then forced to emigrate to the Soviet Union as part of the post-World War I resettlement of Latvian Jews; her granddaughter Darya, initially a Soviet true believer unaware of her Jewish heritage, who begins to question her life; and Steven, a Boston artist, who discovers his family history with startling consequences in the waning days of the Soviet regime.

Frankel’s page-turning epic weaves in pertinent historical detail about Soviet society and offers penetrating insight into today’s Russia. In particular, the political repression, lack of free speech, and corruption under Stalin provide a deep understanding of the seeds of Putin’s Russia, which has become such a pervasive part of our current political discourse.

Frankel’s engaging narrative tackles issues of displacement, identity, self-determination, and family history amidst epochal historical events. The novel chronicles the way global conflict causes family fragmentation and trauma, while demonstrating that love and tradition persist even in the most dire situations. Ultimately, On the Sickle’s Edge is a novel of hope and renewal. It underscores the importance of our own family histories as part of our legacy and as something to pass down to our children’s children.

Neville Frankel is an Emmy award-winning writer of literary and historical fiction. He is a graduate of Dartmouth College and did his doctoral work in English Literature at the University of Toronto. He is a 2013 and 2017 Jewish Book Council author and a contributor to The Huffington Post and The Good Men Project. A nationally recognized speaker, Frankel has presented at more than 100 venues across the country. This will be his second local speaking event. His novel, Bloodlines, was featured at the 2013 Jewish Book Festival in Virginia Beach.

- Reviewed by Sharon Nusbaum

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