And Darkness Was Under His Feet: Stories of a Family

Excerpt of the review by The Jewish Review, Portland OR March 2009

"And Darkness" starts in Raduatz, Bukovina, an area that is today split between Ukraine and Romania. In "Shabbat, 1900," Lazar and Reizl Solomon sit at the table with their three sons.

Abraham and Isaac are already men, already plotting their escape from their father's tyranny. David, the youngest, is just a baby. He will grow up without his brothers. They will be disowned by their stern father and mourned by theirgentle mother when they move away.

Lazar and Reizl's sons find jobs and marry, but they don't find security in 20th-century Europe. They adopt new customs, learn new languages, and even serve in the army, only to find that they remain a people apart.

Only David, living in Dresden, has remained religious. It is his immediate family that bears the brunt of the Holocaust. Sons and daughters of Abraham and Isaac escape, either through cleverness or sheer luck, ending up in France, China and England.

In the post-war era, the unlucky ones are trapped behind the Iron Curtain, arbitrarily separated from loved ones and freedom. Some families remain close. Others, divided by geography and temperament, fall out of touch.

Two generations later, at the dawn of the 21st century, the Solomon descendents are scattered all over the globe. The final (and longest) story depicts their coming together in a chaotic family reunion. The participants are hard to keep track of, the cousins chattering and arguing, trying to keep track of their relation to each other. For Lazar and Reizl's descendants, time has marched on. The family's youngest are now the elderly generation, an object of interest to the historian in the group.

"And Darkness," subtitled `Stories of a Family,' reads much more like a novel. There is little comparison to Dawid's previous collection "Lily in the Desert," which offered up a cornucopia of situations and characters, all quite distinct. The stories in "And Darkness" are slight but numerous, a scene here, a glimpse of a personality there, with years and sometimes continents in between. The effect is like that of an old family album, where black-and-white photographs are pasted carefully in place, a woman's spidery handwriting underneath.

Dawid glosses over the great sweep of history to good effect, preferring the intimate scene to the grand fanfare out on the street.

She is well aware that her readers are sophisticated enough to make the temporal and geographic leaps she requires. She is ambitious too, attempting to sum up the whole of family life in less than two hundred pages.