- Paperback: 306 pages
- Publisher: ASD Publishing (January 20, 2015)
In the summer of 1974, Dr. Rose Strongin, a marine biologist, inexplicably disappears for three hours on the last day of an archaeological dig at the Sea of Galilee. She has no memory of the disappearance, but it causes her to miss her flight home from Israel. That plane, TWA 841, explodes over the Mediterranean killing all aboard. Twelve years later she learns that a 2,000 year-old perfectly preserved vessel, dubbed the “Jesus Boat,” is uncovered at the site of her disappearance and she begins to understand what happened and why.
The novel crosses several decades exploring the intersection of science, religion and the unexplainable as a family gathers to say goodbye to the matriarch who held a family secret.
Buy, read, and discuss The Accidental Pilgrim
Stephen Kitsakos is a theatre writer and journalist as well as the author of three opera librettos. His current project is the opera adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s international bestseller, A Thousand Splendid Suns with music by Sheila Silver. Other works include the Sackler-Prize award winning “The Wooden Sword” and “The White Rooster: A Tale of Compassion” for the Smithsonian Institution. His work often explores the connection between religion and art. He divides his time between Key West and New York.
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I tend to be pretty wary about any novel that is remotely related to religion, but I trust Trish at TLC Book Tours, so when she highlighted The Accidental Pilgrim and said she thought I’d really appreciate it, I said, “Okay.” In truth, I wish I’d had more time to sit with this novel before posting my review, because while the surface story is an easy one, the deeper story requires some digestion.
I’m glad I did, because this book a gem of a novel. First the story is completely compelling, combining family drama both in the present, as a father and his three grown children come together to pay last respects to his wife/their mother, and in the past, as we meet Rose (the wife/mother) in flashbacks and memories. Actually it’s pretty gutsy for a writer to have the main character begin the novel already dead, but this novel is really Rose’s story, though her husband (Simon) and her children (Sharon, Barbara, Nathan) have their parts to play.
Every single character was memorable, though Nathan is my favorite of the ‘children.’ I understood his prickly moodiness – he’s a musician, after all – and resonated with it. I loved experiencing Rose’s journey through her own eyes, and through the eyes of those around her. I also liked the way every character was flawed, and so very real. The two daughters, one like her mother, one more like her father, reminded me of my own aunts and their ability to bicker constantly but still completely love each other.
Then there’s the setting: most of the novel takes place on the Sea of Galilee, so we get to glimpse both contemporary Israel, and the Israel of the recent past, as well as a few other time-hops that I won’t go into for fear of spoiling some truly interesting plot twists. I’ve never had a particular desire to visit contemporary Israel (my fantasies tend to involve places like Fez, Tangier, or Algiers), but this novel gave me a deep appreciation for a region that is so entwined in political and cultural turmoil that I doubt resolution will ever come.
Finally, there is the author’s sense of craft. In an email to him yesterday, I commented that I loved the way he told us the way characters pronounced things – it really made me hear the subtle accents – Canadian, American, Russian, Israeli, British, etc. – and added a layer of realism that truly made the novel sing. Specifically, I mentioned a line early in the novel where he describes a character saying the word “kids” with a “k” that sounds like “…a small ball of phlegm stuck in his throat…” That’s the first example that struck me, but those little touches and nuances exist throughout the novel.
As I said, I’m wary about novels that have anything to do with religion, but when I open myself to one, I’m invariably led to a place where I’m provoked to examine some of my own beliefs and attitudes. (And as a culturally Catholic, liberal Episco-tarian (I’m UU in my heart but love the ritual and language of the Episcopal church) feminist with an ethnically Jewish stepfather and a Baptist husband, you can IMAGINE what my beliefs and attitudes might be.) This happened to me when I first read Madeleine L’Engle’s Certain Women. It happened when I read Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent. It also happened as I was reading this book, The Accidental Pilgrim.
If you’re in the mood for family drama, this novel will appeal to you, and it’s possible to read it and just skim the surface. If, however, you prefer to delve deeper, this novel is meaty enough to satisfy anyone’s craving for a discussion of philosophy, religion, and science, and where the three intersect.
Goes well with mint tea, falafel, tabbouleh, and a handful of Medjool dates.
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Thursday, April 30th: Bibliotica – That’s ME!
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