Official Synopsis from Goodreads: For fans of All the Light We Cannot See and The Women in the Castle comes a riveting literary novel that is at once an epic love story and a heart-pounding journey across WWI-era Russia, about an ambitious young doctor and her scientist brother in a race against Einstein to solve one of the greatest mysteries of the universe.
In Russia, in the summer of 1914, as war with Germany looms and the Czar’s army tightens its grip on the local Jewish community, Miri Abramov and her brilliant physicist brother, Vanya, are facing an impossible decision. Since their parents drowned fleeing to America, Miri and Vanya have been raised by their babushka, a famous matchmaker who has taught them to protect themselves at all costs: to fight, to kill if necessary, and always to have an escape plan. But now, with fierce, headstrong Miri on the verge of becoming one of Russia’s only female surgeons, and Vanya hoping to solve the final puzzles of Einstein’s elusive theory of relativity, can they bear to leave the homeland that has given them so much?
Before they have time to make their choice, war is declared and Vanya goes missing, along with Miri’s fiancé. Miri braves the firing squad to go looking for them both. As the eclipse that will change history darkens skies across Russia, not only the safety of Miri’s own family but the future of science itself hangs in the balance.
Grounded in real history — and inspired by the solar eclipse of 1914 — A Bend in the Stars offers a heartstopping account of modern science’s greatest race amidst the chaos of World War I, and a love story as epic as the railways crossing Russia.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Setting: 1914 Kovno, Riga, Kiev, and Brovary
***I received an eARC copy of A Bend in the Stars from the publisher, Grand Central Publishing, via NetGalley***
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Review: Slow to start, but ultimately a compelling and illuminating historical fiction read! A Bend in the Stars by Rachel Barenbaum has a unique setting, as it’s set during the outbreak of WWI in what was then Russia. The book starts out in Kovno (Kaunas, Lithuania) and some characters travel to Riga (Latvia), while others travel to the Kiev/Brovary (Ukraine) area.
I found the historical setting to be absolutely fascinating. Our main characters are all Jewish, so there was a focus on the treatment of Jews in this area during this time, and so there were mentions of various pogroms (the babushka was a survivor of one of the Odessa pogroms) and such. Many of these scenes were difficult to read, as reading about so much hatred and what humans are capable of doing to each other is so tough.
The main characters are brother and sister Vanya the physicist and Miri the surgeon, Miri’s fiancé Yuri, another surgeon, and Sasha, a soldier running from something. We also meet Vanya and Miri’s babushka, whom I don’t recall ever actually reading what her name was! Their babushka is the local matchmaker, and she was such a tough, strong character. I really loved her! As I previously mentioned she survived an Odessa pogrom, and teaches her survival skills to her grandchildren. Vanya and Miri were both strong and competent characters. Vanya is trying to beat Einstein to some formulas to prove relativity, and is also trying to meet up with an American photographer to capture photographs of the upcoming eclipse. Miri has just attained surgeon status at the local Jewish hospital, a well-known hospital, and is devoted to her job. Her fiancé, Yuri, is her mentor, and he’s got an interesting backstory as he hails from Zhytomyr (Ukraine), and we discover more about him as the book goes along.
Yuri and Vanya head to Riga to meet up with the American photographer, and Miri encounters Sasha as he’s deserting, and they end up escaping to Kiev. A Bend in the Stars follows both sets of characters, alternating chapters between their stories. I found Miri and Sasha’s plotline much more interesting than Yuri and Vanya’s. Yuri and Vanya’s just had more physics and wandering around that didn’t interest me, and they also meet up with a sea captain named Dima, who, at the beginning, is one of those untrustworthy characters that as a reader we can see right through, but our characters do not. Towards the end, as Yuri, Vanya, and Dima’s plotline got more fast-paced and dramatic, I was glued to the page and concerned for all of their safety!
There is a love triangle here, with Miri and Sasha falling in love while they travel, but Miri is also very much engaged to Yuri, and this was a love triangle that didn’t irritate me. Both men are kind and loving in their own way, and I believed Miri’s indecision and dilemma. Miri and Sasha have undeniable chemistry, while Miri and Yuri have a love of medicine and respect for each other.
While the first half of the book was slow with all the set up, learning about Vanya’s formulas and how the eclipse will help, and meeting all the characters, once the plot got rolling I couldn’t put the book down! The ending was full of drama and love with some disturbingly violent scenes, and I was riveted. While I didn’t understand all the physics of what Vanya was working towards, I still enjoyed this read and recommend it for those who enjoy reading historical fiction!
Bottom Line: Slow to start, but a strong ending!