cover image The Flame Bearers

The Flame Bearers

Kim Chernin. Times Books(NY), $0 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-8129-1334-7

This first novel by the author of well-received nonfiction (In My Mother's House, etc.) is an earnest, sometimes fervent effort to give modern currency to an ancient Jewish myth about women who tend the flame and pass it from generation to generation. Rae Shadmi, whose hair is red and whose body carries the sign, is the successor her grandmother has waited for, the one who will receive the key to the unknown city of Kiryat Sefer, which, it is suggested, she will find without ever having to leave San Francisco, where she was born. To escape her destiny she runs away, returning after 10 years to a household in turmoil: her grandmother is dead and her two older cousins, Naamah and Maya, are trying to preserve the old ways with no Great Teacherthe role Rae is expected to assumeto lead them. They love Rae but are bitter; so strong is her aura that even their children gravitate to her like moths to a flame. Slowly Rae relearns what she has never really forgotten, opens herself to the task of succession, gives herself back to the family. This is a difficult book: the reader must deliberately suspend disbelief, must take on faith the strengths and virtues ascribed to the heroine but rarely manifested, and must bear with an author who inhabits the mind of so many of her characters that all seem to speak with the same voice. (October 1)