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Sabbath Day

April 4, 2013

Bristol House, the new novel by Beverly Swerling, arrived today.

It was published today (April 4), and arrived today (April 4). Amazon.com pre-order is really pretty cool.

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I picked up Beverly’s first novel years ago at a sale table at an independent book store on Long Island. It was a hardback copy of City of Dreams which is a novel of “Nieuw Amsterdam and Early Manhattan.” The book was published in 2002, so I imagine I found it in 2003, about the time the paperback probably came out. I had been living proximate to New York City for a little more than a decade at that time, so I was intrigued and interested to read about the early history of the city. But … I was also a budding historian; a medieval historian, to be precise.  I was in my second year of graduate school, learning languages and theory and a wealth a information and, well, Nieuw Amsterdam got shelved as a distraction.

Two years ago I left Long Island and moved to White Plains, Westchester County, and began immersing myself in the history of my new home. Just by chance, one of the early boxes of books I unpacked included City of Dreams. Suddenly I was immersed in this amazing novel of the Turner and DeVries families. I cannot say enough about how engaging and complex Swerling’s storytelling is. This first novel eventually became a series of four, including City of GloryCity of God, and City of Promise. The novels cover 250 years of history in Manhattan, and trace the development of city. (I have this fantasy of taking a historical tour of lower Manhattan with Beverly – how amazing would that be!)

Swerling also published a tangentially related novel, Shadowbrook: A Novel of Love, War, and the Birth of America which recounts the French and Indian War through two unforgettable characters. I think it is my favorite of her books. I am currently reading Jimmy Carter’s novel The Hornet’s Nest: A Novel of the Revolutionary War which recounts the war of independence and the struggle to solicit native allies in the southern frontier of Georgia. Again and again as I read Carter’s narrative I am led to remember Quentin Hale and Cormac Shea from Shadowbrook: these fictional characters are now part of the texture of history.

Swerling’s new novel, Bristol House, introduces Dr. Annie Kendall, an architectural historian and recovering alcoholic, who is trying to reestablish her academic career through research into Tudor era Jewish history. Dr. Kendall has three months to uncover a mystery. There are documents in the British Museum, and artifacts in the hands of her benefactors. And there is a ghost.

I gave up working on my own Ph.D. three months ago and decided to settle for Ab.D. (All but Dissertation).

I had originally set out to write a dissertation on Jewish self-definition (in France in the twelfth century) but ended up researching images of holy labor (in England in the fourteenth century). When I gave up writing, I told my disappointed son that I already had a P.H.D.: I was first and foremost a Pastor, a Husband, and a Dad. I said that it was because these always came first that I was not going to finish writing the dissertation. However … settling down tonight, and only a dozen pages into the novel, the longing of a research historian has been awaked in me again. It is a sweet feeling.

As with Beverly’s earlier novels, I feel I cannot put this one down.

So, I will stop writing and and return to reading.

Should you desire to pick up one (or more) of Swerling’s novels, and you shop through amazon.com, please use the amazon link on my church website – a percentage of your purchase will be given to support our mission and ministry. 

Also, please consider dropping by an liking her facebook fan page. Happy Sabbath.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Carla Lesh permalink
    May 24, 2013 9:50 am

    Wonderful definition of P. H. D.!

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