Acts of Atonement is very much a New York novel. I enjoyed this ‘visit’ from my comfy reading chair and got to know many New Yorkers better than I ever did in my in-person visits. The main characters are two young, professional women —Paloma, a Columbian-American, and Serach, a Jew—who reject their familial and community roots for their forbidden love.
The characters are well developed in this tightly drawn novel that merges two insular cultures. The Cast of Characters page at the beginning of the novel proved to be a handy resource to keep who’s who straight as I read the novel.
Though both women turned their backs on their roots, Paloma makes efforts to stay in touch with her family by hosting monthly lunches with her brother, Manny, and his three teenage sons— but not his wife. The youngest son, Ramon. age 15, has, unrecognized by his father and therefore untreated, Asperger’s. He is naturally gifted with great eye/hand coordination. Contention arises when Manny buys a gun and enrolls him in shooting lessons since he is such a good shot, as Paloma is anti-gun.
Serach, the oldest in a large family, is an accountant. She’s shunned by her family for leaving her Orthodox Jewish faith. When her mother dies, she’s forbidden to attend the funeral service. Heartbroken, Serach slips into a deep depression. Paloma visits Serach’s only brother in Israel and lays it on the line to him, with words from the Torah that he studies for hours on end.
Paloma is a highly respected registered nurse who owns a rather large and beautiful private house in Brooklyn bequeathed to her by a former patient. High-society fundraisers approach Paloma to speak on behalf of her hospital and encourage those with deep pockets to give generously… which leads to unexpected predicaments.
The plot is unpredictable with unexpected twists and turns, yet believable. Familial tension and tension between Serach and Paloma thread through the novel. As in many families, the characters take each other for granted at times and doubt each other, as well as try to interfere in one another’s lives without all the facts. I believe readers will find this an unforgettable story. Characters are likable and the pages keep turning as the plot weaves its way from the beginning to the end.