Tense, seductive and sad, SUNDAY'S SILENCE is set mainly in the
Appalachian Mountains, a place of little interest and many
stereotypes to most Americans. Gina B. Nahai's haunting tale relies
on the physical and cultural isolation of the region to set a tone
of loss, confinement, solitude, and frustration. This is not,
however, a sensational tale of a backwater town and its
inhabitants; it is a delicate and tragic novel about religion,
spirituality, family, and identity.
Raised amidst devastating poverty, Adam is the son of a rebellious
and beautiful woman and a snake-handling, itinerant, holiness
preacher who does not acknowledge his paternity. For as long as
Adam can remember, he always felt like an outsider. Living first
with his devout grandmother in an abandoned train car and later in
a brutal orphanage, Adam longed to leave the world of coal mines,
moonshine, and tent revivals far behind. And he succeeds, as a
foreign correspondent, until he is drawn home again. After forging
a life of self-imposed solitude, never sharing his painful past and
never making any friends, Adam returns home after his father,
Little Sam Jenkins, dies of a snakebite.
Once there, Adam is forced to finally confront his childhood, his
family, and the unique subculture found in the mountains of the
Southeastern United States. He also meets Blue, the mysterious
woman who is accused of murdering his father by handing him the
fateful snake. Adam intends to learn from Blue more about the
father he never really knew, but instead, Blue shares her own
story, one that rivals Adam's own in sadness and loneliness. Taken
from her family in Central Asia as a child, Blue is the wife of a
depressed and tortured linguistics professor. The passionate and
brief affair between Blue and Adam forces each to deal with issues
of identity and parental inheritance.
The violence, madness, and poverty in SUNDAY'S SILENCE are
reminiscent of other contemporary novels set in the American south.
However, Nahai's narrative style is unique, and the tone of the
book is lyrical and languid, not frenetic, as the plot and
situation would lead one to believe.
Gina Nahai has written a novel of unrelenting loneliness. Each
character seems to have had a bitter childhood yet no one finds
comfort in the lives of others. Everyone is this novel is terribly
lonesome and hopelessly alone. The desperate relationships in
SUNDAY'S SILENCE do nothing to relieve the emotional seclusion of
the characters. Instead of the catharsis of returning home or
discovering one's roots, Adam and Blue find only more of the same:
emotional tragedy and spiritual desolation, which mirror the
mine-scarred hills of Appalachia.
Nahai illustrates that remembering the past is not always to
celebrate it. Despite the often troubling and heavy subject matter
(or perhaps due to it) Nahai's novel is beautiful and interesting.
Those expecting resolution or redemption will be disappointed.
Those willing to immerse themselves in Adam's unhappy journey home
will be rewarded with a spectacular, disquieting and poetic
Reviewed by Sarah Egelman on January 23, 2011