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In Sunlight and in Shadow Hardcover – October 2, 2012

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Editorial Reviews Review

Q&A with Mark Helprin

Mark Helprin

Q. In Sunlight and In Shadow has been likened to both your Winter’s Tale and A Soldier of the Great War. What do you say to that?

A. When I wrote Winter’s Tale, I’d often walk ten or twenty miles a day through New York, taking in overwhelming rafts of imagery, sounds, views. And when I wasn’t doing that, I virtually lived at The New York Historical Society, just as I had jeopardized my freshman year in college by sitting on the floor of the stacks at the New York section, mesmerized by one book after another.

The result of these obsessions was to live in the world of New York circa 1900 as if I were really there, as if it were still bustling invisibly right where it had been, and I could see and feel it. The book opens with, “I have been to another world, and come back. Listen to me.”

With In Sunlight and In Shadow, the effect is perhaps stronger, and, for me, easier. It takes place not in a world I had to seek but one – New York in the 40s – into which I was born. The density and accuracy of the images, the onrush of memory, the stunning recollections of sound, speech, song, dress, all came easily. The people in In Sunlight and In Shadow are, with great poetic liberty, people I knew and/or loved – even the gangsters, the financiers, the actresses, intellectuals, soldiers, and factory workers.

When I finished A Soldier of the Great War, I gave it to several Italians to see if the pitch was correct, but with In Sunlight and In Shadow I didn’t have to do that, because there is nothing I know better. The book is like Winter’s Tale in that I have made it as obsessively truthful and beautiful as I could, in the hope that a reader may feel that he is in the book rather than where he is, and perhaps even wish to remain for a while, as in waking from a dream.

It’s unlike Winter’s Tale and more like A Soldier of the Great War in that in it one doesn’t depart from the texture of reality, as exceptional and intense as that reality may be. When my father read Winter’s Tale, which I had dedicated to him shortly before he died, he said, now you’ve got to write a book as enchanting as this but in which every element is possible in the real world in which we live. Then you would have something really marvelous.

That’s what I’ve tried to do. Whether or not I’ve succeeded is not for me to judge, but I can say that writing the book gave me the same feeling, persistently over time, and always strongly, as falling in love. I’m not quite sure what that means except that it’s great to have a job that you would do even if you weren’t paid for it.


"In its storytelling heft, its moral rectitude, the solemn magnificence of its writing and the splendor of its hymns to New York City, the new novel is a spiritual pendant to "Winter's Tale," and every bit as extraordinary...Even the most stubbornly resistant readers will soon be disarmed by the nobility of the novel's sentiments and seduced by the pure music of its prose...The harmonization of the dual climaxes results in passages so gorgeous and stirring that I was moved to read them out loud. That is fitting, because the writing throughout "In Sunlight and in Shadow" sounds as though it were scored to some great choral symphony. Harry himself says it best: "My view is that literature should move beyond opinion, where music already is, and old age, if we're lucky, may lead." -- Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal

"Helprin has written another expansive novel, as if no one has yet alerted him that the novel is dead. Here it is, a poetic and likely enduring rendering of New York just after the Second World War, a love story that pines for love but even more fervently for an industrious and ascendant America that is no more and maybe never was.…In Sunlight and In Shadow matters. It is a novel, with all of the presumption and ambition and sense of transport that that word once carried when it was the boss…If his latest novel is a book out of time, perhaps it holds clues as to where the novel ought to go from here." --Mark Warren, Esquire

New York, New York, it's a wonderful town! And Mark Helprin's new near-epic novel makes it all the more marvelous. It's got great polarized motifs — war and peace, heroism and cowardice, crime and civility, pleasure and business, love and hate, bias and acceptance — which the gifted novelist weaves into a grand, old-fashioned romance, a New York love story...Helprin does several things extraordinarily well: He fights for and wins our close sympathy for his characters, even as he delivers a full-throated rendering of life at war and life at peace (with a little of each in the other). He also pays wonderful attention to the natural world, such as that New York spring that opens the story, the changing of seasons, dawn in France and winter in Germany during the war, such domestic matters as 30 minutes of kisses, and the rue and wonder of a great love affair.

I was desperately disappointed, though, by the end of this grandly charming and deeply affecting novel — but only because it ended." -- Alan Cheuse, NPR

"Helprin’s delightful new novel is a 705-page mash note to Manhattan in the years immediately following World War II. Like Winter’s Tale, the 1983 bestseller that made his name, it’s a paean to women and their beauty – and above all to romantic love and its abiding power…Helprin paints a dazzling portrait of the city during a particular moment in history and evokes the universal, dizzy delight of falling head over heels in love…Wise, saturated with sensory detail and beautifully written, Sunlight celebrates the unquenchable bliss of existence." -- Robin Micheli, People Magazine

"Passionate, earnest, nostalgic, and romantic…Throughout the novel he splashes down paeans to virtue and beauty you’d have to be heartless not to enjoy…" -- Liesl Schillinger, The New York Times Book Review

"What I’ve read so far is glorious and golden, truly like reentering another world where another sensibility prevails and even the sunlight and shadow have a different weight; the 100,000-copy first printing seems right." -- Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal Pre-pub Alert

"IN SUNLIGHT AND IN SHADOW is every bit as terrific as you may have heard." -- Michael Cader in Publishers Lunch

"A fine adult love story—not in the prurient sense, but in the sense of lovers elevated from smittenness to all the grownup problems that a relationship can bring." -- Kirkus, starred

"In this prodigious, enfolding saga of exalted romance in corrupt, postwar New York, resplendent storyteller Helprin creates a supremely gifted and principled hero. Helprin’s suspenseful, many-stranded plot is unfailingly enthralling. The sumptuous settings are intoxicating." -- Booklist, starred

Prose seems too mundane a term for Helprin’s extravagant way with words and emotions . . . . Post-World War II Manhattan isn’t merely the backdrop . . . it’s a magical urban landscape of "whitening sunrises . . .ferries that glide across the harbor trailing smoke. . . bridges diamond-lit and distant." . . . His penchant for providing an epiphany on nearly every page could become wearying. But just when you think "In Sunlight and in Shadow" might float away into the ether, lofted by the sheer beauty of his sentences, he brings it down to earth with a shrewd comment on the speech patterns of Catherine’s ultra-privileged social class, or a vividly specific account of the production process at the West 26th Street loft that houses Harry’s high-end leather goods business. . . . In Helprin’s rhapsodic rendering . . ."In Sunlight and in Shadow" is at heart a romance, not just the romance of two attractive young people but the romance of life itself. --Los Angeles Times

Literary characters don’t get much more perfect than Harry and Catherine . . . poster-sized World War II archetypes of a vanished America. . . . "In Sunlight and in Shadow" is a sensational and perfectly gripping novel: a love story, a tribute to the fighting spirit of World War II, a hymn to the majesty of New York. --The Washington Post

This flamboyantly anti-realistic novel is more symphonic prose poem than narrative. It is a paean to love, idealized, and also a love letter to New York City in all its rhythms, human and natural, its moods, weathers, changing colors of sky and water. The writing is so highly lyrical and lovely that sometimes my aesthetic receptors clogged with a surfeit of beautiful language. . . .I succumbed to its idiosyncratic spell. . . .There is a tragic climax, perhaps inevitably, since it is difficult to imagine a perfect love enduring unchanged by time. But the novel’s main theme is the loving embrace of small visions and actions that become extraordinary if we have the spirit and energy to notice their textures. --Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Helprin is gifted at writing about war – not just combat, but the vastly complex and contradictory world that surrounds combat – and the passages describing Harry’s wartime experiences are . . . lyrical, thrilling and at times astonishing. . . . "In Sunlight and in Shadow," like all of Helprin’s novels, exists to remind us that. . . it is sometimes wiser and more fulfilling to cherish our deepest ideals than to mock them. --Chicago Tribune

In the long sweep of his textured, absorbing look at life in New York City in the middle of the 20th century, Mark Helprin talks about many big issues, yet always gives them a human face. . . .Precise yet transcendent turns of phrase put readers right beside the couple as they deal with the circumstances . . . [of] a literary love story that rivals those celebrated in earlier classics. And Helprin has demonstrated once again the ability to make readers experience what Harry tells Catherine everyone must have: "the friction, the sparring with the world, that you need to feel alive." --St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 720 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; First Edition edition (October 2, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547819234
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547819235
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (299 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #251,924 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Educated at Harvard, Princeton, and Oxford, MARK HELPRIN served in the Israeli army, Israeli Air Force, and British Merchant Navy. He is the author of, among other titles, A Dove of the East and Other Stories, Refiner's Fire, Winter's Tale, and A Soldier of the Great War. He lives in Virginia.

Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

198 of 213 people found the following review helpful By Bornintime VINE VOICE on August 21, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Mark Helprin has an amazing talent. I have been faithfully reading his work since the 1980's. He is one of the few authors that I think is worthy of repeated readings every few years. No one would accuse him of being prolific. In 4 decades of writing he has published 3 collections, 3 children's books (certainly worthy of adult attention), and 6 novels including In Sunlight And In Shadow. Given that his work is rare and consistently wonderful there are not many authors that would excite me more when I hear of a new novel being published. So I picked up an advanced reading copy on ebay (even before amazon vine offered me one) and prepared myself for a long enjoyable ride. Mark Helprin is not an author that should be read quickly, so I forced myself to slow down and enjoy these 700+ pages.

I started out enjoying the book as I settled into Helprin's familiar descriptive style but as the weeks progressed I am sorry to say that this book is somewhat flawed compared to the author's usual high standards. Helprin's work is never a page turner but this one could not hold my attention the way he has done in the past. You can read in the amazon description what the work is about; at the core it is a love story even though there are are some parts of the novel that are action packed. Helprin's prose is consistently beautiful but it often does not serve the story as it usually does in his older work. Random imagery and excessive descriptions of everything abound in this book. Poetic prose should add to a tale, not be the bulk of a book. I am an avid admirer of his style but over the course of 700 pages I found it too much. After a major and very moving plot twist we are exposed to a lengthy description of a character getting dressed, which greatly diminished the mood that the author just created.
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115 of 127 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Myers VINE VOICE on August 31, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Let's start off with the fundamental bulwark of this opus: It is replete with powerful, masterfully wrought lyrical prose the like of which you won't find in any American novel published in the 21st Century. To give an example of the language that permeates this 700 page work, here's an excerpt from the first few pages:

"In the weeks before the solstice it was as if, moving at great speed toward maximum light, the world had a mind of its own. It clung to a reluctance that would slow it as the brightest days began to grow darker. It is perhaps this hesitation at the apogee that lightens the gravity of our sorrows, such as they are, in luminous June evenings and on clear blue days." Lovely, no?

But there are problems: The book, as Helprin never ceases to remind us, time and again throughout these 700 pages, is supposed to be a love story. But it simply fails to convey the love between our two protagonists, Harry and Catherine, in any meaningful, deep sense. The IDEA of love, yes, is conveyed with all the lyrical profundity for which one could wish. But the sense of actually being in love? I could find it nowhere in this book. There is a reason for this lack: The book is essentially about Harry (read Helprin himself, who is also Jewish and attended Harvard and Oxford and served in Israel with the IDF) and his philosophy, and what he omits is the obverse side of the state of being in love, the spiritual pain, the anxiety, all of what Yeats calls "the sorrow of love" is entirely absent from every page of this work.
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93 of 106 people found the following review helpful By Kindle Customer VINE VOICE on August 27, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Mark Helprin has done it again. He has written yet another evocative, enthralling, lyrical novel about life, love and a life well lived. As with his other novels, I enjoyed this one immensely and the story will stay with me forever.

If you're not already a fan of Helprin, this is an excellent book, maybe the best one, to start with. If you are already a fan, you won't be let down.

A few notes for Helprin fans:

- This seems to me to be his most "realistic" novel yet. By this I mean that it has no "magic" such as one finds in Winter's Tale and the book includes little (if any) absurd implausibility such as one finds in Soldier of the Great War or Freddy and Fredericka. This isn't a criticism, I just thought you might want to know.

- The characters don't seem as memorable, or quirky as the denizens of his other books. Again, not a criticism as they're very well drawn and internally consistent.

- This novel seems more unrelievedly serious than his other work, with none of the whimsically humorous episodes that one finds in other works.

As I say, none of these are complaints nor did they detract from my pleasure in reading the book. They are just observations based on more than 20 years of reading Mr Helprin's work.
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36 of 40 people found the following review helpful By James D. on October 24, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I really don't want to give this book a 2-star review; Mark Helprin is a brilliant writer, his prose is absolutely gorgrous, and "Winter's Tale" is one of the 5 or 10 best novels of the 20th century as far as I'm concerned.

But "In Sunlight and In Shadow" just doesn't work as a novel. Yes, the prose is beautiful; I would sell my soul to be able to write 1/10 as well as Mr. helprin does. The descriptions transport you to postwar Manhattan and the various other times and places of the book. And the characters are, in some cases, drawn most compellingly.

All that said, there are several things that absolutely ruin the book for me. First, the central love story is just too slight to support the weight of prose and description that Mr. Helprin has built. For lack of a better way to say it, Harry and Catherine and their relationship aren't "worth" 700 pages of beautiful and effusive language.

Second, once you get past Harry, Catherine and to a lesser extent her parents, the other characters get very short shrift, most especially the villains of the piece. Compare this to "Winter's Tale" - as much as we're meant to both fear and boggle at Pearly Soames, and laugh at Craig Binky, they're far more well rounded than Victor Marrow or the Sicilian mobster Mr. Verderame (who's not even given the dignity of a first name, as I recall).

Third, the structure of the book is just a mess. The plot stops dead for four straight chapters of flashbacks, which themselves have more flashbacks within them. The resolution of the story is much too quick and utterly unsatisfying. I can't say more without going into spoilers.

I wish I didn't have to say this, but I would absolutely NOT recommend this book to anyone, even a fan of Helprin's other work.
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