Forgiving Maximo Rothman: AJ Sidransky
How can you stop feeling anger toward someone that has done something wrong to you when you cannot forgive yourself for your own mistakes? How can you stop blaming someone for his or her shortcomings when you cannot face or own up to your own? Acceptance, tolerance, understanding and learning to see another person’s point of view are just some of the issues brought to light in Forgiving Maximo Rothman by author AJ Sidransky. Two men of divergent backgrounds, two sons and two fathers each with their own ideologies, views and beliefs build a bridge and gap so wide that it can never be repaired. As we meet our Max Redmond or as he is also known, Max Rothman we learn about a man that has given up on his faith, God and whose beliefs are so strongly against anything involving religion that he has alienated not only a whole community but his son and his family too. As you walk the streets of Washington Heights in New York City and meet the residents you will see that there are many of divergent backgrounds trying to live together. When Max Redmond’s caregiver arrives and walks down Bennett Avenue and into 105 Bennett Avenue little did she know that the man she referred to, as Senor Max would be found brutally beaten? When the police arrive and assess the scene a chain of events will lead to the past that will rock not only the world of the detective handling the case but many others too. As the police arrived at the scene Shalom Rothman is in temple praying. It is the Sabbath and he and his wife Rachel and son Baruch are attending temple. Little did he know that what he was about to see would change and rock his world forever.
Detective Anatoly Kurchenko was the detective along with his partner Pete who would handle this delicate case. Questioning the maid or caregiver, Maria, he learns about her relationship and her responsibilities and who else would have a key to the apartment. But, before all is said and done Detective Tolya Kurchenko learns more about himself, will take a trip back to the community of Sosua in the Dominican Republic and meet the young, vibrant, headstrong and impulsive Max Rothman. But, first the reader needs to learn more about Shalom and his wife Rachel as their son; Baruch is diagnosed as autistic setting Rachel on a path that will result in tragedy. Blaming and Shalom for her son’s, as she would call if affliction because of his father’s hate and distaste for the temple, god and their beliefs, she states outwardly that her family was punished. Although he is bright, can learn and is able to communicate with her father in law, she sees him as a detriment and does not want him as a part of his life. When Max is found and succumbs to his injuries the funeral he would want is not the one that he gets. As Baruch spent time with Max and a young Dominican boy named Carlos, whose brother was autistic, blame is placed in many directions and a young man who cared for Max is accused of his murder. When Shalom chooses religion, ba’ alei teshuva, over what his father wants for him, their relationship is strained and their time together limited.
As Tolya investigates more and checks out Max’s apartment he finds journals that take him back to the 1940’s, as Max and his wife Helen arrive at the Dominican Republican Association or DORSA and become part of the group of people that would become his family.
Escaping from Hungary and getting visas for himself and his wife they immigrated to the Dominican Republic where Jewish people who were forced to flee Eastern Europe would be welcome. But, even though they would be relatively free they had to settle and farm the land in the jungle as a condition helping to create Sosua. From the start his wife, Helen appears to be apprehensive, not really feeling comfortable and with the help of one woman named Ava and his new found best friend Ernesto they seem to work out their problems but only for a short time. Reading the diaries was quite illuminating not only for Tolya but for readers too as he tries to piece together Max’s life, find out who killed him and hopefully prevent the wrong person from paying for the crime. Sosua might have been their salvation but life there was hard and even though they were given a chance at a new start their lives would never be the same. As the author then switches gears and we learn more about Tolya’s relationship with his father. Coming from communist Russian in the 1970’s, Tolya relates to readers what caused the rift between him and his father. Not wanting to go to Princeton but rather becoming a police detective sparked a tirade that would cause a permanent chasm between father and son. Learning more about Oleg his brother, his death and his relationship with his father whom he feared, Tolya wishes that he had managed to forgive him before he died. But, not everything you wish comes true and as he tries to understand Max and reads more of the diaries he becomes so enounced in his life that he loses sight of his own.
But, there is much more to this story as accusations are made against Carlos Pabon, the one person who admired Max the most and who gave him something special: A person to understand him and listen. Cultural differences between Orthodox Jewish people and Latinos fill the air and create the tension as the community tries to unveil what happened to Max without casting a wide shadow over both.
When things become difficult for both Max and Helen their marriage takes a big hit, he finds himself leaving her alone and then she surprises him. Helen becomes pregnant but they are forced to move to another area in order to remain with Sosua and as a result things take on a different turn. With Nereida the midwife Helen hopes to have her child and keep her close. But, as you get to know Max you realize that he does not always have her best interest at heart and a heartbreaking scene will bring tears to the reader’s eyes when you learn the fate of the child. Added in the author switches to Tolya as a youth, his father who became a Rufusnik, the end result of him being in Gulag and his torn relationship with his parents. As we learn more about him we understand why when he sees his father for the last time he blames him for his brother’s death and what happens to his mother.
Judaism plays an important role in the lives or Rachel and Shalom as she feels that her son will prosper and grow if he understands his religion. Max Redmond lived his life in the present with so few that he cared for. He was angry at his past, could not forgive what finally happens to those he cared for the most and the tragic ending of why he’s so embittered will enlighten readers as to what the war did to so many and why. A debut novel and a debut detective whose persistence we hope pays off and with the help of his girlfriend Karin he hopes to understand the diaries as she translates them into English. But, they have their own problems or crosses to deal with as she becomes pregnant and he questions his ability to become a parent hoping he does not become a mirage image of his father.
An ending so powerful, so tragic that it will change the world for so many and a detective who comes full circle with his own fears and must decide whether he can forgive his father for his past, move ahead and become the person he really is and embrace the fact that he is going to be a father. Will Tolya remain with Karin? What is the fate of the Rothman family? Who killed Max and why? The ending will surprise you and provides a twist that brings it all full circle. When the past and the present collide the future just might be explosive. How can you forgive others when you cannot forgive yourself? “Life is too short to make enemies of those we love.” So why do we? Powerful story, true to life characters and a man who could not look past his own wants, beliefs and anger to embrace those that claimed they cared in the present. Hopefully the author will bring back Tolya again.
Fran Lewis: Reviewer
FIVE GOLDEN STARS FOR THIS NOVEL