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In Zimler's dazzling tale, John Zarco Stewart is an impish child of bold inquisitiveness, the unwitting inheritor of a faith shrouded in 300 years of secrecy. Dark and bitter events put an end to his innocence and almost destroy him, but he is healed by the arrival in his household of a mysterious young man from Africa.
Midnight is a freed slave brought to Porto by John's seafaring father, and he becomes John's greatest friend, ultimately determining the course of his life. But as John grows to manhood Midnight is lost to him, Napoleon's armies invade Portugal, and John's fragile peace is shattered as he uncovers truths and lies hidden by those he most loved and trusted. At last he leaves for America, to hunt for hope in a land shackled by unforgivable sin.
This magnificent new literary epic, a moving love story crossed with sweeping historical novel, is a worthy successor to Zimler's The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon, published in 1998 to huge success, and so far selling over 60,000 copies with reviews to match. Pre-publication, Hunting Midnight has already attracted much attention and looks set to do even better.
Acts of cruelty and bigotry and a shocking betrayal propel this colorful if overstuffed historical novel by Zimler (The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon), set in 18th- and 19th-century Portugal. John Zarco Stewart is the son of a Scotsman and, through his mother, is descended from converted Jews called Marranos who have kept their identity a secret since the Spanish Inquisition. John grows up in the city of Porto unaware of his true heritage until a necromancer curses him when he is nine. In the same year, his best friend drowns before his eyes, and he is only comforted when his father returns from a trip to Africa with a Bushman called Midnight, a healer and freed slave who teaches John many things as he grows into manhood. But Midnight, too, meets a violent end, and when John is 16, Napoleon's armies invade Portugal and John's father is killed defending Porto. Years after the war, John discovers that his father, who he believed was a hero, had committed an unthinkable act of treachery. In attempting to atone for his father's misdeed, John travels from Portugal to England then antebellum America. Zimler packs his tale with exotic detail, describing Porto's bird markets, plantation life in South Carolina and the lives of Jews in hiding. Though his prose style is somewhat stiff as he attempts to echo 1800s speech patterns (" 'Close your goddamned snout and run, you little mole!' ") and many of the events in the story are melodramatic, the narrative has a vintage flavor that becomes absorbing.