Book Tour Review: The Debt of Tamar by Nicole Dweck

Friday, March 14, 2014
Title: The Debt of Tamar
Author: Nicole Dweck
Genre: historical fiction, general fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 332
Published: July 2013
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Rating: 3/5

During the second half of the 16th century, a wealthy widow by the name of Doña Antonia Nissim is arrested and charged with being a secret Jew. The punishment? Death by burning. Enter Suleiman the Magnificent, an Ottoman "Schindler," and the most celebrated sultan in all of Turkish history. With the help of the Sultan, the widow and her children manage their escape to Istanbul. Life is seemingly idyllic for the family in their new home, that is, until the Sultan's son meets and falls in love with Tamar, Doña Antonia's beautiful and free-spirited granddaughter. A quiet love affair ensues until one day, the girl vanishes.

Over four centuries later, thirty-two year old Selim Osman, a playboy prince with a thriving real estate empire, is suddenly diagnosed with a life-theatening condition. Abandoning the mother of his unborn child, he vanishes from Istanbul without an explanation. In a Manhattan hospital, he meets Hannah, a talented artist and the daughter of a French Holocaust survivor. As their story intertwines with that of their ancestors, readers are taken back to Nazi-occupied Paris, and to a seaside village in the Holy Land where a world of secrets is illuminated.

Theirs is a love that has been dormant for centuries, spanning continents, generations, oceans, and religions. Bound by a debt that has lingered through time, they must right the wrongs of the past if they're ever to break the shackles of their future.

This is another book that I really wanted to love, but ultimately ended up as just not a perfect fit for my personal reading tastes. I liked a lot about Nicole Dweck's centuries-sprawling romance, but I was rather blase when I hoped to be emotionally involved.

The basic elements that I enjoy from my favorite historical fiction are all there (conflicting cultures, religious upheaval, secret pasts!), but for me, the story lost much of its appeal when it moved to the more modern storylines with Selim/Ayda/Hannah as opposed to the more interesting Reyna/Tamar/Murat's lives in the 16th century. I can see why others love the story Dweck has created here, but it just didn't resonate with me the way I had hoped.

In her debut, Dweck's style is similar to that of Kate Morton or Susanna Kearsely --  interlinking stories across subsequent generations and various continents in one overarching plot. Dweck's consists of that same basic narrative structure, but she isn't afraid to toss in flashbacks to various other points in the lives of her characters when wanted. The lives she portrays are varied and different, but ultimately too short of a glimpse to form really lasting impressions of any of the characters.

The pacing was one of the main issues for me in The Debt of Tamar; the story is quite short with a lot of time to cover so gaps of five/ten years in the life of a character appear often and leave the reader disjointed. And then, once I would finally start to invest in a certain character, the story would jump ahead hundreds of years to his/her descendant. That disrupted feel had an impact on my reading. It made for an uneven pace and minimal characterization across the board.

The novel is highly readable, despite my misgivings. The added benefits of place-as-character and atmosphere also made The Debt of Tamar's story feel rich and real. It was beyond refreshing to read a historical novel predominately set in a non-English/French world, especially one with Turkish and Jewish main characters. The strengths of the novel lie in these areas, but even with a tendency to show rather than tell, Dweck can turn a phrase. This author has a talent for prose that occasionally shines through, and with nurturing, has promise to become truly impressive.

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