THE SUNLIT NIGHT

Rebecca Dinerstein

In the beautiful, barren landscape of the Far North, under the ever-present midnight sun, Frances and Yasha are surprised to find refuge in each other. Their lives have been upended–Frances has fled heartbreak and claustrophobic Manhattan for an isolated artist colony; Yasha, a Russian immigrant raised in a bakery in Brighton Beach, arrives from Brooklyn to fulfill his beloved father's last wish: to be buried “at the top of the world.” They have come to learn how to be alone.

But in Lofoten, an archipelago of six tiny islands in the Norwegian Sea, ninety-five miles north of the Arctic Circle,

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In the beautiful, barren landscape of the Far North, under the ever-present midnight sun, Frances and Yasha are surprised to find refuge in each other. Their lives have been upended–Frances has fled heartbreak and claustrophobic Manhattan for an isolated artist colony; Yasha, a Russian immigrant raised in a bakery in Brighton Beach, arrives from Brooklyn to fulfill his beloved father's last wish: to be buried “at the top of the world.” They have come to learn how to be alone.

But in Lofoten, an archipelago of six tiny islands in the Norwegian Sea, ninety-five miles north of the Arctic Circle, they form a bond that fortifies them against the turmoil of their distant homes, offering solace amidst great uncertainty. With nimble and sure-footed prose enriched with humor and warmth, Dinerstein reveals that no matter how far we travel to claim our own territory, it is ultimately love that gives us our place in the world.

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  • Bloomsbury
  • Paperback
  • May 2016
  • 272 Pages
  • 9781632861146

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About Rebecca Dinerstein

Rebecca Dinerstein is the author of the novel The Sunlit Night and the bilingual English-Norwegian collection of poems Lofoten. Her nonfiction has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, and The New Yorker online, among others. She received her B.A. from Yale and her M.F.A. in Fiction from New York University, where she was a Rona Jaffe Graduate Fellow. She lives in Brooklyn.

Praise

Quirky, exuberant . . . An original work of gentle irony counterpoised by delightful sincerity, which offers distinct turns of phrase with precision and beauty.” — Wall Street Journal

The Norwegian Arctic of Dinerstein's imagination is a strange and wonderful place . . . the constant sunlight of midsummer feeds the book's dreamy, surreal quality . . . her narrative style is also dreamlike.” —The New York Times Book Review

Luminous . . . Dinerstein brings a contagious wonder to her storytelling.” —The Season's Best Literary Fiction, O, the Oprah Magazine

Lyrical as a poem, psychologically rich as a thriller, funny, dark, warm, and as knowing of place as any travel book or memoir, The Sunlit Night marks the appearance of a brave talent.” —Jonathan Safran Foer

Discussion Questions

Why do you think Rebecca Dinerstein chose to introduce us to Frances in the context of her relationship with Robert Mason? How does she see the Masons in comparison with her “desperately artistic” (21) family?

Examine the role of landscape in The Sunlit Night, from urban to wild, Brooklyn to Borg.

Frances says of her family: “The only way we knew how to be was in each other’s way” (16). The layout of their apartment certainly reflects this reality, but in what other ways do the members of Frances’s family intrude on one another? What seems to be Frances’s role in the family, and how does that role affect her?

Consider Olyana’s first appearance at the bakery. How did your understanding of her reason for being there change over the course of her stay? Yasha reflects on a strong memory of sharing a bar of milk chocolate with his mother. How does this memory—and her recurring association with sweets—set the tone for Olyana’s character?

Upon meeting Nils, Frances thinks: “Here was mankind in his original state . . . in all his innocence” (69). What do you think his impression is of her? Do they see each other clearly? Is Frances right about their “unfulfilled romance” (164)?

The narration of The Sunlit Night switches from first person to third person as it moves between Frances and Yasha. Why do you think the author made this choice? Were you surprised to encounter Frances from an outside perspective? Why or why not?

Consider Vassily’s funeral at Eggum. Frances claims her body is “confused about grief . . . I’m not laughing. I’m shaking” (127). What other aspects of this ceremony struck you as unusual or “confused about grief”? What affect did they have? What do you think would have been Vassily’s reaction to this ceremony?

Yasha thinks, “His mother, and Frances—they did not seem tied to the idea of place. They were the anywhere sort” (140). In the world of this novel, what connects a person to place? Which characters, if any, have achieved that connection by the end? Explain.

Consider the use of Norse mythology in The Sunlit Night, from the Yggdrasil tree sculpture to Olyana’s Valkyrie costume. What links can be made between the real world of the novel and the mythological one Haldor presides over at the Viking Museum?

While the first four parts of the novel have places for names, the fifth has a period of time: “The Other Season,” during which the narrative jumps swiftly between Frances and Yasha. How did this shift affect your understanding of their relationship and its future? Why was it was important for Yasha to stay in Lofoten for part of “the other season”?

A sense of professional failure weighs heavily on Frances’s father. “What does it matter if you do what you love, if what you love doesn’t matter?” (12), he asks her. What conclusions, if any, does the novel reach about this question, particularly with regard to being an artist?

Rebecca Dinerstein’s first book, Lofoten, is a work of poetry. Choose a passage from The Sunlit Night that feels especially lyrical, and discuss its poetic use of language.