For­giv­ing Stephen Red­mond: A Kurchenko & Gon­za­lvez Mys­tery — Book Two

By – March 15, 2021

Some­times, revenge is more impor­tant for the soul than for­give­ness” — and with this obser­va­tion A.J. Sidran­sky embarks on the third and final case to be solved by Tolya Kurchenko and Pete Gon­za­lvez. They are work part­ners and best friends whose inher­ent machis­mo does­n’t often allow for open dis­plays of emo­tion, yet their mutu­al affec­tion is appar­ent when they refer to each oth­er as Broth­er­man.”

The action moves between the detec­tives’ neigh­bor­hood of Wash­ing­ton Heights, NY, to Sosua, the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty cre­at­ed on wild land in the Domini­can Repub­lic dur­ing World War II by the noto­ri­ous dic­ta­tor Rafael Tru­jil­lo. Though Tru­jil­lo was osten­si­bly pro­vid­ing a safe haven for the many Jews who arrived, flee­ing cer­tain mis­ery and death in the con­cen­tra­tion camps of East­ern Europe, there was a sig­nif­i­cant catch. Sidran­sky describes the evils com­mit­ted by Tru­jil­lo and his hench­men, espe­cial­ly the trau­ma inflict­ed upon young Domini­can women.

Though these abom­i­na­tions were per­pe­trat­ed over eighty years ago, they remain fresh in the minds of Erno/​Ernesto, an old dying man, and his best friend, Max/​Maximo Roth­man, who escaped Nazi Europe and found a tem­po­rary home in the Domini­can Repub­lic. Sidran­sky weaves the tale of Erno and Max’s con­nec­tion and how they each emi­grat­ed once again, to the north­ern­most part of New York City, where a com­mu­ni­ty of Domini­cans devel­oped over the years. The sto­ry is told most­ly in dia­logue, includ­ing some eas­i­ly trans­lat­ed Domini­can Span­ish slang. Erno is a kind of adopt­ed uncle to Stephen Red­mond, Max’s son; Erno’s the more com­pas­sion­ate coun­ter­part to Max in his rela­tion­ship with Stephen. The long-term res­i­dents of The Heights describe the changes in the neigh­bor­hood, for bet­ter or worse, espe­cial­ly gen­tri­fi­ca­tion. Indeed, it’s dur­ing the demo­li­tion and recon­struc­tion process that the dead bod­ies in this sto­ry are uncovered.

The author notes that though this is the third con­sec­u­tive book to be pub­lished in the series, read­ers can avoid spoil­ers by start­ing with For­giv­ing Max­i­mo Roth­man (2013), fol­lowed by this book, sav­ing For­giv­ing Mariela Cama­cho, (2015) for last.

The trio of nov­els is cer­tain­ly rel­e­vant to today’s refugees’ expe­ri­ences, whether they are flee­ing geno­cide, war, mil­i­tary coups, xeno­pho­bia, or extreme pover­ty, whether they are emi­grat­ed from com­mu­nist Rus­sia, Cuba, Cen­tral Amer­i­ca or anoth­er dif­fi­cult spot in our tumul­tuous world. Like the oth­ers in the series, For­giv­ing Stephen Red­mond moves along at a quick pace. Any­one who enjoys read­ing detec­tive sto­ries, mys­ter­ies, and descrip­tions of life in oth­er lands and cul­tures would enjoy this tale.

Miri­am Brad­man Abra­hams, mom, grand­mom, avid read­er, some­time writer, born in Havana, raised in Brook­lyn, resid­ing in Long Beach on Long Island. Long­time for­mer One Region One Book chair and JBC liai­son for Nas­sau Hadas­sah, cur­rent­ly pre­sent­ing Inci­dent at San Miguel with author AJ Sidran­sky who wrote the his­tor­i­cal fic­tion based on her Cuban Jew­ish refugee family’s expe­ri­ences dur­ing the rev­o­lu­tion. Flu­ent in Span­ish and Hebrew, cer­ti­fied hatha yoga instructor.

Discussion Questions

1. Why is the title of the book For­giv­ing Stephen Red­mond, and who has for­giv­en him? As Steven Red­mond and Shalom Roth­man are the same per­son, why does Shalom have to for­give himself?

2. Both this book and the oth­er two books in the series cen­ter on the idea of for­give­ness. Why is for­give­ness such an impor­tant con­cept in these books and in our lives? What effect does car­ry­ing hurt have on our lives? Is for­give­ness free, or does the offend­ing par­ty have to own what they’ve done to earn that forgiveness?

3. Detec­tives Kurchenko and Gon­za­lvez seek help from an old, retired cop to solve the cold case at the cen­ter of the sto­ry. The old cop has racial and eth­nic issues com­mon to his gen­er­a­tion. Do you think racism and big­otry was endem­ic in police forces in the 1960s? In light of what we have seen in our coun­try in the past year, do you think it’s still a prob­lem today?

4. Did Erno make the right deci­sion when he told Max he thought he’s spot­ted the man who mur­dered Max’s woman in San­to Domin­go some fif­teen years ear­li­er? Should he have let sleep­ing dogs lay? What do you think moti­vat­ed him?

5. Once Max deter­mines that he has found Teja­da (Var­gas) he imple­ments a plan to exact his revenge. Is this pre­med­i­tat­ed mur­der? Does what Teja­da did to Max and his woman and friends in San­to Domin­go jus­ti­fy such an act? Is revenge some­times more impor­tant than for­give­ness? If Max had actu­al­ly com­mit­ted the act would he have achieved the peace he was seeking?

6. Both Erno and Max are Holo­caust sur­vivors. Though they didn’t sur­vive exter­mi­na­tion camps, as refugees, they expe­ri­enced the same sense of loss that all sur­vivors of the Shoah face. How do you think they dealt with their trau­ma? Did they and their wives pass their trau­ma to Stephen/​Shalom? Should they, par­tic­u­lar­ly Max, been more forth­com­ing with his son about his life before the war?

7. Did Stephen’s birth bring Helen and Max clos­er togeth­er? Helen accepts Max’s con­tempt for his Jew­ish back­ground and reli­gion, yet she is hap­py that Stephen/​Shalom has sought to return to the faith. How did their mar­riage resolve this difference?

8. What does Shalom’s deci­sion to become Ba’al T’shuvah, to return to ortho­dox Jew­ish obser­vance do for him? How does it help him to live with his past and his par­ents’ past? Does it ground him? Do his rev­e­la­tions about Tejada’s mur­der effect his faith?

9. Pete becomes fas­ci­nat­ed by the truths hid­den from him by his fam­i­ly and com­mu­ni­ty about the Tru­jil­lo era. Do you think learn­ing of the expe­ri­ences of the Teja­da fam­i­ly was cathar­tic for him? Did it change his view of his own peo­ple and culture?

10. In the ear­ly years of Lati­no emi­gra­tion to the Unit­ed States, in the 1950s and 1960s, were Lati­no immi­grants afford­ed prop­er treat­ment in the Unit­ed States? Did the treat­ment of these immi­grant groups dif­fer from that of ear­li­er groups iden­ti­fied as Euro­pean? Were immi­grants from dif­fer­ent parts of the Lati­no world, say for instance, Cuba, Puer­to Rico, the Domini­can Repub­lic, or Mex­i­co treat­ed the same or dif­fer­ent­ly by native Amer­i­cans? Is that sit­u­a­tion dif­fer­ent today?

11. How does learn­ing the truth about what hap­pened at Max and Erno’s board­ing house change Shalom’s life? How does it affect his rela­tion­ship with his son, Baruch, and his wife Rachel? Does for­giv­ing him­self make it eas­i­er for him to for­give others?

12. Many peo­ple, like Max, Helen, Ava, and Erno, and also the Tejadas expe­ri­ence sev­er forms of per­son­al trau­ma. They bury their trau­mas rather than come to some per­son­al res­o­lu­tion or peace. How does this effect both them and their chil­dren? Is the shame of that trau­ma best left hid­den or should it be shared and understood?