Do you remember the first time you thought about the lives of your parents and your grandparents before you came along? That moment can be a shock—when you are first able to imagine your nearest and dearest as others, wholly separate from your identity, existing in a past you’ll never experience, unaware that you will ever be born.
That otherness is a mystery in itself. In his new novel, “A Sudden Light,” Garth Stein builds a rich historical epic around those small, vulnerable moments we all have of contextualizing ourselves within our family history. Whether it’s reading a journal entry, listening to an old record, or finding a letter whose writer and recipient are both long dead, the familiarity of objects can plunge us into the past, bringing what were once black and white images into glorious Technicolor.