Dr. Ray Naar’s first novel, “Rachamim,” could just as easily been titled “From Darkness into Light.”
As a matter of fact, that’s the subtitle.
The story traces an adult Holocaust survivor from Greece, the sole survivor of his family, as he rebuilds his trust in those around him, finds connections to his buried past and a purpose for building a future. We watch as he moves from the proverbial darkness into light.
If you’re just looking for a good story, Naar, a Pittsburgh-based clinical psychologist, couches it all in a drama of international intrigue and Nazis on the run.
David Castro was just a Jewish boy from Salonika, Greece, when he lost his family at Auschwitz. The boy survives the Shoa, but at a high personal cost. He turns inward. He has few friends. He exists instead of lives.
That is, until he joins the Army, is deployed to Korea and meets a martial arts instructor. The combination of the teacher’s philosophy and skills draw David out. Upon his return to the States, he eventually joins the CIA.
Now the plot thickens. An ex-Nazi, largely responsible for emptying the Salonika Jewish community during the war, is trying to cover his tracks 30 years later when he learns that a dossier exists, made by a deceased Salonika Jew, detailing all his crimes. He must get it.
But the Americans want it too, so they can prosecute the Nazi. David, by this time an ex-CIA agent in business for himself, is sent on an unofficial mission to Greece to track down the one man who can lead him to the dossier. In doing so, David must return to Salonika and confront his past.
And there’s danger. Unbeknownst to David, a State Department informant has told the Nazi about the mission, David could be walking into a trap.
As mentioned, this is Naar’s first novel (he’s written several textbooks) and it sometimes shows. The characters could have been more developed and the plot is a little thin in places — one looks for a few more twists and turns in stories like these.
Overall, though, the story holds together well. And for Naar, himself a Greek Jew and Holocaust survivor, it was probably a labor of love.
At 205 pages, “Rachamim” is an easy and uplifting read. Flaws aside, and most books have them, fiction readers who like historical backdrops will likely enjoy this book.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-687-1005.)