Reviewed by Rowena C. Ruiz
And God Said to her, “Rise, Ori, my light, for your light has come.”
And He let her fall from her life, although she hadn’t realized that she was at such a great height.
And she fell.
Sunburnt Faces opens with a dramatic incident that takes place in the life of the main character, Ori, when she is at the cusp of adulthood. God speaks to her from the TV set. This incident proves to be a defining moment for the events that follow later in life, and this experience becomes a thread which winds throughout the novel.
As we follow the events that take place during Ori’s childhood, we are also compelled to think of the incidents that have had a profound influence upon us. How do we deal with traumatic incidents? How do cope in a world that is filled with upheaval? Ori finds refuge in books. She finds herself entranced by the power of words and is herself drawn to words and to what they can do.
Adaf doesn’t shrink away from the difficult moments. We are there alongside Ori as she awakens to the harsh realities of life and loss.
When we next see Ori, she is an adult living a seemingly well adjusted life. Adaf then gives us a glimpse of what her past life was through a series of flashbacks that are triggered by each event leading up to the crisis. Thus we get a sense of foreboding, that not all is well with Ori and that there is more to be found beneath the surface of her calm facade.
She is a successful writer now, and yet she is in a moment of crisis. This sense of crisis is heightened by letters coming from a childhood friend with whom she has lost contact. These letters give us a clearer picture of how Ori ‘s experiences shaped her into the person she has become. Sunburnt Faces evoked in me feelings of compassion and sadness and even a sense of outrage for what Ori had to go through as a child. Yet there is also that sense of hope that Ori will finally be able to come to terms with what has happened, face her demons and truly emerge from the shadows to become the woman that she is truly meant to be.
Ori’s story is also our story. Like her we all have our dark side. For many of us, our dark side horrifies and terrifies us. It is the part of us that we try to keep hidden because we fear the judgment of others if that part of us were known. Yet at the same time, we cannot live without the dark side. It is a part of us and for as long as we live we will not get rid of it. If we continue to deny it then we risk becoming like Ori who distances herself from those who love her. It is in the acceptance of who we are both the light and dark sides that we can begin our journey to living a full and whole life under the light of the sun.
Sunburnt Faces is one of the best books we’ve read this year. Shimon Adaf is an interesting writer and we look forward to reading more of his work as it comes into translation.