Australian writer David Rain debuts with a rather American novel, a sensitive, intelligent snapshot of a watershed moment in our country’s history. Woodley Sharpless and Ben “Trouble” Pinkerton meet as teenagers in boarding school just after World War I. Woodley is an orphan with a significant limp acquired when he was hit by a car, while Trouble is the son of the powerful Senator Pinkerton, a man who some people think will be the next president.

Trouble is consciously different, a James Dean loner who fascinates the other boys. Woodley, an outcast because of his limp and his dubious sexuality, naturally gravitates toward him. When Trouble’s stay at the school abruptly ends, the boys begin a pattern of losing touch and rediscovering each other that continues for decades.Their paths cross at key points: in 1920s New York City, where Trouble learns that he is half Japanese, an illegitimate child of the senator; in violently nationalistic 1937 Nagasaki; and back in America, where both become involved in the Manhattan Project. As the project races toward its conclusion, it becomes clear that as the bomb explodes, so will the lives of both men.

The Heat of the Sun is a sequel of sorts to Puccini’s famous opera, Madame Butterfly, which ends with the forsaken Japanese wife killing herself and leaving her young son to his father, Pinkerton, a former American naval officer who left her. Rain’s worthy novel is a touching, often searing tale of friendship, betrayal and love. His flawed characters are staggering beneath the weight of the past, which they carry like burdens even beyond the book’s chilling, operatic conclusion.

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