The Unbroken Horizon Jenny Brav book review
book review

Book Review: The Unbroken Horizon

THE UNBROKEN HORIZON by Jenny Brav contemplates generational trauma and the ways we work to either ignore or heal it. Check out what Nick Rees Gardner has to say in his book review of this indie novel.

The Unbroken Horizon

by Jenny Brav

Genre: Literary & General Fiction / Historical

ISBN: 9781639888061

Print Length: 422 pages

Publisher: Atmosphere Press

Reviewed by Nick Rees Gardner

Part contemporary and part historical— Jenny Brav’s The Unbroken Horizon contemplates generational trauma and the ways we work to either ignore or heal it.

The Unbroken Horizon consists of two interconnected stories. Sarah is a humanitarian nurse working with her 21st century therapist to overcome the tragedy of her father’s death and her mother’s distance. As she digs deeper, though, she discovers ties to a chain of generational issues that have come to affect her in the present day. 

Maggie Burke, on the other hand, is a young Black girl who flees the early 20th century South, hoping to leave her troubles and racism behind. While both characters live very different lives, in different timelines, their experiences often mirror each other as they approach their pain in similar ways, at first ignoring it, then learning to confront it and heal. While Sarah explores her family history, Maggie discovers DC’s Civil Rights Movement and Harlem’s Renaissance. In this way, both women learn to handle the hurt they’ve been handed and forge a stronger sense of who they are. 

While working as a nurse in South Sudan, Sarah Baum witnesses the death of a local village boy, Mariole, and suffers a nervous breakdown. She is forced to return home to the Bay Area to seek counseling and recover. In her fragile state, she dreams that she is a young Black girl named Maggie Burke who has witnessed her brother and father being lynched. 

In alternating chapters, The Unbroken Horizon explores the points of view of both Sarah, a well-off, thirty-something, white woman working through her trauma; and Maggie, a teenage Black girl who escapes her life of racial abuse and comes into adulthood. While Sarah tries to uncover more about Maggie’s past (in hopes of puzzling her own life back together), Maggie moves on from her past, learning to thrive in a city surrounded by the likes of Marcus Garvey, Zora Neale Hurston, Jean Toomer, and Countee Cullen.

The scope of The Unbroken Horizon itself is admirable. The novel spans 100 years between the two women’s lifetimes, covering many historical events as well as Maggie and Sarah’s personal experiences during those events. Maggie, for example, moves to DC during The Red Summer in time to experience the race riots of 1919. When, on the fourth day of rioting, it rains, Maggie states: “It was hard not to imagine that God chose to intervene when we humans were unable to do so ourselves.” This personal reaction to her experience shows how these events changed Maggie’s view of the world. Also, the fear she feels for her husband while he is out in the fray allows the reader to identify on a personal level with the terror and trauma that these riots caused. 

While Sarah works through her life in a post 9/11 America with Obama in the White House, Maggie fights for Women’s Suffrage in the wake of the Spanish Flu Pandemic. It would be easy to become lost in such a wide-ranging and historical story, however, Brav elucidates the connections between Maggie and Sarah’s timeframes with precision and clarity. Because of this, the reader is able to draw their own connections between past and present, to search out history’s link to their own contemporary life.

A book like this, in which a modern, well-off, white woman who channels a young impoverished Black woman, runs the risk of drawing comparisons between the two women’s traumas. Maggie’s often more physical and immediate danger, and Sarah’s emotional trauma are not equal, and The Unbroken Horizon does not weigh the women’s struggles against each other. Still, it is a tricky effect to pull off. Overall, both women’s stories are genuine, filled with feeling and emotion and enough self-exploration to exemplify their uniqueness, their individual importance.

The Unbroken Horizon is a quiet book with a focus on internal conflict rather than the external. But while Brav’s narrative shies away from action and altercations, it retains its intriguing storytelling. The history, for example, is fascinating, and each character’s unique voice and their journey of self-discovery and identity are important, inspirational in their own right. Brav’s is a unique style and voice, one that can grip the reader, draw them in, and hold them even after the last page.

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