Synopsis of Jacobo's Rainbow
Jacobo's Rainbow is an historical literary novel set primarily in the nineteen sixties during the convulsive period of the student protest movements and the Vietnam War. It focuses on the issue of being an outsider-the ‘other’-an altogether common circumstance that resonates with readers in today’s America. Written from a Jewish perspective, it speaks to universal truths that affect us all.
It takes place in New Mexico, initially in a remote village about which the narrator-Jacobo Toledano-says at the outset, “Until 1960, all of us in Arroyo Grande were ignorant of electricity and automobiles, were unaware of plastic, steel, or homogenization, hadn’t been exposed to vaccines, x-rays or Freud, weren’t acquainted with Shakespeare or Hemingway, had never listened to Gershwin or Mozart, couldn’t have imagined Les Demoiselles d’Avignon or The Starry Night, didn’t know what JFK, DNA, SOS, IBM, CIA or RBI stood for, were uninformed of the existence of George or Booker T. Washington, and assumed that England, France, Spain, and Portugal were still the most powerful nations on earth. We used sassafras roots as toothpaste, made paper from pulp and colored it with plant dyes, played the lute and the lyre, and used percussion instruments made from animal skins. And we never went to sleep without our parents saying, ‘Then all shall sit under their vines and under their fig trees and none shall make them afraid.’”
On the occasion of the 15th anniversary of a transformative event in Jacobo’s life-the day he is sent to jail-he writes about what happened behind the scenes of the Free Speech Movement, which provides the backdrop for a riveting story centered on his emergence into a world he never could have imagined. His recording of those earlier events is the proximate cause of his being arrested. Jacobo is allowed to leave jail under the condition of being drafted, engages in gruesome fighting in Vietnam, and returns to continue his work of chronicling America in the throes of significant societal changes.
Nothing is what it seems to be at first glance, as we watch Jacobo navigate through the agonies of divisive changes that are altering the character of the country. Coming to grips with his own imperfections as well as revelations about the people around him, he begins to understand more about himself and how he can have an impact on the world around him … and how it, in turn, will have an effect on him.
Jacobo’s Rainbow is a story of triumph over adversity (hypocrisy, loss, lies, murder, concealment, prejudice) that is told with vivid descriptions, perceptive insights, humor and sensitivity, which enables the reader to identify with the characters who come to life in a realistic fashion to illustrate who we are, how we behave, and what causes us to change.
It can be read on three levels: (1) The story of what it was like to have lived through and been a participant in the Free Speech Movement and the Vietnam War (‘The Sixties’); (2) A metaphor for what is going on college campuses today, in terms of the shutting down of speech and the rise of anti-Semitism; and (3) What life is like for the ‘outsider.’
The manuscript is a work of complete fiction; there is neither a character nor a scene that is remotely related to anything that deals with the author, his family, friends or acquaintances.