The book I chose for this post was among the Christmas themed novels I’d read in the last festive season. And to tell you the truth it’s quite stuck in my head since then. It wasn’t a fluffy story and unlike any other Christmas/Holiday novel which are filled with so much sweetness it’d make your teeth hurt. The main theme of the book is self-esteem and self-acceptance along with the acceptance of others through eyes of a trans man and a half-blind russian immigrant, both on the periphery of the society.
Self-esteem and self-acceptance can be a struggle for anyone and the person doesn’t have to be in a specific or difficult situation. Everybody knows or experienced countless times, how difficult or tiring it is to meet expectations all the time. Not to mention how much of a struggle could this be for someone who suffers from cumulative disadvantages. And this is exactly the case of the main characters of the book, To Touch the Light.
Spoilers ahead so proceed with caution. 😉
My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Short explanation of the Story:
Mario Garcia is the Head Chef of a high-end restaurant, works twelve or more hours a day, he can’t feel the holiday spirit since ages. He’s hard but fair on his workers, letting them get their own holiday cheers as much as the restaurant’s schedule allows it. He always works for creating perfect Christmas for others, while keeping tight control over the employees, and under all that harsh and bossy personality he’s really lonely.
There is only one man he is kinder towards; the half-blind Russian immigrant dishwasher, Viktor. The restaurant’s staff hates him just for the hell of it, making constantly fun of him. They make Viktor suffer each and every day, making cruel jokes on his expense.
The two men’s social background is as different as night and day, but they are tortured by the same suffocating loneliness.
As Christmas grows nearer, Mario decides to organize a party celebrating Chanukah. There is a lot of fuss around Christmas, but the restaurant management cares little about Chanukah. And Mario cannot understand why that holiday is treated with less importance than the other. So he does his best to persuade the management to hold a Chanukah themed party. And because he knows less than nothing about Jewish holiday, he needs help. A lot of help exactly and immediately. And when he learns by through something seemingly coincidental that Viktor has Jewish origins, he asks for his help with organizing the party.
While working together they get to know each other better, the passion and mutual affection becomes evident between them. And finally they accumulate enough courage to confess their feelings to each other.
Main characters and the dynamic between them
As I mentioned right at the beginning, Mario is a trans man and completely estranged from his family, Viktor is a Russian immigrant who gradually is going blind. They have their on battles, they have to fight against their internal demons and fears, and respectively they have their everyday battles to fight incessantly against co-workers, random strangers they come across on the streets etc.
When reading the book we spend longer time in Mario’s head, in his view point, so we see many memories as he reminisces his past, which gives us a complete picture about him. He has a lot of insecurities all due to his family’s indifference and judgment.
Despite everything the did to become what he wanted to be, nothing seems to be enough. He’s unable to accept himself, his new body. He did his best to become the man he felt he is as long as he can remember. He went down the painful path of transformation to find himself and his peace with himself and the world. He underwent surgeries, and despite of all his changes and successes, the scars on his body always reminds him that he’s broken, unwanted and imperfect.
Viktor is the only one he let inside, Mario shows his vulnerabilities and flaws only to him. Mario always repeated as a mantra that he’s not broken, that he isn’t imperfect, but it takes Viktor to really make him believe it.
I will say that this book is an insta-love story, it just takes a lot of time for the main characters to realize their feelings for each other. But when they do everything works out just fine. Even when Mario lets his insecurities win in a crucial moment making him act as a real asshole towards Viktor. But he makes it up to him, and eventually they get their happily ever after.
So the dynamic between them was real good, hectic at some point, with highs and lows, but due to their painful experiences the acceptance towards each other came easy to them, it was natural like breathing. And it was touching to see them turn to each other, finding something they were lacking in their entire life.
I picked two little excerpts to show you the dynamic between Mario and Viktor. I liked them a lot despite their flaws and issues.
“In Russia we have…nickname? Like…Johnny or Mike. But is a little different. Viktor is Vitya. Friendly, you know?” At that, Mario’s face softened and after a beat, he tried it. “Vitya.” The accent was all wrong and spoken in the back of his throat—guttural and Germanic, and yet…he loved it. God help him, he loved it.
And the other one:
With his eyes fucked enough he couldn’t read, and the only conversation he’d had apart from Mario being assholes in the kitchen yelling at him for not moving fast enough, it was no wonder his language had stalled. He had a feeling Vitya could probably drag someone to oblivion with insults he’d picked up, but no one had ever bothered to try and know him before. Not even Mario, really. Not until now.
My opinion about the book:
It’s hard to imagine someone who has no bitter experience with other people. Everyone was bullied at some point in their lives – the extent and duration of it may differ, but the bitterness left behind has to be the same. Some people let go those negativities easily, but some carries it along for a long time maybe even through their whole lives.
To Touch the Light depict the struggles of two men in the hardest of situations. Shows us a way to let all the pain go, and a way to move on. We can see in the book how hard it is, it demands conscious decisions and steps hardly manageable for the characters, but they have to take those steps for their own sanity, in order to gain the ease of their mind, and to gain access to a happy future.
The book shows us how much easier it is to push away someone instead of standing up against the world – because being alone against everyone will be scary no matter how much courage we have. But if we are brave enough not to let the chances slip away, the gain would always worth it.
To tell you the truth this book is not an easy read, I couldn’t event start to imagine, how many wars a trans person has to fight daily, but this novel was certainly an eye-opener for me, and it would be for anyone willing to take the chance on it.