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A Sharp Intake of Breath

by John Miller

Having been born with a split lip and cleft palate, Herman “Toshy” Wolfman faces his share of ridicule and turmoil. Mistreatment leads him into bitterness and petty crime. However, his love of family, particularly his dedication to his two sisters, sets him on a painful, yet ultimately triumphant, journey of redemption.

A Sharp Intake of Breath resounds with a unique and authentic voice, filled with the resonance of the Jewish immigrant community in 1930s Toronto. Many familiar Toronto landmarks are described with loving detail, and the characters who people this specific landscape ring true. We are also treated to a fictionalized glimpse of the unabashedly anarchist/feminist Emma Goldman, whose life touches that of the Wolfman family with unpredictable consequences.

The choices that Toshy and his family make are not easy ones, especially after the story takes a surprising turn into the genre of mystery, as it traces the family’s connection to the theft of a famous diamond. As Toshy explains, when “faced with a terrible dilemma, there always comes a pivotal moment when we know we have to act. We have a sharp intake of breath…. and as sure as we have to expel that air, we know that no matter what, someone’s going to suffer.” Despite this inherent danger, the breath is expelled, the action taken, the consequences faced, and a family survives.

A Sharp Intake of Breath is a heartwarming and potent piece of fiction. Miller has created a world that is welcoming, intriguing, heartfelt, and genuine. Toshy’s tale reminds us that it is only through finding the courage to truly love, regardless of the consequences, that families can find the strength to continue.