John Miller

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A SHARP INTAKE OF BREATH


“This is a tender, intimate story of courage, of an individual’s quest to carve out his own humanity, and it is told with compassion and complexity.”

Elizabeth Ruth
Author of Ten Good Seconds
of Silence and Smoke

“A Sharp Intake of Breath resounds with a unique and authentic voice... a heartwarming and potent piece of fiction.”

Quill & Quire

“... a real page -turner and a welcome addition to the literature of the Jewish immigrant experience.”

Now Magazine

“... good, solid storytelling.”

Calgary Herald


Cleft palate, harelip, serpent tongue: this was little Herman Wolfman's affliction from his birth in 1917. Also shaping his life is a glorious jewel, known as The Orange Sunset.

This unique 36-carat amber colored diamond brooch, surrounded by 12 emeralds, is owned by Rupert and Oonah MacNabb, wealthy employers of Herman's sister Bessie. When Oonah suspects an affair between Rupert and Bessie, she plants it among Bessie's belongings to discredit her. Bessie discovers it, and Herman, accompanied by his other sister Lil, breaks into the house to return it. When he is caught, he tosses it out the window to Lil hidden in the shadows below.

Herman, already embarked on a life of petty crime, sacrifices himself for his two sisters. He can't reveal Oonah MacNabb's plot without ruining Bessie's chances for marriage. And Lil, a brilliant medical student, known in intellectual circles for her friendship with the leading 1930s activist, Emma Goldman, has a life of promise ahead of her. Herman is jailed for 11 years, and Lil leaves the diamond with Emma in St. Tropez in the hope of selling it. Decades later, Herman embarks on a quest for the cursed Orange Sunset.

John Miller offers an absorbing tale, rich with detail and vivid characters. Herman, nicknamed Toshy, is unforgettable. His struggles to overcome a speech impediment which makes him appear slow to outsiders, his loyalty to his loving sisters, his eventual, hard-won happiness, make him a joy to know. And the surprise ending is pitch-perfect.

Dundurn 2007

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John Miller, born in Toronto in 1968, is author of The Featherbed (Dundurn 2002).  It was hailed by The Globe and Mail for its "traditional (almost Dickensian) story-telling with a deftly updated erotic candour." Novelist W.P. Kinsella wrote that it is "a strong, well written and researched debut."

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