Jacobo’s Rainbow by David Hirshberg

jacobo's rainbow, Jacobo’s Rainbow by David HirshbergJacobo’s Rainbow by David Hirshberg

May 2021

Although set in the nineteen sixties, David Hirshberg’s Jacobo’s Rainbow is infused with prescient relevance today. This hero’s journey shines a light on activism and protest on a college campus as well as the idea of patriotism and serving in the army. Most profoundly, it depicts a search for identity as young Jacobo Toledano struggles with the blurry distinction between who people are and how they present themselves in public. I loved this novel for its timeless message: that building a home of one’s own means leaving the safety of childhood and being resilient to the knocks the world hands you, true for an individual as well as a tribe. A great new read from the author of My Mother’s Son.

This official blurb was provided at the request of the author.


Expanded Review:

Jacobo’s Rainbow depicts the coming of age of a young man who is the ultimate outsider, from a town in New Mexico so small it wasn’t even on a map. From that sheltered beginning, Jacobo Toledano arrives on a college campus where he becomes an activist, advocating for the Free Speech movement as well as ending the Viet Nam war. Especially relevant today, the portrayal of both movements highlight a culture war rife with bigotry and anti-Semitism. Jacobo struggles with patriotism, friendship, and family relationships in a way that engenders a reader’s empathy, triggering her to root, if not for Jacobo’s happiness, at least ease in the world.

In another nod to the sixties, our protagonist and narrator Jacobo sometimes describes hallucinatory observations.  This is a story in which the characters he meets are not always as they first seem and because of this, it is a novel that explores the theme of identity, belonging, and trust. 

The high-altitude, red landscape of New Mexico is beautifully wrought. Arroyo Grande is a town Jacobo is intent on escaping, but its storied past turns out to be as much in his DNA as his high moral standards. Catholic by day, Jewish by night, woven together with a thick strand of Navajo, the rich history of this place and the small tribe of families who settled there together in isolation back in the 1600’s is especially compelling. As can be surmised by its title, Jacobo’s Rainbow is rife with biblical allusion and metaphor, not the least of which is the way Jacobo’s journey parallels the plight of an entire people.  

Check out more of Jeannie’s reviews.


About Jacobo’s Rainbow:

“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…”

On the occasion of the 15th anniversary of a transformative event in Jacobo’s life—the day he was 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 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.


Jacobo’s Rainbow comes to an independent bookstore near you on May 4, 2021. Or preorder today from Bookshop.

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