Book Review: Synod by Dan Gunderman


In Dan Gunderman’s historical fiction novel Synod it is 1829 and Goldfinch with his traveling companion, a freed slave named Solomon are on journey through the northern part of New Jersey.

Goldfinch is the leader of Synod, a community of abolitionists and a refuge for escaped slaves during the early years of the Underground Railroad, which takes precedence as this novel unfolds.

Goldfinch is both reserved and not exactly the warmest man. He is also subject to odd visions and distracting dreams. These visions and dreams are hugely violent and predict a violent end to Synod and its mission. The message is Synod will meet its fate when attacked by bounty hunters from the South who want to take the escaped slaves back to their owners.

Goldfinch, Solomon and most of the people who make up Synod agree they must take up arms to fight this potential attack. But is this the truly best option?

Woven throughout this novel are real people like Governor Peter Dumont Vroom and Lyman and Catherine Beecher. So are issues of rivalry, jealousy, betrayal, sex, envy and love. Along for this novel’s journey includes violence, suspense, drama and unsavory political doings.  All these elements give Synod a multidimensional depth and meaning. Clearly,  Gunderman did his homework.

However, I wasn’t keen on the supernatural aspects of this novel. Synod doesn’t need it. It stands alone as a singular work of historical fiction.

Furthermore, Synod is best to be read the darker and colder days of autumn and winter. It’s a bit too heavy during the dog days of summer when many of us want to read lighter fair.

Nevertheless, in a time of deeply imbedded racism, Synod is an important work of fiction.