The Accidental Pilgrim

The Accidental Pilgrim was published March 3, 2015 by ASD Publishing, a division of ASD Media.

“Kitsakos has masterfully told a tale that spans 2,000 years in a strange and unique way.” — Melinda Hills for Readers Favorite

“Readers who enjoyed The Life of Pi do not want to miss this debut novel.” — The Lavish Bookshelf

“This book is a gem of a novel.” — Melissa A. Bartel, Bibliotica

“A completely intriguing and somewhat mysterious read.” — Sabrina-Kate Eryou, Novel Escapes

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Editorial Reviews for The Accidental Pilgrim:

Reviewed by Paul Pines, author of “The Tin Angel” (William Morrow) and “MyBrother’s Madness” (Curbstone Press)

“THE ACCIDENTAL PILGRIM, by Stephen Kitsakos, is a riveting read that spans geographical distance even as it explores the tension between science and altered states, visible evidence and crucial pieces unavailable to the naked eye. Marine biologist Rose Strongin’s decision to join an archeological excavation in Israel sets events in motion that will test the fabric of her life and those close to her. With consummate skill, Kitsakos threads a labyrinth of questions to find the answer at its center. What is revealed will take your breath away. In the end, THE ACCIDENTAL PILGRIM embraces the greatest mystery of all: what connects us to our ancestors, ourselves and each other”.

Reviewed by John Feldman, writer/director “EVO: Ten QuestionsEveryone Should Ask about Evolution” Hummingbird Films.

“THE ACCIDENTAL PILGRIM weaves together a compelling story of a pragmatic scientist –steeped in 21st century rationality — who must confront an irrational situation that confounds everything she believes in.  Told through a series of time-distorting flashbacks, Stephen Kitsakos’s novel starts by building a comfortable and familiar world, then quite by surprise reality changes.  From that point onward it is impossible to put the book down.  At times sad, at times eerie, it’s a haunting tale of love, death, and spiritual immortality”.

Reviewed by Laurence Carr, author of “Pancake Hollow Primer” (Codhill Press) (Next Generation Indie Book Award Winner)

“An intriguing family drama with an otherworldly twist”.

Reviewed by Sharon Boorstin, author of “Let Us Eat Cake: Adventures in Food & Friendship” (Harper-Collins)

“A beautifully written page turner that reveals the strength of family relationships against the backdrop of a mysterious archaeological discovery in the Holy Land”.

Reviewed by Carole Bell Ford , author of “After theGirls Club”(Lexington Books) 

“A story so easy to be drawn into, to want to know what happens next, to enjoy the hints, and finally to be let in on the secret.”

Reviewed by Linda Rader Overman, author of “Letters Between Us” (Plain View Press) (Next Generation Indie Book Award Finalist) 

“A can’t-put-it-down mystery of the heart, the soul, and lives–past, present, and future–lived at the intersection of religion, science, and a deep connection to the atavistic mysteries of our origins. As we traverse alongside protagonist Rose Strongin’s journey, we cannot help but ponder, as she does, the route we all take toward self-discovery, compassion, and love for family through secrets revealed in the end.  However, THE ACCIDENTAL PILGRIM leaves us questioning is there really ever a true end?” 

Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers’ Favorite

The Accidental Pilgrim is a contemporary women’s fiction novel written by Stephen Kitsakos. The plot revolves around the historical discovery in 1986 of the Jesus Boat in the Sea of Galilee. However, the story actually begins a number of years before that, in the early 1960s, when a young Brooklyn woman decided to defy her Orthodox Jewish parents’ decision that she should become a doctor. Rose still intended to be a doctor, but not the kind that dealt with healing sick people. She would be studying marine biology on the graduate level in St. John, at the University of New Brunswick. Soon after she arrived in Canada, during a ferry crossing she met Simon Strongin, who worked with his father in the family’s salmon processing plant.

Stephen Kitsakos’ contemporary women’s fiction novel, The Accidental Pilgrim, blends a historical family saga with metaphysics as it follows Rose and Simon’s life together and highlights the missing three hours of her life that would save their lives. While much of the story seems dark, and the reader is privy to some rather uncomfortable inter-familial discord, I particularly enjoyed reading about Rose’s academic success, her and Simon’s early life together and the events in the story that were set in Israel. Kitsakos’ handling of the ancient past and the Jesus Boat is never heavy-handed or didactic, and the subject matter adds an intriguing dimension to the story. The Accidental Pilgrim is intense and thought- provoking, and the characters one meets within its pages are well-defined and engaging, even as they struggle to maintain themselves as a cohesive unit based on blood. It’s highly recommended.

Reviewed by Melissa A. Bartel

This book a gem of a novel. First the story is completely compelling, combining family drama both in the present, as a father and his three grown children come together to pay last respects to his wife/their mother, and in the past, as we meet Rose (the wife/mother) in flashbacks and memories. Actually it’s pretty gutsy for a writer to have the main character begin the novel already dead, but this novel is really Rose’s story, though her husband (Simon) and her children (Sharon, Barbara, Nathan) have their parts to play.

Every single character was memorable, though Nathan is my favorite of the ‘children.’ I understood his prickly moodiness – he’s a musician, after all – and resonated with it. I loved experiencing Rose’s journey through her own eyes, and through the eyes of those around her. I also liked the way every character was flawed, and so very real. The two daughters, one like her mother, one more like her father, reminded me of my own aunts and their ability to bicker constantly but still completely love each other.

Then there’s the setting: most of the novel takes place on the Sea of Galilee, so we get to glimpse both contemporary Israel, and the Israel of the recent past, as well as a few other time-hops that I won’t go into for fear of spoiling some truly interesting plot twists. I’ve never had a particular desire to visit contemporary Israel (my fantasies tend to involve places like Fez, Tangier, or Algiers), but this novel gave me a deep appreciation for a region that is so entwined in political and cultural turmoil that I doubt resolution will ever come.

Finally, there is the author’s sense of craft. In an email to him yesterday, I commented that I loved the way he told us the way characters pronounced things – it really made me hear the subtle accents – Canadian, American, Russian, Israeli, British, etc. – and added a layer of realism that truly made the novel sing. Specifically, I mentioned a line early in the novel where he describes a character saying the word “kids” with a “k” that sounds like “…a small ball of phlegm stuck in his throat…” That’s the first example that struck me, but those little touches and nuances exist throughout the novel.

As I said, I’m wary about novels that have anything to do with religion, but when I open myself to one, I’m invariably led to a place where I’m provoked to examine some of my own beliefs and attitudes. (And as a culturally Catholic, liberal Episco-tarian (I’m UU in my heart but love the ritual and language of the Episcopal church) feminist with an ethnically Jewish stepfather and a Baptist husband, you can IMAGINE what my beliefs and attitudes might be.) This happened to me when I first read Madeleine L’Engle’s Certain Women. It happened when I read Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent. It also happened as I was reading this book, The Accidental Pilgrim.

If you’re in the mood for family drama, this novel will appeal to you, and it’s possible to read it and just skim the surface. If, however, you prefer to delve deeper, this novel is meaty enough to satisfy anyone’s craving for a discussion of philosophy, religion, and science, and where the three intersect.

Goes well with mint tea, falafel, tabbouleh, and a handful of Medjool dates.

Reviewed by Malinda Hintz, Raven-Haired Girl

The novel crosses several decades exploring the intersection of science, religion and the unexplainable. One compelling and riveting read. I could not put this book down and when I did it sparked an all night discussion with family and friends. Always thought-provoking when science and religion are negotiated.

What made this book noticeable was Rose — a pragmatic, methodical scientist who questions an eerie circumstance personally experienced thus challenging her beliefs. You fee her anguish, her struggle and finally her acceptance. Providing Rose’s backstory gives affection and credibility as she wrestles with her profound experience.

The narrative alternates from past to present when a very clever situation arises, as you try to gather the pieces of the puzzle along with Rose you will feel her confusion as she tries to grasp what exactly occurred, and how. Charged narrative presented in a quiet, intellectual manner, stimulating the reader. Wonderful story of immortality, love and death. Outstanding writing, loads to discuss. Will leave you lost in thought for quite a while. Superbly presented. Highly highly recommended.

Reviewed by Pamela,

Great quote: “It was here against the shore of these waters that Jesus recruited his provincial fishers of men, walked atop the lake’s crystal waves and calmed a nasty storm. The miracles that had occurred within a twenty-mile radius of the hotel had been chronicled, edited, argued about, interpreted and sneered at for two thousand years. But one fact was undeniable. The waters were narcotic and the lake’s position from the coastal city of Tiberias afforded panoramic vistas of the small towns that dotted the shoreline oddly juxtaposed with resorts, kibbutzes, anachronistic factories and the enigmatic Mount Tabgha lurking afar.” (Page 2)

Book summary:  “In the summer of 1974, Dr. Rose Strongin, a marine biologist, inexplicably disappears for three hours on the last day of an archaeological dig at the Sea of Galilee. She has no memory of the disappearance, but it causes her to miss her flight home from Israel. That plane, TWA 841, explodes over the Mediterranean killing all aboard. Twelve years later she learns that a 2,000 year-old perfectly preserved vessel, dubbed the “Jesus Boat,” is uncovered at the site of her disappearance and she begins to understand what happened and why. The novel crosses several decades exploring the intersection of science, religion and the unexplainable as a family gathers to say goodbye to the matriarch who held a family secret.”  (back cover)

My thoughts: The Accidental Pilgrim by Stephen Kitsakos is a well-written, engaging and ambitious novel that spans 40 years of time and two continents. An excellent of example of the magical realism genre, The Accidental Pilgrim mixes up a little bit of everything and arrives at some very intriguing conclusions.

I was not surprised to learn in the author’s bio that Stephen Kitsakos is a theater writer. His talent as a writer definitely shines through in the book. Kitsakos set each scene perfectly, including minute details that help to bring each location to life. Of particular note is Kitsakos’ proclivity to include details about each character’s speech patterns. For example, one person speaks with “K” that sounded like a “small ball of phlegm” in the speakers throat. Another person spoke with the “Indian-inflected” accent that is familiar to American English speakers. These small touches aided the story has the scenes jumped through time and to different continents.

Likewise, Kitsakos is a journalist. The attention to historical detail in the book is quite good. Kitsakos includes numerous real-life events that occurred exactly as the fictional characters would have seen them, such as plane crashes that would have been front-page headlines. Kitsakos also adds touches of nostalgia such as referring to floppy disks and other items that would be appropriate for the 1970s and 80s.

The dialogue between the characters is often sad, sometimes funny and always top-notch. The relationships are complicated, even more so due to the complex story-arc that travels between the past and the present. Like all families, a death has brought them all together, but the past may still force them all apart. It is clear that secrets abound in this family, but it is not clear until the very end how they will all respond to the hidden stories and situations.

Personally, the genre of magical realism is not one of my favorite genres to read. Despite my personal beliefs and favorite genres, I enjoyed this book and admire Kitsakos writing talent immensely.

This book pushes the borders of all religions, heavily mixing each set of beliefs until everything seems to overlap in a heavy ending. No spoilers here, but this book definitely does not end in a way that was expected. Readers who enjoyed The Life of Pi do not want to miss this debut novel.

Reviewed by Victoria Weisfeld,

Rose Strongin is a woman with a secret so deep even she doesn’t know what it is. Worse, it’s the kind of secret that’s contrary to her way of understanding the world, honed throughout her training and career as a research scientist. This secret involves something that couldn’t possibly happen in real life. Or did it?

In the mid-1970s, early in her career, Rose has the exciting opportunity to travel to Israel with her husband and daughters on a project near where the biblical town of Dalmanoutha is believed to have stood. (In this regard, Kitsakos’s fictional account mirrors real-life archaeological discoveries.) Dalmanoutha is the village on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee where, the Bible has it, Jesus fed the multitudes with a few fishes and loaves of bread. When Rose first meets the magnetic director of the research project, Dr. Noah Chazon, an unexpected chemistry ignites between them.

On the day Rose and her family are to return home to Toronto, Rose disappears. Despite diligent searching by everyone involved in the project, Rose cannot be found for several hours, and the family misses its flight. Unaccountably, Rose says she cannot remember where she was or what she was doing. Her husband Simon, aware of Rose and Chazon’s mutual interest, suspects the worst, and in the ensuing years Chazon’s reappearances are a sore spot in the couple’s marriage.

Still, for Rose, the interlude on the beach remain a blank: “Time had stood still for her and all she could recall was walking down the long slate path . . . as if she had walked into a cloud and come out the other side, three hours later.” In her hand was a mysterious piece of wood.

This vagueness is uncharacteristic of Rose and, in itself, raises questions. But whatever happened, it saves the family, as the flight they would have taken crashes into the sea, and all aboard are lost. Was Rose’s disappearance a form of premonition? Rose is not the only person to have had such an experience in that place. And each such revelation deepens the mystery, as do the shards of Rose’s own experience that come back to her in brief flashes of recognition and understanding many years later.

Much of the novel is told in near-distant flashbacks, but it opens in the current day, in Israel, with Simon, his two daughters, and the son conceived the night the family unexpectedly missed their plane. They are gathered to fulfill Rose’s last wishes, including that her ashes be scattered on the Sea of Galilee at the place where she disappeared thirty years before. Through the memories these actions stir, the reader gains an understanding of Simon and Rose and their marriage, Rose’s relationship with Noah Chazon, and how three missing hours affected everything that followed. I had the chance to ask Stephen Kitsakos about the novel’s structure, and he said that, although he wrote the book in fragments, eventually, the family’s return trip to Israel with Rose’s ashes became the spine of the story, connecting all the parts and keeping it moving forward.

At its heart, the book contains a number of mysteries that can be interpreted in different ways—metaphorically, literally, or spiritually—which gives the reader much to think about and can make for a lively book group discussion! To me, the strong underlying message is about the enduring power of love, though Kitsakos put this thought much more elegantly in response to my question about message: “The greatest mystery of all is what connects us to our ancestors, ourselves, and each other,” he said.

Kitsakos is a theater writer and journalist and has written the librettos for three operas, including an adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns. His talent at setting a dramatic scene and creating compelling characters is put to good use in this intriguing novel.

Reviewed by Sabrina-Kate Eryou

A completely intriguing and somewhat mysterious read, I found myself very much enjoying The Accidental Pilgrim though it is not the type of story I normally find myself drawn to. The book was an easy read with a lot of well thought out detail, including places that I already know and love which is always pleasing to read about.

The story is somewhat of an enigmatic tale which goes back and forth between past and present and also incorporates some mysticism on the side. Again, not my usual fare but this book was written in such a way that I could not help but feel myself be drawn into the story and I actually raced through it hoping to reach a satisfying and enlightening conclusion, which quite happily, I did.

The characters are well thought out and even though not a huge amount of detail is given about some of them, like the three children of Rose and Simon, they all are very strong individual characters that really work together to bring this story together in a very logical way.

I found the dialogue to be very realistic which is often a complaint of mine, especially with topics that I don’t know a lot about. Stephen Kitsakos definitely has a strength in taking a story and making it relateable, no matter the topic, which made this story such a pleasure to read.

For anyone interested in ancient history or even certain aspects of religion with a great dose of intrigue, then pick up this book. You won’t be disappointed!

Reviewed by Patty Woodland

This book intrigued for its mix of science, religion, mystery and what might be. It started with a trip to Israel to fulfill the final wishes of Rose Strongin, a scientist, a marine biologist, who was working at the Sea of Galilee in 1974 when she was late back and it caused her to miss her flight which turned out to be fortuitous as that plane explodes and all are killed. Rose never explains why she was late and it causes issues in her life and her marriage.

The family that comes together in the present to lay Rose to rest are a mixed bunch: Nathan, the baby is resentful of his father feeling that he knows all that there is to know about his parents marriage and his father is wrong. The two girls have their roles and are more aware of the frailties of both of their parents. All of these feelings come to the fore as they all are together for the first time in quite a while to put their mother to rest.

The reader gets to know Rose through a serious of flashbacks in and out of different periods of her past. She is a fascinating well developed character and I loved her struggle with science and otherworldliness (is that a word?) The other characters in the book are equally as well developed. Mr. Kitsakos is also very good at bringing a place to life and setting a mood. This is not a simple book; it will leave you thinking for days after you finish it. Thinking about life, love and death.

Reviewed by The Rev. Thomas Miller  for The Episcopal New Yorker 

There is a mystery—actually several—at the heart of The Accidental Pilgrim, but the book is more than a mystery. It is also the story of a marriage and a family set in the context of biblical archeology and the discovery of a significant artifact that dates from the first century of the Common Era. It is a tribute to the author’s skill that all these elements work together and that even the more technical aspects of scientific fields are both comprehensible and engaging.

The Accidental Pilgrim in question is Rose Marion Fonseca, a Brooklyn-born specialist in marine acoustics, who in 1974 was called to Israel to help archeologists investigate an ancient boat discovered by the Lake of Tiberius, which may be “the Jesus Boat”—at least like those that figured into Jesus’ life with his disciples. Stephen Kitsakos writes that he was inspired to write this novel by the excavation of such a boat reported in 1986.

But there is a deeper mystery to be considered from 1974. For three hours, just before she and her family were scheduled to leave Israel on a flight to Canada, Rose went miss- ing with no memory of what happened to her. Because of the delay, the family missed their plane, which crashed with the loss of all aboard. Divine providence, an accident of time and place, or some- thing else, perhaps even more intriguing? The suspense is nicely sustained.

The Accidental Pilgrim follows Rose through her marriage to Simon, a supportive and forbearing partner with whom she raises two daughters and a son. In the shadows, over time, is the charismatic figure of Israeli archeologist, Noah Chazon, who may or may not be the father of the couple’s son Nathan. In the end, there may be a neurological explanation that unlocks the mystery of Rose’s missing three hours, but the author suggests a more enticing possibility that doesn’t solve the mystery so much as open it up in an unexpected and provocative way.

Reviewed by Melinda Hills for Readers’ Favorite

A strange connection exists between Rose Fonseca Strongin and the people and place where she is involved in an archaeological dig in The Accidental Pilgrim by Stephen Kitsakos. Drawn to the study of underwater acoustics, Dr. Strongin’s path leads her to the shores of Lake Galilee in Israel where she experiences an unexplained phenomenon – she simply disappears for over 3 hours with no recollection but retains a strange souvenir. With the delay that causes in her schedule, she and her family miss their flight home to Canada which crashes, killing all aboard. Never able to account for that missing time, Rose forgets about it until coming into contact again with the lead archaeologist whom her husband thinks is her lover. There is a deep connection between Rose and Noah that does not affect her husband, Simon, but it is one that Rose doesn’t explain to anyone until near the end of her life. Rose begins to think she is losing her mind until she is drawn back to the shores famous in biblical accounts and Noah shares the amazing truth with her. Will her husband’s dedication to her last wishes complete Rose’s story?

Stephen Kitsakos has masterfully told a tale that spans 2000 years in a strange and unique way. Clearly defined characters full of believable doubts, dreams, struggles and triumphs come together as a family, finding answers they didn’t know they were searching for. Rose’s story is deeply haunting and the amazing connection between Rose, her husband Simon, colleague Noah, and historic Israel will leave you speechless. The Accidental Pilgrim illuminates our possible connections to the past with gentle enlightenment.

Reviewed by Cheryl E. Rodriguez for Readers’ Favorite

Stephen Kitsakos writes a memorable tale in The Accidental Pilgrim. Old Testament meets New Testament in a phenomenal way! Rose Strongin is a Jewish woman who has shunned her heritage, denied God and the miraculous, and embraced science. Rose is a marine biologist. In 1974, she is asked to join an archaeological expedition on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. On her last day, Rose vanishes for several hours, frightening her family and colleagues. Once she is found, she has no recollection of what occurred during her disappearance. However, over time fragments of memory return. What she remembers is nothing short of the miraculous. But, Rose does not believe in miracles. Her lapse of memory becomes a misadventure that turns into a lifelong pilgrimage for truth.

The Accidental Pilgrim by Stephen Kitsakos is a captivating story about one woman’s journey in life. The setting of the story changes locations and time frames frequently. Kitsakos takes his heroine on a personal quest from the streets of Brooklyn to the waters of Canada, the chaos of California, and the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Utilizing a flashback technique, Kitsakos tells the story in a series of remembrances. Maintaining the mysterious mood, each recollection gives a bit of information relevant to the present. Bit by bit, piece by piece, the puzzling story takes shape. The protagonist endures an internal conflict as she struggles to discover the truth. Her character evolves, making drastic changes in personality as she battles the known with the unknown. The Accidental Pilgrim challenges the reader to believe in miracles. After all, if the unexplained could be explained, there would be no need for God. Many of us find Him completely by accident.