The Flame Bearers 


Recipient of NEA grant for fiction, 1987

Selected as New York Times Notable Book in 1986, The Flame Bearers , a mythical tale of madness and magical portents, is the story of an ancient Goddess worshiping sect and its claims on a contemporary woman. Fiercely independent, Rae Shadmi, has worked hard to divorce herself from her strange, proud family–a family dominated by Rae’s grandmother, the leader of a mysterious spiritual group of women called The Flame Bearers, whose legendary rights, mystical knowledge and age-old tales have been handed down from mother to daughter over centuries. But now the old matriarch is dying and Rae is summoned back to San Francisco, where she must find the courage to accept or reject her grandmother’s legacy. Rae’s spiritual journey leads her to confront her own spiritual ambivalence, and awaken to the sacred powers within her.


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“Full of surprise and suspense…the richness of traditional knowledge that shines on every page gives the book its depth and humor.”

– Anne Roiphe, New York Times Book Review

“Immensely compelling…lyrical…Chernin provides a dreamlike setting for events, a quality found in the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isaac Bashevis Singer…”

– San Francisco Chronicle

“A remarkable novel. I am haunted by the visions her women have of ancient knowledge and ancient cities, and of their connections to each other; sacred and familial.”

– Phyllis Chesler

Worshipers of The Mother will welcome Chernin’s bold, first novel…the flashback parts are told by the old woman in a voice as engaging as those in Issac Bashevis Singer’s tales of villages, bathhouses, and possession…in all, Chernin keeps us interested through her energetic recreation of the past.

– Kirkus Review