The Sojourn Paperback – Apr 19 2011
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DAYTON LITERARY PEACE PRIZE WINNER CHAUTAUQUA PRIZE WINNER NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST WASHINGTON POST Notable Book of the Year NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO Top 5 Book Club Pick "Splendid ... a novel for anyone who has a sharp eye and ear for life." --NPR All Things Considered "[A] powerful, assured first novel ... Packed with violence and death, yet wonderfully serene in its tone, Andrew Krivak's The Sojourn--shortlisted for this year's National Book Award--reminds us that one never knows from where the blow will fall and that, always, in the midst of life we are in death... If the early pages of The Sojourn sometimes recall Cormac McCarthy (especially The Crossing), the heart of the book is a harrowing portrait of men at war, as powerful as Ernst Junger's classic Storm of Steel and Isaac Babel's brutally poetic Red Cavalry stories." --Washington Post "Surging in pace and momentum, The Sojourn is a deeply affecting narrative conjured by the rhythms of Krivak's superb and sinuous prose. Intimate and keenly observed, it is a war story, love story, and coming of age novel all rolled into one. I thought of Lermontov and Stendhal, Joseph Roth, and Cormac McCarthy as I read. But make no mistake. Krivak's voice and sense of drama are entirely his own." --Sebastian Smee of the Boston Globe "Novels set during World War I (think of The English Patient or A Long Long Way) possess a desolation, violence and a desperate longing to go back, to return to life as it was lived before the war... [The Sojourn] is an ever-hopeful series of fresh starts and dashed hopes, a beautiful tale of persistence and dogged survival, set in the mountains, villages and battlefields of a Europe that exists only in memories and stories." --Los Angeles Times "A captivating, thoughtful narrative ... and poignant reminder of how humanity was so greatly affected by what was once called the war to end all wars." --Minneapolis Star Tribune "[The Sojourn] can be read as a classic of war. It is beautifully plotted, as rapt and understated as a hymn... [Krivak] writes hunting scenes as evocative as those in The Deer Hunter. Then he outstrips that film in rending the harrowing and seductive elements of war." --Cleveland Plain Dealer "[The Sojourn] deserves to be placed on the same shelf as Remarque, Hemingway and Heller ... Krivak has written an anti-war novel with all the heat of a just-fired artillery gun." --Barnes and Noble Review/ Christian Science Monitor "Hope for the future, the conversion of tragedy into meaning--lurks throughout The Sojourn's lush and lyrical prose." --IMAGE: Art, Faith, Mystery "An engrossing narrative that goes beyond a war novel into a character study of loss and redemption." --Rain Taxi Review of Books "Krivak writes of war with the skill of a mature novelist/observer. Death, dysentery, starvation, chaos, amputation, prison. All are here in elegant prose--plus touches of rare beauty and tenderness as Jozef comes full circle with is past, his father, his country--even the idea of his father's reverse migration. All of this in less than two hundred pages." --CounterPunch "Unsentimental yet elegant ... with ease, [The Sojourn] joins the ranks of other significant works of fiction portraying World War I--Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front or Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms." --Library Journal (starred review) "The ghost of Hemingway informs some of Krivak's notes from the front lines, while several other literary influences seem to be evident in his slender book, including the Italian novelist and memoirist Primo Levi, himself the veteran of a very long walk through Europe, and, for obvious reasons, the Charles Frazier of Cold Mountain. Yet Krivak has his own voice, given to lyrical observations on the nature of human existence." --Kirkus Reviews (starred review) "Deftly wrought, quietly told ... Krivak studied all the Great War novels before writing, and the result is a debut novel at home amongst those classics. Highly recommended." --Historical Novels Review (Editor's Choice) "Rendered in spare, elegant prose, yet rich in authentic detail, The Sojourn ... stands with the most memorable stories about World War I. Krivak's tale has an archetypal quality; it is a retelling of the hero's inner and outer journey through impossibly rugged landscapes, toward survival and wholeness." --ForeWord Reviews "Inspired by oral histories of the "ol' kawntree" passed on by his Slovakian grandmother, Krivak, who once dreamed of a career in music and spent eight years in a Jesuit order, has crafted a novel of uncommon lyricism and moral ambiguity that balances the spare with the expansive. He juxtaposes the brutality of Jozef's environment, both natural and human, during his childhood in the Carpathians and his military service on the Italian front and after with the beauty of mountain vistas and moments of love, sacrifice, and compassion between his finely drawn characters." --The Chautauqua Prize committee "The Sojourn is a work of uncommon strength by a writer of rare and powerful elegance about a war, now lost to living memory, that echoes in headlines of international strife to this day." --Mary Doria Russell, author of Doc and The Sparrow "The Sojourn is a fiercely wrought novel, populated by characters who lead harsh, even brutal lives, which Krivak renders with impressive restraint, devoid of embellishment or sentimentality. And yet--almost despite such a stoic prose style--his sentences accrue and swell and ultimately break over a reader like water: they are that supple and bracing and shining." --Leah Hager Cohen, author of House Lights
About the Author
The Sojourn, winner of the Chautauqua Prize and finalist for the National Book Award, is Andrew Krivak 's first novel. Krivak is also the author of A Long Retreat: In Search of a Religious Life, a memoir about his eight years in the Jesuit Order, and editor of The Letters of William Carlos Williams to Edgar Irving Williams, 1902-1912, which received the Louis L. Martz Prize. The grandson of Slovak immigrants, Krivak grew up in Pennsylvania, has lived in London, and now lives with his wife and three children in Massachusetts where he teaches in the Honors Program at Boston College.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Josef was born in the rural mining town of Pueblo, Colorado, in 1899, to immigrant parents from Austria-Hungary who dreamed of a better life in the United States. The opening eleven-page prologue, a stunning and deeply felt family tragedy, is subsequently followed by a move back to the Empire, to his father's village in rural Austria-Hungary. Josef's father then marries a cruel woman with two young sons. They live the hardscrabble existence of shepherds, barely able to put food on the table, in the cold and brutal climate of the region. Josef and his father live for part of the year in a cabin in the Carpathian Mountains and ply their trade of husbandry in order to survive.
At the age of ten, Josef is introduced to his father's Krag rifle, and is instructed in the art of hiding, and hunting their prey. A distant cousin, Marian Pes--nicknamed Zlee--who was one year older than Josef, is sent to live with them. Zlee has an instinct for shepherding, and together they form a brotherly bond of love and respect. Josef's sleep is haunted by dreams of loss and he gradually becomes distant from his father.
In 1916, when Zlee turns eighteen, both boys go to the conscription office to join up. Josef alters the age on his identity card so that he can go, too. During artillery training, they are recognized for their skill of aiming and shooting, and are sent to train as snipers, or "sharpshooters," which in German is called Scharfschützen. What follows is a coming of age story set in the harsh climate and geography in the trenches of war--to Austria to train as Scharfschützen, and eventually to the sub-zero temperature of the Italian Alps.
Krivak writes with the precision and beauty of a finely cut gem and with the meticulous pace and purpose of a classical conductor. Every word is necessary and neatly positioned. His prose is evocative, poetic, and distilled. There is a place between the breath of the living and the faces of the dead, and that is where Josef's soul resides. When the author takes the reader to the abyss of loss and the ghosts of Time, it is riveting. However, the emotional resonance was primarily potent in the prologue and only periodically in the body of the story, and was otherwise low-timbred and somewhat distancing. The narrative is so deliberately controlled that at times it felt antiseptic and dispassionate.
Krivak's first novel is highly recommended as an addition to a library of World War I literature. This is an admirable debut, and it is evident from the prologue that Krivak is capable of crafting an emotionally satisfying story.
This review is based on an ARC received from the publisher.
Once he comes out of the war, Jozef finds himself a prisoner of war where he is alone with himself, left to sort through the baggage of war and loss. His post-prison journey provides the opportunity for rebirth and a chance to find redemption.
I loved The Sojourn so much. The writing is gorgeous and I can see why this was put on the short list for the National Book Award. The scenes that book-end the war are beautiful and full of color while the war section is bleak, brutal and unforgiving. The book ends with redemption and hope and not in a way that seems saccharine, but very real. I highly recommend reading it for yourself.
What I didn't really find all that interesting were the characters. Jozef in particular seemed very 'flat'. The novel is set as if an older Jozef is remembering his past. The story is told in a very matter of fact manner. It is almost a documentary style, revealing little emotion. Though the style is reminiscent of Hemingway (more on that in a moment), I feel that Hemingway seems to draw the reader in with his wonderful characterization.
The novel is less than 200 pages and on a pretty small page, so it's a pretty quick read. Often there are short flashes of brilliance in writing, such as the line "...and I hoped, for his sake, that Lieutenant Holub would see battle soon and that it would be fierce and unrelenting and that he would die quickly and well." See what I mean about Hemingway though?
The middle of the book is marred by exceptionally long run on sentences. The only reason it bothers me is that often they are totally unnecessary and strain the overall reading/thought process. For example, here is a rather long one that actually starts off a new section of the novel:
"The northwestern Carpathians, in which I was raised, were a hard place, as unforgiving as the people who lived there, but the Alpine landscape into which Zlee and I were sent that early winter seemed a glimpse of what the surface of the earth looked and felt and acted like when there were no maps or borders, no rifles or artillery, no men or wars to claim possession of the land, and snow and rock alone parried in a match of millennial slowness so that time meant nothing, and death meant nothing, for what life there was gave in to the forces of nature surrounding and accepted its fate to play what role was handed down in the sidereal march of seasons capable of crushing in an instant what armies might - millennia later - be foolish enough to assemble on it heights."
That was one sentence and yes, "it heights" is how the line ends. Syntax error and all. Not that I didn't enjoy the book, it was just a chore there in the middle to plod through some of the unnecessarily long sentences. It seems that Krivak was flexing his creative writing professor muscle a little too much at times.
But I give three stars because: it was Krivak's first novel, and first novels are a good indication of an author's style and his potential, which I feel is high; it covers an interesting time and locale that many Western novels don't delve into; and it has some moments of brilliance mixed in. It really seemed as if the novel were written with a film adaptation in mind...
Since it is a shorter work, it is worthy of a read. It only took my a couple of afternoons to read it through. Not a National Book Award finalist in my opinion (I've read the others from this year), but a very good first novel from an author I would like to see publish more work in the future.