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The Sojourn by Andrew Krivak

The Sojourn

by Andrew Krivak

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This novel, Andrew Krivak's THE SOJOURN, simply blew me away. I come to it several years late, but no matter. There is some flat-out beautiful writing in this book, which shows echoes and influences from THE ODYSSEY to ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, to COLD MOUNTAIN. But make no mistake: THE SOJOURN is a very special kind of work, so much more than just another war novel.

The book jacket says Krivak is the grandson of Slovak immigrants, but that alone can certainly not account for the beautiful prose styling and the historical accuracy in these pages. This guy has done his homework, both in studying literature and history. In THE SOJOURN, Krivak gives us the story of Jozef Vinich, who spends much of his early life trying to find his proper place. Born in 1899 to dirt-poor Slovak immigrant parents in Colorado, following a family tragedy, Jozef returns as a very small child to the Austria-Hungary of his parents. His father is a shepherd in the mountain country there, and Jozef learns outdoor skills that serve him well when he is conscripted into the army - on the German side - during World War I. He serves as a sniper, a specialty which will leave him with nightmares for years to come. Using special long rifles with optical sights, he is trained "to make head shots, and aimed for the teeth." Later he is demoted by a vengeful officer back into the regular infantry where he mixes with raw young recruits who see "battle for the first time, and wept, wet themselves, or tried to run." Weakened by famine, flu and dysentery, Jozef is wounded and captured by the Italians, and spends several months in a Sardinian island prison, before his release at the war's end. His journey through Italy, across mountains and still-hostile territory, back to his home, now the newly-formed Czechoslovakia, is Homeric in its scope and difficulties. Young Jozef is not sure anymore who he is or where his allegiances should lie, "a boy raised among Carpathian peasants in a Magyar culture, professing loyalty in a poor school to a Habsburg, and speaking a language in secret they spoke in a land called America."

He joins forces during his months-long journey with a young, pregnant Gypsy girl. The scene in which she gives birth is as movingly gripping and gritty as any you're likely to find in modern prose. Here's part of it -

"I saw the gush of fluids then and moved around quickly to take the child from her and keep it from strangling. The head had crowned and with each push more of the face emerged, though there was no wiping away or staunching of blood, so much blood it was, as though the child must swim through it as both test and augury, for she had torn, as I had seen sheep tear when the lamb was large or ill-positioned, and I knew later, when the bleeding wouldn't stop, that something had ruptured inside."

I cannot emphasize enough what a beautifully-written and important book THE SOJOURN is. Read it. My highest recommendation.

- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER ( )
  TimBazzett | Mar 4, 2017 |
An engrossing and moving story of a young man's life through his military service in WWI. Born in the US but taken to his father's native Austria-Hungary as an infant, Jozef and his adopted brother Zlee grow up a shepherds and hunters and, as young men, leave their father and village to join the Emperor's army as a spotter/sniper team. Their experiences are somewhat different than the average foot soldier's, as they roam the hills looking for officers, gunners and other important targets in the Italian army. After the war, following a stint in an Italian concentration camp, Jozef struggles to return to his father and to find a path for his own future. ( )
  auntmarge64 | Jul 23, 2016 |
Another stunning debut. I shake my head in wonder at these initial offerings – that they can be so deep and moving, so complete and polished. The Sojourn plunges us into the unfathomable catastrophe of The Great War, and renders real the experience of a young soldier, a trained sharpshooter in the service of Charles, the last Habsburg emperor. This is war, as waged by a single soldier and a few of his comrades, as directed by the foolish and obsolete powers that be. History’s most horrific meat grinder.

Jozef is born to Czech parents in 1899, in Pueblo, Colorado, but grows up in the “far northwestern corner” of Austria-Hungary when his widowed father flees to the Old Country. The story of his youth, idyllic while he works as a shepherd with his father, brutal and petty when he attends school, reminds me strongly of Jeffrey Lent’s descriptions of bucolic labor in In the Fall. Author Andrew Krivak employs the same unvarnished language to describe the high refinement of a man’s skills in shaping, and being shaped by, nature. These passages impress upon us the almost superhero heights these skills can rise to.

The war ends all that. Deployed as a skilled marksman for a time, Jozef at length becomes just another infantryman, fodder for cannon fire. Mr. Krivak portrays his sojourn into Europe during its most terrifying and hopeless war in magisterial language: he lets the carnage and waste speak for themselves while he captures it through Jozef’s eyes. This book will take its place among the classics that deal with this war, it has to. This is plainly why it was a finalist for the 2011 National Book Award, and for the Julia Ward Howe Book Award given by the Boston Authors Club. It won the Chautauqua Prize and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, all of which is richly deserved.

Mr. Krivak places his war-as-waste theme in the perfect frame of young Jozef’s life. He sustains the story with a plot that never flags and never runs into the outlandish. He exercises firm control over the elements of the story, and never intrudes in its ghastly and memorable events. An excellent and highly recommended debut work. Superb!

http://bassoprofundo1.blogspot.com/2015/01/the-sojourn-by-andrew-krivak.html ( )
  LukeS | Jan 4, 2015 |
The rhythm of Andrew Krivak's writing forces his readers to slow down. The Sojourn pulled me in and kept me turning the pages because its subject matter and setting are fascinating. But I had to work to read it. Here's an example of a typical sentence pulled from about halfway through the novel:

But among the Austrian and German troops we fell in with that autumn in Kobarid, we felt the camaraderie of skill and demeanor, and so began to believe again in the possibility of victory in that war, after having lost so many battles, a victory we would soon find out, that was being mapped out in the mountains above the plateau the generals had conceded to their enemy in order to save themselves and their imperial army.

I might enjoy sentences such as this if they were used in moderation, but Krivak rarely breaks his rhythm with shorter phrases.

The novel follows the life of Jozef Vinich, who was born in Colorado but raised in Austria-Hungry. He and his adopted brother, learn to shoot with great skill because they are hunters from an early age. When World War 1 begins, their skills as sharpshooters are highly valued. The scenes from the battles and from long marches in harsh environments bring a very clear picture of a struggle to survive, but Krivak also shows the guilt surviving can bring.

I said that I had ceased to think of life or death because it seemed that I was destined to serve out the sentence of one for having delivered so well the sentence of the other, and that I saw the dead every night before I went to sleep as though they were still alive and standing before me.

The Sojourn is not a book to curl up with on a rainy day. But for readers who enjoy history and who like to work at what they read, it's a good one.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions ( )
  SteveLindahl | May 18, 2014 |
5052. The Sojourn, by Andrew Krivak (read 12 Aug 2013) This is a jewel of a work, telling in limpid prose of a boy born in the USA who lives with his shepherd-father in what is now Slovakia, goes to fight for Austria-Hungary on the Italian front, and after the war has a touching encounter with a pregnant Gypsy girl. This is a straight-forward story appealing in all its aspects. Well worth the couple hours it takes to read it. ( )
  Schmerguls | Aug 13, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)
... Andrew Krivak, nominated for a National Book Award for The Sojourn, has created a gripping and harrowing war story that has the feel of a classic. Jozef evolves convincingly from an eager young soldier indifferent to the lives he takes, to a wreck of a man who fully understands all that has been lost in the endless fighting. Like all classic war stories, this one can't help but make you wonder about the futility of war and the devastation it leaves in its path...
added by Jcambridge | editNPR, Lynn Neary (Jan 1, 2012)
“Charged with emotion and longing . . . this lean, resonant debut [is] an undeniably powerful accomplishment.”
added by blpbooks | editPublishers Weekly (starred review)
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. . . That was how things were back then. Anything that grew took its time growing, and anything that perished took a long time to be forgotten. But everything that had once existed left its traces, and people lived on memories just as they now live on the ability to forget quickly and emphatically. —Joseph Roth, The Radetzky March
It's difficult with the weight of the rifle.
Leave it — under the oak.
—David Jones, In Parenthesis
For Irene
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She rises before sunup without waking her husband or the child still asleep in the Moses basket at their bedside and walks through the dark of the small shack into the kitchen.
After a time, I asked, “What is left to be afraid of?’
And he said, “the possibility that a life itself may prove to be the most worthy struggle. Not the whole sweeping vale of tears that Rome and her priests want us to sacrifice ourselves to daily so that she lives in splendor, but one single moment in which we die so that someone else lives. That ls it, and it is fearful because it cannot be seen, planned, or even known. It is simply lived. If there be purpose, it happens of a moment within us, and lasts a lifetime without us, like water opening and closing in a wake.
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Inspired by the author’s own family history, The Sojourn is the story of Jozef Vinich, who was uprooted from a 19th-century mining town in Colorado by a shocking family tragedy to return with his father to an impoverished shepherd’s life in rural Austria-Hungary. When war comes, Jozef joins his cousin and brother-in-arms as a sharpshooter on the southern front, where he must survive a perilous trek across the frozen Italian Alps and capture by a victorious enemy. 
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Uprooted from a nineteenth century mining town in Colorado by a shocking family tragedy, young Jozef Vinich returns with his father to an impoverished shepherd's life in rural Austria-Hungary. When war comes, Jozef is sent as a sharpshooter to the southern front, where he must survive the killing trenches, a perilous trek across the frozen Italian Alps, and capture by a victorious enemy.… (more)

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