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The Sojourn by Andrew Krivak
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The Sojourn (edition 2011)

by Andrew Krivak

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215None56,460 (3.7)51
Member:MeditationesMartini
Title:The Sojourn
Authors:Andrew Krivak
Info:Bellevue Literary Press (2011), Edition: First Edition, Paperback, 192 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***
Tags:2012/11/19

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The Sojourn by Andrew Krivak

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» See also 51 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
This is 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 |
The writing in the first half of The Sojourn does not square with its having won so many awards. Though well executed, it feels distant. Then abruptly, as WWI winds down, Andrew Krivak's stoytelling hits its stride and we finally get the measure of Jozef, the book's central character. At that point, as he starts walking across post-war Europe toward his Carpathian home, the similarity in tone between this book and Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain is quite remarkable, particularly in how each captures the essence of what it feels to be homeward bound. The Sojourn, though, is ultimately a series of unrequited homeward journeys. As Jozef moves from America to Europe and back again, the myths of both Old World and New are exposed. The New delivers nothing but exploitation and the Old is a nest of deep, tribal hatreds. One is reminded how even the most fortunate among us has likely sprung from the misery of generations of refugees. ( )
  maritimer | Apr 25, 2013 |
A debut novel, recipient of the Chautauqua Prize and National Book Award Finalist, this short 130pp tale was an intense and moving book. Very simply written with a memorial stark. Very humane treatment of the effects of war on the psyche; the ephemeral nature of family; and the process of growing into and then out of a world.
( )
  John_Pappas | Mar 30, 2013 |
Having looked at the author's website, I see that The Sojourn is undoubtedly a deeply personal novel for him, based as it is on the experiences of several members of his family. Unfortunately, I think that deep connection which Krivak feels to the novel is also the source of its greatest weakness, for in the process fictionalising his grandparents' experiences and making them part of the book's main character, Krivak forgot that most of his readers are not going to have that same instinctive interest in, and prior knowledge of, the characters.

He never put the work into making his characters seem like three-dimensional people, so this slim novel mostly consists of a (admittedly seemingly painstakingly researched) recounting of a series of events which happen to the narrator. I never got a clear sense of why I should care about all of this, about who Josef was or what his reaction to things were, or what the message of this book was (beyond "Europe's dreadful but America is awesome! Freedom, fuck yeah!"). Several parts of The Sojourn also felt very stock, the kind of Western male coming-of-age fantasy that I find particularly tedious. The whole section of the novel featuring the young, pregnant Roma girl was so intensely problematic that it would take me several paragraphs to break it all down, and I'm just not that invested in this novel, so let me boil my reaction to it down to a simple: "... no."

Krivak mentions in an article about the origins of this novel that several of its events originally happened to his grandmother. I couldn't help but feel that The Sojourn would have been many times more interesting if he'd stuck with a female protagonist. Watching a woman—particularly one with a gift for being a sniper—navigate her way through Central Europe during the First World War would have been intriguing. This merely felt stale. ( )
  siriaeve | Dec 26, 2012 |
A mix of family memoir and WWI fanfic, walking around with a vocabulary it doesn't quite know how to handle. No, but there's no point in hating on this, both because it clearly means something particularly personal to Kravik and because it has real merits (below--I think I often tend to start with the negatives in these reviews. Why?). There are too many adjectives, but that is my illness as well. And there are errors and places where you lose the plot because Kravik is trying to be allusive perhaps beyond his abilities and maybe just needs to get it together and end that sentence and not spend all night on the internet reading about pioneer days. Or mitteleuropaeische squalour, or, like, flaccid, pedantic allusiveness. (Where do you go to read about that? Henry James?)

BUT I like the reverse migration from the New World to the Old--we have the "Over There" trope, but this is different because it's a single alienated young dude and his soulforging. It's the kind of thing we're tired of seeing play out in the Old West. I like the fact that it's about Austria-hungary and the Italian campaign, an underremembered empire and an underremembered war.

BUTbut he's so fucking pushy. My family are all magnificent heroes, tougher and gentler than the haters. Fuck off. Lecturing us about hard work? Really?

(and I suddenly recognize that this is a bit analogous to my criticism in a recent review of Henry Miller and the worst is when people mistake the first person for the author's own real personal voice, but I stand by it, cos in both cases, the narrative is so rooted in personal or family history and the characters are so suggestively similar to their authors that ... sorry, man, you're writing a fictionalized you, or in Krivak's case putting yourself in the pants of a fictionalized great-grandfather, and people ae gonna read you that way).

You can't do this stuff in first person without a filter--but there is no suggestion that the kid's hagiography is anything but the correct reaction to his father's austere majesty. Which is forgivable when Krivak has something to say, but a downer when he puffs up on inferior details, loses the laconicity that a war narrative like this wants, goes all-out glorified transcriptionist on his research or the stories he was told or whatever.

I was involved in a memory-book writing project in Uganda, and I know how important this kind of stuff can be. And remember the memor boom? It can be meaningful to the public. But it needs curation. It doesn't need Krivak's squeamishness--his stepbrothers are goona rapehim and it's all "I'm first" and "alcohol on his breath" and nothing is ever said directly but wink YOU KNOW WHAT THOSE TIRED FIXTURES INDICATE. You don't need endless untranslated Slovak authenticity tags, and awkward circumlocutions to express the German ones in English. "Hallo, he growled, and I knew that he was saying hello." Almost that.

It's better when we get images of Italy as a dirty almost Balkan war, village to village, hunters with little flasks, kill a man and have a litttle schnaeppsle. There's something anti-imperial about that, making the mountain war more than a comic sideshow. And the sociology of the Austrian army--demoralized Slavs, bolshy Hungarians, loyalist Tirolers and Carinthians who nevertheless have the biggest chips on their shoulders of all about the wienerisch officer class. The Alpine hillbillies fighting for their quiet ways against the tide of nationalism of which the Italians are an early adopter. Except that also the protag has all the attitudes of a modern liberal except for his quixotic warlust, and the book is weirdly set up to make liberal America the future's promise and have him be like "your primitive racial hatreds" with a conveniently sexy Romany stalking horse.

The British as combat monsters, like we're supposed to cheer for Tommy but the biggest horror is how being a superpower meant raising a nation of killers. And all his sources are about the Brits, not the Austrians, which is weird but doesn't stop the speculation on the mood at the end of the war from being compelling, just a bit suspect. When the Bosnian holds Krivak's Mary Sue protagonist up and stops him from falling you think, wow, Panslavism, suffering under the yoke of even the buffoonish empires, and what would it have been like to have Viennese civil servants and junior lecturers discussing your plight in between melanges and mistresses, and you start to understand how the Soviet bloc developed not only out of tanks and Marxian togethermanship but also a vision of common blood, a geocultural civilizational sphere that was in some ways so much the antithesis of the Habsburg regiments but in other ways learned so much from it. Imagine Czech and Vorarlbergisch SSRs.

And other things--the disdain for death that covers a man like a filth and stops you from valuing life, or anything other than death, anymore. Well noted.

That is all fine, but this is also not a well-written book, and so that's a problem. Overall it had its moments. ( )
  MeditationesMartini | Nov 28, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 22 (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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Epigraph
. . . 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
Dedication
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.
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p.144
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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Book description
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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