Andrew Krivak (author's website)
Bellevue Literary Press
Published May 2011
Two in a row from Bellevue Literary Press. I've never really paid much attention to who publishes what until fairly recently and the thing I really love about these guys is that they're part of the NYU School of Medicine and that most of what they publish are non-fiction books relating to medicine. But there are these two books: The Sojourn and Tinkers, two works of literary fiction that they've published and both books have been recognized for excellence in some way. Tinkers won the Pulitzer Prize and The Sojourn was on the National Book Award short list.
I hate writing plot summaries, so let's just use the jacket copy: "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."
The Sojourn is about war on every level. The personal wars that we wage against ourselves, the wars within a family, wars within a groups of men and war at the global level. And what keeps coming to me after reading this amazing little book is that all of these wars are based on necessity. Sometimes we need to go to war against ourselves so that we can be free of history and the weights that others have hung around our necks. Jozef literally caries his anger and aggression with him in the form of his adopted brother, Zlee. And when Jozef finds himself without Zlee, his anger vanishes and he is forced to experience a sort of baptism by starvation, exhaustion and brutal war.
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.
"Ghosts are not the dead. They are our fear of death. Tell yourself, Jozef, not to be afraid."
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’s 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."
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.
Have you read The Sojourn? What did you think?
Book source: purchased