The basics: This novel opens in Pueblo, Colorado in June of 1899 when Jozef Vinich is an infant. The next section announces a location of Dardan, Pennsylvania in 1972, but the novel is really the story of Vinich's life, and in between his infanthood in Colorado and his time in Pennsylvania, he lives in his father's native Austria and fights in World War I.
My thoughts: The opening chapter of The Sojourn is among the most haunting I have read. It's beautifully written, undeniably tragic and a fascinating beginning to a life story. As the action shifts to Pennsylvania, I continued to be intrigued. How did Jozef's journey lead him here? Why 1972? The road is a winding one, and unfortunately it was often a boring one.
It was unabashedly dark, and ultimately honest, about the horrors of war:
"For the first time, I feared what a man was capable of doing to me in that war, a man weaker than I, and yet one whom I was bound to obey, at least in his presence. At that moment, I would have chosen to have been blown to bits by random artillery rather than to have had Captain Edmund Prosch be the last man to see me alive before a firing squad put a bullet through my heart."The war stories were ultimately uneven for me. Although Krivak's writing was strong throughout, the plot grew rather repetitive in the middle. I kept reading because I was curious how the story would end up in 1972 in Pennsylvania. If not for the hint of that ending, I might have abandoned this book. Thankfully, I stuck with it, as the last 25% was completely brilliant and exciting.
In many ways, this novel feels like three novels. I adored the beginning scene, was bored through the middle of it, and once again enchanted by the last quarter of it. Overall, it was undeniably uneven, and Krivak is a strong enough writer that I believe the pacing issues were intentional. The war scenes were dull and perhaps meant to be slogged through, as war itself is. Despite my issues with more than half of this novel, it is one I ultimately enjoyed. The middle keeps it from being National Book Award-worthy for me, but I will be curious to see what Krivak does next.
Favorite passage: "For, though I say that I longed for home, I couldn’t say where that home was now."
The verdict: Although I struggled through more than half of this short novel, the slow part was bookended by a haunting beginning and a beautiful ending. I find myself remembering the strengths and not focusing on the weaknesses. Krivak is a strong writer, and I hope his next novel is stronger and more consistent. The Sojourn is a difficult novel, but fans of historical literary fiction and novels of war will likely find enough great to balance the boring here.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 192 pages
Publication date: April 19, 2011
Source: I bought it for my Kindle
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