Book Review: 'The Sojourn'

The Sojourn is a first novel from Andrew Krivak. It's the story of a young Slovakian immigrant to the United States who must return to Europe — and finds himself fighting in World War I.

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LYNN NEARY, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Little good can be said of war, but that it has provided fertile ground for some of the world's great novelists. The latest example is Andrew Krivak's first book, "The Sojourn." It's set during World War I.

Alan Cheuse has our review.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: A splendid novel that comes in under 200 pages - yes - about an American born Slovak boy named Jozef Vinich, born on our frontier at the turn of the 20th century who, because of a fateful accident, gets whisked back to the old country by his father.

There in the cold mountains of the Austria-Hungarian empire, he learns the ways and wiles of a hardscrabble life and discovers his gift for sharpshooting. He volunteers to go to war - this is World War I, of course - and finds himself on the other side of the front from that Italian army most American readers know best from Hemingway's "A Farewell to Arms."

We might call this story a hello to arms. Jozef loves and lives to shoot rifles and he embraces war. He gives us memorable, if grisly, images from battle. During a lull along the front, he and some companions thread their way, as he tells us, through the warren of dugouts, ledges and trenches, the men still in positions that hadn't been completely destroyed looking like gray mannequins in a desolate uniform shop, some doe-eyed and terrified, others appearing resigned to their deaths already.

This compact and powerful novel doesn't so much celebrate war as it celebrates the power of language that can describe it. Sharpshooter Jozef's winter sojourn in the battle ravaged mountains of his homeland may sound like a story for men only. It's truly a novel for anyone who has a sharp eye and ear for life.

SIEGEL: "The Sojourn" is by Andrew Krivak. Alan Cheuse teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

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