The Sojourn by Andrew Krivak
Bellevue Literary Press, New York, 2011
Borrowed from my library. A finalist for the 2011 National Book Award.
After a horrible accident in a mining town in the wilds of Colorado, Jozef Vinich, and his father Ondrej, return to Pastvina, Ondrej’s tiny home village in rural Austria-Hungary. After remarrying, a relationship that turns ugly, Ondrej takes to the mountains as a shepard. Over time he teaches Jozef, and his adopted son Zlee, how to track and how to shoot.
When war comes Jozef and Zlee are made sharpshooters, hunting men like animals, trying to survive the trenches and eventually making a trek across the Italian Alps. Told from Jozef’s point of view, this novel reads like a memoir. It is a love story and a war story, harsh and filled with history.
If, when we, a lost looking father and his reticent son, first arrived in Pastvina in 1901, the people of our village had heard or whispered among themselves tales of prospecting and silver – gunfights and murders – of the Wild West, stories they should expect a man who had seen the world to weave with suspense and nostalgia in their presence, they were soon forgotten, for there seemed nothing about Ondrej Vinich’s attitude or demeanor (against that fiery young man intent on leaving Pastrina to make his fortune) to suggest he’d ever lived one of these storied lives, but in fact seemed content and almost grateful to have to take up what was the loneliest existence a man could live in that part of the old country. Which is strange when I think about those villagers and how they seemed to cling to one another and yet blame one another for the harsh lot from which not one of them could escape. From page 28.
The whole of summer, battle raged, the bloody stalemate of attack and counter attack proving ineffective for all but the winnowing of souls, so I came to believe that our stand there on the Soca could not survive, and I wondered more darkly in the back of my mind if we – our empire, our army, the land on which my father had taught me, too, how to survive – had been abandoned by the emperor’s God for some sin long forgotten or even unknown to those of us sent to atone for it, an atonement Zlee and I were yet kept from by the simple fact that we were a more useful tool kept alive, though all it would take was for one of us to be hit by a shell, or brought down by something a simple a dysentery, and the other would be useless and so sacrificed. From page 90.
Do you see? Wild tumbling sentences like water rushing down a mountain side. Once I started reading The Sojourn I could not put it down. Fierce, engaging and charged with emotion, written in a style I found stunning, this will be one of my favorite books of 2011.