The Sojourn

192 pages

Trade Paper

List Price US $16.99
ISBN: 9781934137345


ISBN: 9781934137413

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“Splendid . . . a novel for anyone who has a sharp eye and ear for life.”

NPR’s All Things Considered

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“[A] powerful, assured first novel . . . Packed with violence and death, yet wonderfully serene in its tone, Andrew Krivak’s The Sojourn—shortlisted for this year’s National Book Award—reminds us that one never knows from where the blow will fall and that, always, in the midst of life we are in death. . . . If the early pages of The Sojourn sometimes recall Cormac McCarthy (especially The Crossing), the heart of the book is a harrowing portrait of men at war, as powerful as Ernst Junger’s classic Storm of Steel and Isaac Babel’s brutally poetic Red Cavalry stories.”

Washington Post

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“Intimate and keenly observed, it is a war story, love story, and coming of age novel all rolled into one. I thought of Lermontov and Stendhal, Joseph Roth and Cormac McCarthy as I read. But make no mistake. Krivak’s voice and sense of drama are entirely his own.”

Sebastian Smee of the Boston Globe

The Sojourn is a work of uncommon strength by a writer of rare and powerful elegance about a war, now lost to living memory, that echoes in headlines of international strife to this day.”

Mary Doria Russell, author of A Thread of Grace

The Sojourn is a fiercely wrought novel, populated by characters who lead harsh, even brutal lives, which Krivak renders with impressive restraint, devoid of embellishment or sentimentality. And yet—almost despite such a stoic prose style—his sentences accrue and swell and ultimately break over a reader like water: they are that supple and bracing and shining.”

Leah Hager Cohen, author of House Lights

“A beautiful tale of persistence and dogged survival, set in the mountains, villages and battlefields of a Europe that exists only in memories and stories.”

Los Angeles Times

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“[The Sojourn] can be read as a classic of war. It is beautifully plotted, as rapt and understated as a hymn. . . . [Krivak] writes hunting scenes as evocative as those in The Deer Hunter. Then he outstrips that film in rending the harrowing and seductive elements of war.”

Cleveland Plain Dealer

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“A captivating, thoughtful narrative . . . and poignant reminder of how humanity was so greatly affected by what was once called the war to end all wars.”

Minneapolis Star Tribune

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“A literary work of astonishing power and breadth.”

Kassie Rose, WOSU book critic (Columbus, OH) @ The Longest Chapter

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[The Sojourn] deserves to be placed on the same shelf as Remarque, Hemingway and Heller . . . Krivak has written an anti-war novel with all the heat of a just-fired artillery gun.”

Barnes and Noble Review/Christian Science Monitor

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“A fairly short, brisk story . . . beautifully written and uplifting even through all the tragedy.”

Long Beach Press-Telegram, (top ten Summer books)

“Hope for the future, the conversion of tragedy into meaning—lurks throughout The Sojourn’s lush and lyrical prose.”

Image: Art, Faith, Mystery

“An engrossing narrative that goes beyond a war novel into a character study of loss and redemption.”

Rain Taxi Review of Books

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“Krivak writes of war with the skill of a mature novelist/observer. Death, dysentery, starvation, chaos, amputation, prison. All are here in elegant prose—plus touches of rare beauty and tenderness as Joseph comes full circle with his past, his father, his country—even the idea of his father’s reverse migration. All of this in less than two hundred pages.”


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“Charged with emotion and longing . . . this lean, resonant debut is an undeniably powerful accomplishment.”

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

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“Unsentimental yet elegant . . . with ease, [The Sojourn] joins the ranks of other significant works of fiction portraying World War I — Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front — or Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms.”

Library Journal (starred review)

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“An assured, meditative novel that turns on a forgotten theater in a largely forgotten war. . . . The ghost of Hemingway informs some of Krivak’s notes from the front lines, while several other literary influences seem to be evident in his slender book, including the Italian novelist and memoirist Primo Levi, himself the veteran of a very long walk through Europe, and, for obvious reasons, the Charles Frazier of Cold Mountain. Yet Krivak has his own voice, given to lyrical observations on the nature of human existence.”

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

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“Deftly wrought, quietly told . . . Krivak studied all the Great War novels before writing, and the result is a debut novel at home amongst those classics. Highly recommended.”

Historical Novels Review (Editor’s Choice)

“Rendered in spare, elegant prose, yet rich in authentic detail, The Sojourn. . . stands with the most memorable stories about World War I.”

ForeWord Reviews

“In Andrew Krivak’s lean, chewy novel the words land on target with a pleasing smack on page after page.”

Tablet: The International Catholic Weekly

“Inspired by oral histories of the ‘ol’ kawntree’ passed on by his Slovakian grandmother, Krivak, who once dreamed of a career in music and spent eight years in a Jesuit order, has crafted a novel of uncommon lyricism and moral ambiguity that balances the spare with the expansive. He juxtaposes the brutality of Jozef’s environment, both natural and human, during his childhood in the Carpathians and his military service on the Italian front and after with the beauty of mountain vistas and moments of love, sacrifice, and compassion between his finely drawn characters.”

The Chautauqua Prize committee

“This [is a] splendid first novel that comes in under 200 pages, but tells a much larger story, a story—yes, let’s invoke Tolstoy—of war and peace….  Sharpshooter Jozef’s winter sojourn in the battle ravaged mountains of his homeland is truly a story that celebrates, in its stripped down but resonant fashion, the flow between creation and destruction we all call life.”

Dayton Literary Peace Prize judges’ citation

The Sojourn, winner of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, the Chautauqua Prize, and finalist for the National Book Award, is the story of Jozef Vinich, who was uprooted from a 19th-century mining town in Colorado by a family tragedy and returns with his father to an impoverished shepherd’s life in rural Austria-Hungary. When World War One comes, Jozef joins his adopted brother as a sharpshooter in the Kaiser’s army, surviving a perilous trek across the frozen Italian Alps and capture by a victorious enemy.

A stirring tale of brotherhood, coming-of-age, and survival, that was inspired by the author’s own family history, this novel evokes a time when Czechs, Slovaks, Austrians, and Germans fought on the same side while divided by language, ethnicity, and social class in the most brutal war to date. It is also a poignant tale of fathers and sons, addressing the great immigration to America and the desire to live the American dream amidst the unfolding tragedy in Europe.

Dayton Literary Peace Prize Winner

Chautauqua Prize Winner

National Book Award Finalist

Boston Authors Club Julia Ward Howe Book Award Finalist

The Sojourn has also been a Boston Globe bestseller, a Washington Post Notable Book of the Year, a Top 5 Book Club Pick by NPR, was featured on the Indie Next List, and is a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection.

Excerpt from The Sojourn

Three days later we circled back toward divisional headquarters near Görz, and reported in. What we brought the Major (we had to bring him something) was news of recently fortified Italian camps, accompanied by troop movement along the entire western stretch of river, from the Bainsizza plateau down to Görz. Battle was imminent, and the Italians looked determined to make it their last.

It wasn’t their last, though. The Austrians expected a spring offensive, and our scouting confirmed this, but High Command’s best guess was that the Italians would proceed more tactically than they had in the past, using diversionary incursions upstream to draw our divisions holding the three mountains away from higher ground, and then attacking with their seemingly endless supply of troops. But the Italians had learned nothing in two years of fighting, and the Emperor’s generals learned that for all of its ethnic factions, diversities, and desertions, theirs was an army of men who would go to their deaths throwing stones at the Italians rather than give an inch of homeland.

And so it began with little more warning than the suspicious activity Zlee and I and a few spotters reported to our command. At first light
on the twelfth of May, we had just come off a week’s rest and were sitting in a good hide forward of our main trench, from which we had seen an artillery team in range. We wondered why they had exposed themselves so foolishly, but never thought to question our luck. The officer was easy to identify, as his gunners loaded and aimed their cannon. I reckoned him at five hundred and fifty yards, a long shot, but Zlee never second-guessed himself, or me. Windage was light and the morning air dry, and Zlee just brushed the trigger and I watched that man’s head snap back and body crumble as though it had been relieved of its bones.

And hell followed, 3,000 guns – long range, medium, trench mortars, everything – opened fire on us and every other Austrian position from Plava to the Adriatic for two days straight, so that no one or no thing could run, move, or even breathe, a hell in which I prayed to some lost God that I might die so that the banishment toward it would end as quickly as it began.

They say the earth is a soldier’s mother when the shells begin to fall, and she is, at first, your instinct not to run but to dig and hold and hug as much of that earth as you possibly can, down, down, down into the dirt, with your fingertips, hands, arms, chest, thighs and feet, until you are like a child clinging with his entire body to comfort after a nightmare.

But minutes of this, then hours, and days, and you wonder: How many days? Because the earth herself can’t stop shaking and disintegrating as the shrieks and howls rain in like otherworldly miscreations on wing who know – know! – where you are hiding and want not just to kill but to annihilate you, their hissing and infuriate ruts as they approach the last sound you’ll ever hear.

In that initial wave, our forward position saved our lives. Lines flanking us to the right and left took hit after hit and the longer range guns seemed to be inching ahead with each bombardment, stalking our counter-battery fire, command posts, and supply dugouts, so that any response or counter attacks would have to struggle to follow. Yet the Italians seemed interested not in accuracy but fury, and Zlee and I pressed down beneath the cover of canvas we’d used for camouflage and a wall of sandbags we pushed up to take shrapnel for four hours of nonstop shelling, some explosions so close I could feel air being sucked from my lungs.

At what we guessed was late morning there was a lull. We took our chances and threaded through the warren of dugouts, ledges and trenches that made up our forward line, 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. The sergeant who had gone out with us to shoot deserters got hauled past on a stretcher by two bearers, his mouth opened in a scream we couldn’t hear (for the bombardment had rendered us deaf) and his chest laid open so clean I could see his heart beating wildly beneath the bones of his rib cage. The captain’s dugout had taken a direct hit. Nothing and no one there by the time we reached it but a horse on its haunches pawing the dirt, and the coppery stink of blood and burnt flesh all around.

By noon the Italians were at full force again, and we had made it to Major Márai’s tent just beyond the reserves. He said he wanted us to stay out of the lines and head back to Mount Santo where they suspected the Italians would attack in strength when the artillery barrage was finished. We were to take any shots we had on high value targets – officers, cannoneers, scouts.

After a day’s hike with a separate regiment, Zlee and I took position on the upper reach of Mount Santo in the ruins of an old monastery’s gate house, long since reduced to rubble by artillery. The night before, we ate field rations of biscuits and hard tack with the same Croats who had fed us when we were ranging from those hills. And at dawn on the fourteenth, the Italians came over the top.

The brigade sent to re-take that mountain knew the mixed terrain on the western slope and had been hiding its regiments among the massive stones and stands of trees under the ongoing cover of artillery fire, so that the soldiers defending the mountain were caught off guard, weakened and shell shocked as they were, as wave after wave of Italian fanti burst from their positions like water from an earthen dam and charged up the steep and bald slopes of those hills, only to be mown down by our Schwarzloses and close range guns. By late morning, men barely seemed to touch the ground as they entered battle and died in one seamless move, so thickly strewn with bodies were those hills. The few that pushed on toward a trench or rock dugout were shot in the face with pistols, gutted with bayonets, or fought hand to hand, bravery and folly indistinguishable on both sides, until the Italians seemed a being that grew with death and for that reason was incapable of dying, and all we could do was follow our own who had survived and retreat down the steep back of Santo, so that by evening it was in enemy hands.

Over the Veterans Day weekend, Andrew Krivak accepted the Dayton Literary Peace Prize for The Sojourn and was longlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Listen to him discuss the family history that inspired the novel with Robin Young on WBUR’s “Here and Now”