switterbug (Betsey)'s Reviews > The Sojourn

The Sojourn by Andrew Krivak
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's review
Apr 27, 2011

really liked it
Read in April, 2011

World War I was the deadliest conflict in Western history, but contemporary portrayals of war in literature and cinema primarily focus on examples of combat from the past fifty or sixty years. At a time when the Great War is receding into the annals of distant history, this elegiac and edifying novel has been released--a small, slim but powerful story of a young soldier, Josef Vinich, who hails from a disenfranchised and impoverished family in rural Austria-Hungary.

Josef was born in the rural mining town of Pueblo, Colorado, in 1899, to immigrant parents from Austria-Hungary who dreamed of a better life in the United States. The opening eleven-page prologue, a stunning and deeply felt family tragedy, is subsequently followed by a move back to the Empire, to his father's village of Pastvina (which is now part of the Czech Republic). Josef's father then marries a cruel woman with two young sons. They live the hardscrabble existence of shepherds, barely able to put food on the table, in the cold and brutal climate of the region. Josef and his father live for part of the year in a cabin in the Carpathian Mountains and ply their trade of husbandry in order to survive.

At the age of ten, Josef is introduced to his father's Krag rifle, and is instructed in the art of hiding and hunting their prey. A distant cousin, Marian Pes--nicknamed Zlee--who was one year older than Josef, is sent to live with them. Zlee has an instinct for shepherding, and together they form a brotherly bond of love and respect. Josef's sleep is haunted by dreams of loss and he gradually becomes distant from his father.

In 1916, when Zlee turns eighteen, both boys go to the conscription office to join up. Josef alters the age on his identity card so that he can go, too. During artillery training, they are recognized for their skill of aiming and shooting, and are sent to train as snipers, or "sharpshooters," which in German is called Scharfschützen. What follows is a coming of age story set in the harsh climate and geography in the trenches of war--to Austria to train as Scharfschützen, and eventually to the sub-zero temperature of the Italian Alps.

Krivak writes with the precision and beauty of a finely cut gem and with the meticulous pace and purpose of a classical conductor. Every word is necessary and neatly positioned. His prose is evocative, poetic, and distilled. There is a place between the breath of the living and the faces of the dead, and that is where Josef's soul resides. When the author takes the reader to the abyss of loss and the ghosts of Time, it is riveting. However, the emotional resonance was primarily potent in the prologue and only periodically in the body of the story, and was otherwise low-timbred and somewhat distancing. The narrative is so deliberately controlled that at times it felt antiseptic and dispassionate.

Krivak's first novel is highly recommended as an addition to a library of World War I literature. This is an admirable debut, and it is evident from the prologue that Krivak is capable of crafting an emotionally satisfying story.
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Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist" Superb review Bug, and a good one to be reading on Veterans' Day, lest we forget.

switterbug (Betsey) Thank you, Jeanette! Yes, we need to remember, as Congress seems to be forgetting. Elitist pigs! And btw, I hate Prick Perry! LOL I wish someone would lock him in a meat cooler and lose the key.

Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist" switterbug (Betsey) wrote: "I hate Prick Perry! LOL I wish someone would lock him in a meat cooler and lose the key."

Hee! I was hoping the spaceship that dumped him on us would just come pick him up already! The experiment was a failure.

message 4: by Jill (new)

Jill Better still, why not lock up in a meat cooler and give him the combination to get out? I'm sure he'd forget the last few numbers and he'd be stuck there forever. Oops!

Bill fabulous review, as always, Betsey! just about to start this one.

Bill just finished it...really enjoyed it too!

switterbug (Betsey) Oh, cool! Yes, he is a talented writer.

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