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Evel Knievel Days: A Novel Hardcover – July 17, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


“[An] original comedy about the dejected American male…Toutonghi has a light touch that can dart between slapstick and deadpan humor…A story about discovering your roots, forgiving your parents and eating great food…Toutonghi wins us over with lots of madcap family hysteria as the ridiculous lies from Khosi’s father are spun and unspun.” –Washington Post, Ron Charles

“Butte, Montana and Cairo. That's a lot of territory to embrace in one book, but Pauls Toutonghi has a large wingspan as a writer… From the streets of poor neighborhoods to the racetracks of the rich and the criminal, from restaurants - there's a wonderful Middle Eastern culinary thread you can follow through this novel - to hidden courtyards and apartments to hospitals, we travel with him as he tells - in a breezy, cheerful, but always intelligent voice - the story of his daunting quest to reconnect with his father. And with that voice, Khosi speaks for himself and for millions - for everyone trying to put together the pieces of a broken family. At one point, Khosi quotes the great food writer, M.F.K. Fisher, who said that the smell of good bread baking is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight. Can we make an analogy between that sense of delight and reading this novel? I think so.” –NPR, All Things Considered, Alan Cheuse

"Told with an addictive voice and bulges with fully realized characters." –The New York Times

"An impossible spectacle, involving ridiculous characters doing outrageous, sometimes unbelievable things, one that succeeds by the skin of its teeth, and is all the more exhilarating for having braved it." –San Francisco Chronicle

“Big-hearted…fun without being lightweight, and the writing is a page-for-page pleasure…At its heart, this is a story about love’s messier triumphs, the ones we don’t plan for. It’s a celebration of the simple fact that love exists and that we have the capacity to experience it, even if only for a time.” –Los Angeles Review of Books

“Precious without being maudlin, the novel tackles the themes of romantic love, familial love and love of food with deftness and humor...Filling out his narrative with musings on philosophy and society, Toutonghi has composed an understated fictional autobiography that is both introspective and absorbing. …a quiet evocation of displacement and belonging, America and the Middle East, walking onions and the mythical complexities of making baklava. It's an affectingly simple and simply effective comedic melodrama in nearly every way.” –Missoula Independent

“Superb literary effort… With writing both gently ironical and outright funny, the author’s extraordinary talent draws readers into the world of Butte and Cairo. More entertainingly, his characters are both believable and appealing, especially Khosi’s Egyptian aunts, their drill-sergeant housekeeper and the everyday people he meets.
Brilliantly imagined. Artfully written. Superbly entertaining.” –Kirkus, starred review

"A generous and generally comic novel." –Seattle Weekly

“A witty and uplifting story about a young man trying to reconnect with his father. . . The search for the truth is rarely easy, but Toutonghi uses a little magic, humor and homeopathic remedies to find it.” –The Montana Standard

"Funny and winsome...quirky and heartfelt novel." –High Country News

“The novel intelligently contextualizes its central theme, finding answers to Khosi's questions of identity in food, history, and family.” –The Portland Mercury

"Enthralling right up until the last page of the final chapter." –Silver State Post

“Although it is very funny, Evel Knievel Days is not a comic novel. It is a romance in pretty much the same sense that The Tempest is a romance: strange events crowd out natural events, not because the setting is a magical realm, but because reality becomes magical and strange when it is no longer conventional and familiar.” –Commentary Magazine

“Toutonghi manages to hold all this mayhem together with wit and compassion; in the end, Khosi recognizes that "inhabiting a place doesn't require being in that place," and that "an overflowing platter of falafel" can be "a special peace envoy."… A slightly madcap novel of a Montana immigrant's son traveling to the streets of Cairo to find the father who abandoned him.” –Shelf Awareness, Bruce Jacobs
“Who am I? This is the question bedeviling the half-Egyptian, half-American, wholly screwy twenty-something hero of Pauls Toutonghi’s highly entertaining novel, Evel Knievel Days.” –Vanity Fair

Terrific.” Cheryl Strayed, New York Times bestselling author of Wild

“There is plenty of metaphorical magic in the book.” –Oregon Public Radio

“Khosi seeks his father and the other half of his own heritage in Cairo, Egypt. Coming from a privileged background — even if that privilege was a generation removed — Khosi confronts chaos, lies, secrets, poverty and a revolution in his own life and in Egypt, too.” –Great Falls Tribune
“Winning…This novel succeeds largely on the strength of its protagonist who is complex and charming and you cannot help but root for him.” –The Rumpus, Roxane Gay

“Charming coming-of-age novel…Humor and heart distinguish Toutonghi’s second outing (Red Weather, 2006), and the quirky, appealing Khosi is bound to enchant readers.” –Booklist

“The imaginative narrative shaped by the imagery and characters of this novel provides refreshing nuance to the coming-of-age immigration tale.” –Library Journal

“Toutonghi’s wry wit combined with his lush descriptions of Egyptian cooking make for a book that reflects the complexity of its main character.” –Publishers Weekly

“Evel Knievel Days
 is so good, I want to dress it up in a star-spangled jumpsuit, leap it over the pyramids of Giza on a Laverda American Eagle 750cc motorcycle, and watch it stick its landing before an audience of millions in downtown Butte, Montana.  A funny, heart-warming, compulsively readable novel about the unbreakable bonds of family — and baklava. This is one you shouldn't miss.  Terrific!”    
—Garth Stein, New York Times bestselling author of The Art of Racing in the Rain

"Beautifully written, Evel Knievel Days takes readers on a wry, irresistible journey. Toutonghi has written a spell-binding novel full of heart and startling humor."
—Diana Abu-Jaber, bestselling author of Birds of Paradise

"In a novel of rare warmth and depth, humor and insight, Evel Knievel Days is a tale of daredevil leaps in a young man's search for family and love. Quirky, often hilarious, deeply touching, following our protagonist's journey of discovery from Montana to Egypt was like watching Knievel sail his motorcycle over great expanses — thrilling from ramp to ramp."
—Alan Heathcock, author of Volt
"Evel Knievel—the great American daredevil whose spirit presides over Pauls Toutonghi's masterful coming-of-age novel — broke his shoulder, his arm, his collarbone, several ribs, his pelvis, and more: 433 bones in all. Toutonghi takes as many risks, but what he breaks, and puts back together, is the human heart.”
—Ben Greenman, author of What He’s Poised to Do
"It's the originality of Pauls Toutonghi's voice and vision that makes this such a remarkable novel. Toutonghi is a true daredevil of a writer, and this fantastically hilarious and affecting book will have you on the edge of your seat."
—Skip Horack, author of The Eden Hunter and The Southern Cross
"This coming-of-age story spans the globe — from an Evel Knievel festival in Butte, Montana to the protests in Tahrir Square. Evel Knievel Days enchants the reader with its ghosts, recipes, and plucky, know-it-all hypochondriac of a narrator — and his travels in search of his father and himself."
—Benjamin Percy, author of The Wilding and Refresh, Refresh

"Evel Knievel Days is a masterful, breathtaking and enchanting novel that will have you rushing to the end. Pauls Toutonghi moves subtly between Montana and Cairo to draw a deep—yet playful—story of identity and family ties."
—Mansoura Ez Eldin, author of Beyond Paradise

About the Author

Pauls Toutonghi is the Pushcart Prize winning author of the critically-acclaimed novel Red Weather. He was born in Seattle, Washington to an Egyptian father and a Latvian mother. His work has appeared in The New York Times, VQR, Sports Illustrated, Zoetrope, Glimmer Train, The Harvard Review, and One Story -- as well as online for Salon, The Rumpus, Bookslut, The Millions, and elsewhere. He is the father of twins, and teaches at Lewis and Clark College, in Portland, Oregon.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; First Edition edition (July 17, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030738215X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307382153
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,366,435 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Pauls Toutonghi's second novel, Evel Knievel Days, will be published by Random House in Summer 2012.

His first -- Red Weather -- was published by Random House in 2006. He has won a Pushcart Prize, been awarded a Fulbright Grant, and has traveled for the U.S. State Department. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Five Chapters, GRANTA, Zoetrope, One Story, The Boston Review, Glimmer Train, and numerous other periodicals. He teaches at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A. Corre on July 19, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The modus operandi of this newcomer to the world of fiction is interesting. In his first book, Red Weather: A Novel, he took an iconically all-American city, Milwaukee, which has been sadly underutilized in literature, and used it as the locus of a very funny yet moving tale, with elements of growing-up, political tensions, and ethnic issues, particularly between immigrant and native generations. In it he paid tribute to his maternal ethnic roots in Latvia (which explains the seeming plurality of his first name) giving a warm, incisive look into a tiny minority in America.

In the current book he again takes a neglected city, Butte, Montana this time, and skillfully exploits its special features: a famed daredevil, an unusual lynching out of the run of 'normal' racist horrors. And he manages this time to explore his paternal heritage from the middle east. In both books he offers an enticing plot, the interest in which never flags. He is a master of striking metaphors and similes, yet his style is direct and straightforward. Above all, he makes the reader think about the issues he raises.

I warmly welcome this addition to the writer's oeuvre. It is a page-turner, or in my case and probably yours, a tab-pusher. I look forward to more successful explorations of the human condition in all its varieties from his pen.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Dolce Bellezza on July 23, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I've been waiting for this book all summer. I didn't know it, of course, while I was wading through heavy tomes by Eric Metaxes, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Salman Rushdie. Thick as the air I've been breathing this month, they are worthy books in their own right. But, June has been a month of drudgery for me, not a month of reading something exceedingly slowly so as to savor every word.

You can't imagine what a breath of fresh air this book is. It is charming, and fascinating, and speaks to my heart as if Pauls and I have long been friends. He writes of what I know, from Evel Knieval's stunts to feeling like a stranger in this world. He writes with a wit and a tenderness which had me smiling, or blinking away a tear, from one page to the next.

Let's start with this quote: "See: I think Tolstoy was wrong. Unhappy families are all alike. They're all alike in this moment-in this pause before something happens, in the pause before someone reacts. And that pause: It can last seconds or minutes or days or months or years." We have an unhappy family here. Amy Clark and her son Khosi Saqr are happy together; the discordant note comes from Khosi's father. A man with an addiction to gambling, he left her with huge debts to be paid by her family. He left their son with no father to remember.

Now Khosi is an endearing young man who is twenty years of age. He is obsessive-compulsive, but in a way that makes sense to a person who relishes control: lining up his pencils in ascending order, or hanging up his shirts according to color family. He likes order, he needs order, but by the end of the novel he comes to realize that order does not save anyone. "It's such a heinous cliche: Life is fragile.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By JMH on August 9, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A heartwarming story filled with crisp, captivating prose, unexpected moments of humour, and even a few secret Egyptian cooking recipes.

Pauls Toutonghi masterfully shares with us the world of Khosi Saqr, the novel's half-American, half-Egyptian, obsessive-compulsive, completely enchanting hero. Khosi embarks on a brave and imaginative journey in search of his father, and we are along for the ride. Surprising at every corner, this story breaches the gap between two cultures and, speaking to every family's unique blend of brokenness, arrives somewhere strangely familiar to us all.

The vividness of the various realities Khosi inhabits is striking--their colours, their smells, but most of all their people. From Khosi's somewhat irrational American mother to his hilariously tempestuous Egyptian aunts, it is easy to love these characters. Toutonghi says it best: "What a miracle they are, these pictures of us, these evidences of our bodies, carried around in the minds of human beings."
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Erin Gravley on September 3, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I think it's rare to find novels that are both well-written and genuinely funny, but Evel Knievel Days is one of those books. The story, which starts in Montana and ends up in Egypt, and which includes along the way family folklore, Egyptian recipes, and yes, an Evel Knievel show, is very compelling, and the narrator is charming. I very much enjoyed reading this book and can't recommend it enough.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Megan VINE VOICE on April 12, 2013
Format: Hardcover
EVEL KNIEVEL DAYS is both a unique and familiar story. Equal parts coming-of-age story and exploration of heritage, Pauls Toutonghi's novel is unlike anything I've read before -- and even successfully managed to weave an element of magical realism into an otherwise grounded tale. Though very specific to Khosi's divided existence, the novel still holds universal appeal. I read it eagerly, admiring the author's ability to assemble such a diverse but memorable cast.

Here we have Khosi, a funny and erudite young man who spends a whole lotta time with his complicated mother, and he's this slightly awkward, awesome narrator you can't help but love. His (mostly) unrequited crush on his childhood best friend, Natasha, shows us he's more than capable of love -- but his tenuous connection to his father and the Egyptian culture makes him feel quite "in between." Toutonghi allows Khosi to be known to readers without slamming us with too many details -- and I appreciated the way we're given just enough information about what our main man is thinking.

So where does Evel Knievel come into all this? Khosi is an obsessive-compulsive who must find it in himself to take the largest plunge of his life: running off to finally come face-to-face with his ne'er-do-well father. Making that trip is the biggest, scariest leap of his life -- and like Butte's favorite son, Khosi must stare into the chasm, face his fear . . . and do it anyway. Khosi's connection to the famous daredevil felt authentic and well-explored, and I liked that Toutonghi had just enough references to Knievel to tie it together but kept it from getting schlocky.

Though I was a little stumped by the introduction of a ghost/hallucination in the narrative, it's obvious that Khosi's divided heritage is central to the plot.
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