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45 of 48 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Coming of age in Austria-Hungary during the Great War
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,...
Published on April 26, 2011 by "switterbug" Betsey Va...

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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hemingway-esque run on sentences galore~
As other reviewers have noted, this is a coming of age novel about a couple of young Austro-Hungarian boys (ethnic Slovaks) during World War One. The setting was interesting because we have a plethora of novels in the US about the Western front (since most English and Americans were fighting that front), but few concerning the Southern front. So naturally, I found this...
Published on December 19, 2011 by Christopher Barrett


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45 of 48 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Coming of age in Austria-Hungary during the Great War, April 26, 2011
This review is from: The Sojourn (Paperback)
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 in rural Austria-Hungary. 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.

This review is based on an ARC received from the publisher.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great War Novel, August 25, 2011
This review is from: The Sojourn (Paperback)
I picked up this book reluctantly, but I never looked back. What an excellent novel. Actually it's more than a war story. It is so much better than what passes for historical fiction, and deals with a part of World War I that few know about and a section of Europe that is often overlooked. This is a serious book that should be read.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Much more than a war story., November 24, 2011
This review is from: The Sojourn (Paperback)
The Sojourn is much much more than just a war story. While it is one of the most descriptive and profound reflections of war without being judgemental that I have read, the novel primarily offers a generational view of a father and son. It follows their relationship through birth, death, poverty, and the horror of war, portraying their inner thoughts and their love as it changes and grows. It is the story of two men, trying to find themselves while staying true. Since they are father and son, their search represents the growth and continuation of a family lineage that I am sure continues to this day. Their reflections and revelations are enough to inspire me to think about my father and what he must have gone through, having his father fight in World War 1, or at least the Russian Revolution. The complexities and challenges of the father's and son's relationship inspires me to seek reconciliation and peace. Finally, it is a story of hope, regeneration and of being a part of something that is greater than one lifetime.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Slim little volume packs a punch, November 26, 2011
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Bryan (Ellicott City, MD) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Sojourn (Paperback)
The Sojourn is not a happy story- its characters in the backwaters of the Austro-Hungarian empire lead harsh, brutal lives. But Krivak's writing is excellent; his sentences are models of economy and description that a lot of bloviating authors should emulate. It was also a nice change of pace to read a WWI novel that wasn't set on the Western Front- amazing that an empire with something like six official languages could field a cohesive army at all. The only thing I wondered about were the references to the "hated Italians". I wish there had been a little explanation of the history there.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nearly Perfect WWI Novel, December 15, 2011
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This review is from: The Sojourn (Paperback)
The Sojourn is about war on every level. The personal wars that we wage against ourselves, the wars within a family, wars within a groups of men and war at the global level. And what keeps coming to me after reading this amazing little book is that all of these wars are based on necessity. Sometimes we need to go to war against ourselves so that we can be free of history and the weights that others have hung around our necks. Jozef literally caries his anger and aggression with him in the form of his adopted brother, Zlee. And when Jozef finds himself without Zlee, his anger vanishes and he is forced to experience a sort of baptism by starvation, exhaustion and brutal war.

Once he comes out of the war, Jozef finds himself a prisoner of war where he is alone with himself, left to sort through the baggage of war and loss. His post-prison journey provides the opportunity for rebirth and a chance to find redemption.

I loved The Sojourn so much. The writing is gorgeous and I can see why this was put on the short list for the National Book Award. The scenes that book-end the war are beautiful and full of color while the war section is bleak, brutal and unforgiving. The book ends with redemption and hope and not in a way that seems saccharine, but very real. I highly recommend reading it for yourself.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hemingway-esque run on sentences galore~, December 19, 2011
This review is from: The Sojourn (Paperback)
As other reviewers have noted, this is a coming of age novel about a couple of young Austro-Hungarian boys (ethnic Slovaks) during World War One. The setting was interesting because we have a plethora of novels in the US about the Western front (since most English and Americans were fighting that front), but few concerning the Southern front. So naturally, I found this interesting.

What I didn't really find all that interesting were the characters. Jozef in particular seemed very 'flat'. The novel is set as if an older Jozef is remembering his past. The story is told in a very matter of fact manner. It is almost a documentary style, revealing little emotion. Though the style is reminiscent of Hemingway (more on that in a moment), I feel that Hemingway seems to draw the reader in with his wonderful characterization.

The novel is less than 200 pages and on a pretty small page, so it's a pretty quick read. Often there are short flashes of brilliance in writing, such as the line "...and I hoped, for his sake, that Lieutenant Holub would see battle soon and that it would be fierce and unrelenting and that he would die quickly and well." See what I mean about Hemingway though?

The middle of the book is marred by exceptionally long run on sentences. The only reason it bothers me is that often they are totally unnecessary and strain the overall reading/thought process. For example, here is a rather long one that actually starts off a new section of the novel:

"The northwestern Carpathians, in which I was raised, were a hard place, as unforgiving as the people who lived there, but the Alpine landscape into which Zlee and I were sent that early winter seemed a glimpse of what the surface of the earth looked and felt and acted like when there were no maps or borders, no rifles or artillery, no men or wars to claim possession of the land, and snow and rock alone parried in a match of millennial slowness so that time meant nothing, and death meant nothing, for what life there was gave in to the forces of nature surrounding and accepted its fate to play what role was handed down in the sidereal march of seasons capable of crushing in an instant what armies might - millennia later - be foolish enough to assemble on it heights."

That was one sentence and yes, "it heights" is how the line ends. Syntax error and all. Not that I didn't enjoy the book, it was just a chore there in the middle to plod through some of the unnecessarily long sentences. It seems that Krivak was flexing his creative writing professor muscle a little too much at times.

But I give three stars because: it was Krivak's first novel, and first novels are a good indication of an author's style and his potential, which I feel is high; it covers an interesting time and locale that many Western novels don't delve into; and it has some moments of brilliance mixed in. It really seemed as if the novel were written with a film adaptation in mind...

Since it is a shorter work, it is worthy of a read. It only took my a couple of afternoons to read it through. Not a National Book Award finalist in my opinion (I've read the others from this year), but a very good first novel from an author I would like to see publish more work in the future.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars All Quiet on the Italian Front, June 4, 2012
This review is from: The Sojourn (Paperback)
I've read some of the reviews of The Sojourn that compare it to Hemingway's Italian war novels, but I think that's the wrong comparison. I think the better comparison is with All Quiet on the Western Front. The Sojourn is about a couple of guys who are trying to survive the war in the best way they can, recognizing the hardships and suffering of the average soldier. Hemingway's novels, especially A Farewell to Arms, were about the futility of war, while All Quiet and The Sojourn describe both winning and losing, being good at soldiering and the agony of losing.

Zlee and Jozef enter the war against the wishes of Jozef's father, and become recognized for their marksmanship. They become snipers and are proficient at the work, but are eventually sent to an isolated fort where the soldiers are beset by a sniper themselves. The boys set out to trap the sniper and end up trapped themselves. Jozef eventually finds himself in the front lines, as cannon fodder.

Jozef is taken prisoner and lives out the rest of the war in Sardinia. At the end of the war he is released and sets out on a long journey to his home.
Back in Southern Europe he saves a young Gypsy girl from abuse by soldiers, and befriends her as they both hope to return home. This part of the novel reminds me a lot of the end of Gone with the Wind, where the vanquished soldiers and citizens are left to fend for themselves. Jozef ends up back in his small village, where his evil step-mother tells him his father has died and left him nothing but a small wallet. The evil step-mother is why I can't give this novel five stars. She felt out of place and unnecessary for the novel to work.

Jozef discovers that his father has secreted something for him, in fact two gifts. The first is a small amount of gold, and the second is the fact that Jozef is an American citizen. Jozef's father had lived in America before the war and returned to the Austria-Hungarian empire at the start of the new century. Jozef embarks on yet another sojourn - to reach his new American home.

Many experts have remarked that embedded in all good stories is the story of a journey. In this novel there are at least four journies - Jozef's father returning to Europe, Jozef and Zlee entering the army, Jozef's return to his native village and his onward journey to America. The book is written in a nice lyrical format, easy to read and with compelling characters, except, as I have noted for the caricature of the evil step-mother. For a first novel this one is a beauty. We should all look forward to more from Krivak.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Walking these Hills, November 15, 2012
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This review is from: The Sojourn (Paperback)
My favorable impression of "The Sojourn" stems largely from the background, history, and affection for the place and people chronicled here, all of which the author, Andrew Krivak, and I seem to have in common.

But the story is a good one, too. Briefly, this is the tale of two Slovak boys, united by tragedy and in hardship, who set off to war. Themes of sin and grace, challenge and survival, fate and free will, identity and meaning, as well as some gorgeous, wild territory are all explored here. But the novella's true strength for me comes from its treatment of that most universal topos, the desire, the pull, homeward.

National Book Award short-list? I don't know about things like that. I'm certainly glad to see it, but I also wouldn't mind if Slovakia couldn't avoid the broader gaze and remain a secret a while longer. Krivak's graceful, poignant, and - at least to my accounting, accurate - little book may just serve to guard the mystery.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An American Tale, March 12, 2012
By 
Tyouth (SW Florida) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Sojourn (Kindle Edition)
that may call to mind people, gone now, that immigrated to this country early in the last century and late in the 19th century, in general, and from eastern Europe particularly. The author's use of the language is the best I've read for a long while- a real nice flow. A very good short novel about a boy growing up before and during WW I.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Heart and Mind Meet, February 20, 2012
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This review is from: The Sojourn (Kindle Edition)
Years from now you will remember this heartfelt narrative because it stays in one's soul keeping it on a true course for heart and mind. This man knows how to write.
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The Sojourn
The Sojourn by Andrew Krivak (Paperback - April 19, 2011)
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