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The Wake of Forgiveness Hardcover – October 21, 2010

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Trade; 1 edition (October 21, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151014434
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151014439
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,318,561 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Product Description
On a moonless Texas night in 1895, an ambitious young landowner suffers the loss of "the only woman he's ever been fond of" when his wife dies during childbirth with the couple's fourth boy, Karel. From an early age Karel proves so talented on horseback that his father enlists him to ride in acreage-staked horseraces against his neighbors. But Karel is forever haunted by thoughts of the mother he never knew, by the bloodshot blame in his father's eyes, and permanently marked by the yoke he and his brothers are forced to wear to plow the family fields. Confident only in the saddle, Karel is certain that the horse "wants the whip the same way he wants his pop's strap . . . the closest he ever gets to his father's touch." In the winter of 1910, Karel rides in the ultimate high-stakes race against a powerful Spanish patriarch and his alluring daughters. Hanging in the balance are his father's fortune, his brother's futures, and his own fate. Fourteen years later, with the stake of the race still driven hard between him and his brothers, Karel is finally forced to dress the wounds of his past and to salvage the tattered fabric of his family.

Reminiscent of Kent Haruf's portrayals of hope amidst human heartbreak and Cormac McCarthy's finely hewn evocations of the American Southwest, Bruce Machart's striking debut is as well wrought as it is riveting. It compels us to consider the inescapable connections between sons and their mothers, between landscape and family, and between remembrance and redemption.

Amazon Exclusive: Hannah Tinti Reviews The Wake of Forgiveness

Hannah Tinti is the author of The Good Thief and Animal Crackers. Read her guest review of The Wake of Forgiveness:

I’ve been a fan of Bruce Machart’s work since 2004, when I read his story "What You’re Walking Around Without" for consideration at One Story magazine. His writing bowled me over with its skill, gripping narrative and pure emotion. At the time, Bruce said he was working on a novel. It took six years to get here, but boy was it worth the wait.

In The Wake of Forgiveness, Bruce Machart tells a story that stretches wide across the Texas landscape. Set at the turn of the century, it follows Karel and his three brothers, whose father drives them hard, yoking his sons as he plows the fields until they all carry a permanent mark on their shoulders. But their father is also a gambler, and he drops his fortune on a high-stakes horse race with Karel as rider. This moonlit race changes their lives forever, especially Karel’s, as he loses not only his father and brothers but his first love, a dark Spanish beauty. Now, fourteen years later, he is forced to bridge the divide with his brothers that opened on that fateful night. This is the gritty world of horses and men, of fathers and sons. Bruce Machart writes with a richness that completely unfolds time and place, leaving behind its own beautiful wake of remembrance, inheritance, and the unbreakable bonds of family.

Amazon Exclusive: Discussion Questions for Wake of Forgiveness

1) 1. The book opens with Karel’s birth, which is also the occasion of his mother’s death. How does this change the family dynamic? How does it introduce the themes of guilt and shame and how do you see these themes continue throughout the book?

2) 2. In the book’s opening pages, we see Sr. Villasenor establish himself at the local bank. When he is condescended to by the banker, how does he get his revenge? How are Villasenor and Skala different sorts of men? How are they the same?

3) 3. Discuss Karel’s relationship with his father. Vaclav never holds his infant son; later, the narrator says, "Karel wanted his pop’s strap, the stinging and unambiguous urgency of its attention, and, for Karel, the closest he got to his father’s touch" (p. 20). Where else do you see the correlation of violence with affection? How else does this correlation play out in Karel’s life?

4) On pages 30–31, Karel recounts a nightmare in which his father is kicked by a horse, then a horseshoe is nailed to his hand. What does this image of crucifixion signify in the story? Vaclav is far from Christ-like, but what sacrifice happens in the book? What redemption?

5) Karel is haunted by the absence of his mother. How does he seek maternal love? How does he confuse maternal love with something else?

6) On page 43, Karel kicks a pregnant cow. Why does he do this? How do we know this act is premeditated? What sorts of connections might Karel have between violence and money, or value? Where would those have come from?

7) The structure of the book is not strictly chronological. Why do you think the author chose to structure the book this way? How do the characters unfold through this broken narrative? What is gained by seeing Karel and the other characters at different points in their lives?

8) Does Karel feel bonded with the Knedlik boys because of the way their fathers died? Was that a reliable trust? When you finally read the scene of Vaclav’s death, is it what you expected? Does this change how you feel about Karel?

9) Discuss the pivotal horserace between Karel and Graciela. What made this race different than any other race? How is this race different than the one Karel ran against the Dalton boy earlier in the book? What are we to understand about Karel’s sportsmanship?

10) After the race, during the fight that ensues between the Skala men, what does the author mean when he says the fight was "flawless in its wickedness"? Why does it feel like this fight was fated? What was gained, and what lost, in the fight?

11) There are a few short passages in the book told from the point of view of Father Carew. Why do you think the author chose to switch the narration for these few moments? What do we gain from his perspective?

12) Raymond Knedlik says to Karel, "'You ain’t got any brothers, Skala, unless you’re talking about me and Joe here. Them others won’t claim you.'" (page 293). What does Karel think of this claim? What does being a brother mean to Karel? What do you think makes men into brothers?

13) The title of the book is “The Wake of Forgiveness.” Who is forgiven? Why? What comes in the “wake of forgiveness”?

Copyright © 2010 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Discussion questions written by Erin Edmison.


"The Wake of Forgiveness impressed me on many levels. The prose is polished and evocative, the physicality of rural Texas in the year 1910 shimmers with loving exactitude, and the story of Karel Skala is a gripping American drama of misplaced guilt, familial struggle, and a search for identity. At the heart of this remarkable novel is a question that is both age old and completely modern: Who am I? What a fine, rich, absorbing book." --Tim O'Brien

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Customer Reviews

Well developed characters.
Ann Rimbey
The Wake of Forgiveness Every once in a great while you come across a book that does all the things you want a book to do.
Richard Wells
It was a nice change, but I think it became a little to much, as it just seemed to drag the story down some.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

61 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Richard Wells on August 30, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"This is the bloodlust of brothers, the vengeful rage of the father, all of it born out and somehow flawless in its wickedness, like some depraved reenactment of Genesis staged solely for the amusement of reprobates." -The Wake of Forgiveness

Every once in a great while you come across a book that does all the things you want a book to do. Prose so sumptuous you hold your breath through whole sections because breathing - even breathing - would disrupt the amazing way a thought is unfolding. A plot with absolutely no holes, that steps surely through event after inexorable event leading you through a story as deep as any Greek or Shakespearian classic. The Wake of Forgiveness is one of those books. It's a Texas- lean epic novel. The story of a Czech family led by a patriarch as cruel and driven as Ahab, and a family of boys physically and emotionally twisted and misshapen by the hard labor and rigid disciplines their father forces upon them.

The Wake of Forgiveness is about hard men with broken hearts, and intentions that may seem evil but are born out of harsh lives in a harsh environment. It is also about the only gentling agents in the environment - women and children. It's about how forgiveness can catch us in its wake, and bring us a little closer to shore, and most importantly, it's about what I think every great work of fiction is about - redemption that rises against all odds from soul breaking struggle.

Against what would seem to be all possibility Bruce Machart writes of these men with great affection because their actions, both gentle and monstrous, are motivated, and even seem necessary considering what has befallen them.

I'm going to re-read this one right away, and it's going to live on my shelves, handy for readings in the future.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Pasiphae on October 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Vaclav Skala is widowed and embittered. He hitches his four strong sons to the plow because he loves his race horses too much to yoke them. One afternoon, as his sons strain at the bit and he reminds them with the whip to pull hard, a man with three lovely daughters shows up and offers a wager that is impossible to resist, and impossible to win without destroying the Vaclav's stunted family.

This is a novel about the ways in which humans are bent and hurt by their lives. It contains enough mud, physical injury, damage to women, suffering animals and death for ten novels. And yet the prose rings heavy with beauty. Sprinkled through the harsh sex and rough revenge are perfectly worded observations about family, history, religion and forgiveness. The riding scenes are transportingly physical and detailed. Somehow, a hopeful story emerges out of all this brutality and pain.

I thought of Carson McCullers, Flannery O'Connor, Cormac McCarthy, Annie Proulx. This is a novel for a reader who likes dense writing and the crack of bones under the muscle. Highly recommended, but not for the faint of heart.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Philip Dean on October 14, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The editor of this novel, Adrienne Brodeur, has mentioned publicly her enthusiasm for Jim Harrison's Legends of the Fall (for me, *the* textbook collection of the contemporary long story, or novella, form) and Norman MacLean's A River Runs Through It, and I think these associations are meaningful. Another way to look at that is that about once per decade a new talent emerges who is willing to, and can, address the movement of men through a remote landscape and time. There are exotic and fascinating women in this novel, but it is a novel about men being threatened (some crushed) by their own passions, and their own land, not to mention their own humanity which is shot through with vulnerabilities.

Some have linked Machart with Cormac McCarthy in purpose and effect, but I think that is an ill-wind of an association. While both place stories in Texas and include -- gosh! -- guns, horses and women, I think such a comparison says more about a coastal, urban, somewhat effete impression of content, rather than any understanding of what Machart appears to be trying to do. I would put Machart, again, in the Harrison/MacLean/maybe McMurtry tradition -- a tradition perhaps originating in the plainstyle of Stephen Crane and Sherwood Anderson, not the writerly baroque of a Faulkner/McCarthy.

But whatever. Machart deserves to be read and enjoyed for his own virtues, not praised by association and some presumed literary history context. It's very unusual to read something that offers both an historical portrait of a place, and a deep, complex, emotionally dangerous narrative of men and women living at risk -- at risk of their own desires, their own smallness in the face of a richly detailed nature, their own capacity or lack of capacity to have faith.
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37 of 45 people found the following review helpful By WestGrl VINE VOICE on October 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover
There are many positives of this story including the talent of the writer. The historical aspect of this book is amazing, you can see & feel everything about this time. The language will make you feel you are right there with the characters. For all of these reasons, I applaud the author & know he has a promising future. The reason I only gave this 3 stars is because this is a very hard story. 99% of the characters are unlikeable due to cruelty. If you are looking for a light or happy read, it's definitely not here. There was also not much interaction between the characters, mainly focusing on descriptions of places, thoughts to one self, explanations of certain scenes being witnessed. While the author has a talent for this, sometimes it just seemed to go on too long & I began to get bored. Towards the end is when I was finally hooked, finding some likable qualities in some of the characters & more interaction between them. I am truly torn as to whether I liked this book in the end. I guess I can only say that I was able to appreciate the quality of the writing but the story was just too dark & cruel for me.
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More About the Author

BRUCE MACHART's fiction has appeared in Zoetrope: All-Story, Glimmer Train, Story, One-Story, and elsewhere, and has been anthologized in Best Stories of the American West. A graduate of the MFA program at Ohio State University, he currently lives and teaches in Houston.

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