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The Incendiaries: A Novel Paperback – July 30, 2019

3.8 out of 5 stars 425 ratings

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Editorial Reviews


ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: Buzzfeed, The Today Show, NPR, The Atlantic, LitHub, Electric Lit, PBS Books, Nylon, Bustle, Vulture, Entertainment Weekly, Real Simple, Newsweek, BBC

“Kwon is a writer of many talents, and
The Incendiaries is a debut of dark, startling beauty.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“Disarmingly propulsive.” —

“A singular version of the campus novel … a story about spiritual uncertainty and about the fierce and undisciplined desire of [Kwon’s] young characters to find something luminous to light their
way through their lives.” —
NPR’s “Fresh Air”

“Scintillating... Kwon writes dazzlingly about the bewilderment of desire.” 
—O, the Oprah Magazine

“If you only read one book this summer, make it this complex and searing debut novel." —
Southern Living

“[With] a fairy-tale quality reminiscent of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History … [The Incendiaries is] the rare depiction of belief that doesn’t kill the thing it aspires to by trying too hard. It makes a space, and then steps away to let the mystery in.” —The New Yorker

“A juicy look at campus mores…Kwon delivers a poignant and powerful look into the millenial mindset.” —
NPR Books

“Certain literary circles have been buzzing about R.O. Kwon’s
The Incendiaries for months. And this slim, intense novel is the rare book that lives up to its pre-publication hype.” —Los Angeles Times

“One of those slim novels that contains multitudes, R.O. Kwon’s debut novel shows how unreliable we are as narrators when we’re trying to invent — and reinvent — ourselves." —

“If you haven't had a chance to pick up one of the buzziest novels of summer, take Emma Roberts' — and my — word for it: you can't miss The Incendiaries.” —Bustle

“In R.O. Kwon’s terrific new novel The Incendiaries, a cultist looks for meaning in tragedy. Kwon’s debut is a shiningly ambitious look at how human beings try to fill the holes in their lives.” —Vox

“Kwon’s lush imaginative project … [is to expose] the reactionary impulses that run through American life…[creating] an impression of the mysterious social forces and private agonies that might drive a person to extremes.” —The New Republic

“The main attraction and reward of this book is Kwon’s prose. Spiky, restless and nervously perceptive, it exhales spiritual unease.”—Wall Street Journal

“Kwon’s multi-faceted narrative portrays America’s dark, radical strain, exploring the lure of fundamentalism, our ability to be manipulated, and what can happen when we’re willing to do anything for a cause.” —

"Deeply engrossing."—
PBS Books

“Remarkable…Every page blooms with sensuous language…These are characters in quiet crisis, burning, above all, to know themselves, and Kwon leads them, confidently, to an enthralling end.”—
Paris Review

 “A God-haunted, willful, strange book written with a kind of savage elegance. I've said it before, but now I'll shout it from the rooftops: R. O. Kwon is the real deal.”
Lauren Groff, author of Fates and Furies and Florida

“Every explosive requires a fuse. That’s R. O. Kwon’s novel, a straight, slow-burning fuse. To read her novel is to follow an inexorable flame coming closer and closer to the object it will detonate—the characters, the crime, the story, and, ultimately, the reader.”
Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of The Sympathizer and The Refugees

The Incendiaries probes the seductive and dangerous places to which we drift when loss unmoors us. In dazzlingly acrobatic prose, R. O. Kwon explores the lines between faith and fanaticism, passion and violence, the rational and the unknowable.”
Celeste Ng, author of Little Fires Everywhere and Everything I Never Told You 

"Absolutely electric, something new in the firmament. Everyone should read this book."
Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You

“A swift, sensual novel about the unraveling of a collegiate relationship and its aftermath. Kwon writes gracefully about the spiritual insecurities of millennials.”
Karan Mahajan, author of The Association of Small Bombs

“A classic love triangle between two tormented college students and God. 
The Incendiaries brings us, page by page, from quiet reckonings with shame and intimacy to a violent, grand tragedy. In a conflagration of lyrical prose, R. O. Kwon skillfully evokes the inherent extremism of young love."
Tony Tulathimutte, author of Private Citizens

“An impressive, assured debut about the hope for personal and political revolution and all the unexpected ways it flickers out. Kwon has vital things to say about the fraught times we live in.”
Jenny Offill, author of Dept. of Speculation
“A profound, intricate exploration of how grief and lost faith and the vulnerable storm of youth can drive people to irrevocable extremes, told with a taut intensity that kept me up all night. R.O. Kwon is a thrilling writer, and her splendid debut is unsettled, irresistible company.” 
Laura van den Berg, author of The Isle of Youth and Find Me

About the Author

R. O. Kwon is a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellow. The Incendiaries is her first novel, and it was named a best book of the year by over forty publications. Her writing is published in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Paris Review, Buzzfeed, New York Magazine, NPR, and elsewhere. Born in South Korea, she has lived most of her life in the United States.
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Product details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Riverhead Books; Reprint edition (July 30, 2019)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 240 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0735213909
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0735213906
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 6.4 ounces
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 5.14 x 0.61 x 8 inches
  • Customer Reviews:
    3.8 out of 5 stars 425 ratings

About the author

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R.O. Kwon is the nationally bestselling author of The Incendiaries. Named a best book of the year by over forty publications, The Incendiaries is being translated into seven languages. Kwon and Garth Greenwell coedited the bestselling Kink, which is a New York Times Notable Book and the recipient of the inaugural Joy Award. Kwon is a National Endowment for the Arts fellow, and her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, Vanity Fair, and The Paris Review. Born in Seoul, Kwon has lived most of her life in the United States.

Customer reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5
425 global ratings

Top reviews from the United States

Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on September 4, 2018
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4.0 out of 5 stars Really strong debut!!
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on September 4, 2018
The Incendiaries was by far one of my most anticipated reads of 2018, and I devoured this book in less than 24 hours! I will say from the outset that I am very glad I did not read the blurb for this, the New York Times Books had a comment in a recent instagram story about there being a major plot spoiler there and to avoid reading! While I don't think it was fatal (and in the interests of #nospoilers I won't share it here!), I did think it shared more than it needed to and I would likewise encourage you to avoid it ahead of the novel itself.

This is a narrative principally rooted in a discussion of faith and what that means to the three characters we follow. John Leal was kidnapped and spent months in a prison camp in North Korea, an experience which changed his own perception of faith and ultimately has led him to form a cult, the Jejah. Phoebe is a college student, and in many ways her relationship (or lack thereof) with her estranged father (a Christian leader) and life experiences up until that point set her on a course of searching for a sense of purpose and faith. The third perspective is that of Will, who has lost his faith but pursues meaning in his relationship with Phoebe. Russel (Ink and Paper) has filmed a review and discusses the manifestations of faith in the novel really brilliantly, so I encourage you to check that out.

I found the premise of the story fascinating, and a really unique take on a cult narrative. I think I went into this thinking that Phoebe's perspective would be the strongest, but was pleasantly surprised to find it was Will who really drove the reader's understanding and experience with the plot. I found John's chapters difficult to connect with - they were the only ones told from a third person perspective, and as the novel progressed and the activities of the cult became more mysterious, they became shorter and shorter (I recall one chapter being just one sentence). I enjoyed Will's chapters the most, and I found his character the most developed in the sense that I felt we went on his journey with him. While this made the novel highly readable, and the constant change in perspectives compelled me to tear through it so quickly, I felt like it invested the narrative in Will's perspective to the detriment of Phoebe particularly. As we see the cult take more hold of Phoebe, I felt like I wanted more of her thought-process, and instead I felt like her chapters became more cryptic. I also found that she started referring to herself in third person perspective toward the end of the novel, while her chapters were told from the first person perspective. I assumed this was to demonstrate part of the cult taking hold of her (and confusing as thoughts vs. dialogue were not always easy to discern in the absence of quotation marks), but did find it a little jarring.

I really enjoyed this book and eagerly anticipate Reese's next book already!
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Top reviews from other countries

4.0 out of 5 stars Destined for a good Korea!
Reviewed in the United Kingdom 🇬🇧 on September 17, 2018
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5.0 out of 5 stars Intoxicating and memorable - five stars
Reviewed in the United Kingdom 🇬🇧 on February 16, 2019
Cal Peter
2.0 out of 5 stars Not a fan
Reviewed in the United Kingdom 🇬🇧 on January 28, 2019
renan Colombini
5.0 out of 5 stars A escrita desse livro é fenomenal.
Reviewed in Brazil 🇧🇷 on October 17, 2018
Pierre Legrand
3.0 out of 5 stars Not so good.
Reviewed in Canada 🇨🇦 on September 1, 2018