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The Invention of Exile: A Novel Hardcover – August 14, 2014
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Carmela Ciuraru, The New York Times:
“[An] impressive first novel.”
“Rich in history and far-reaching in scope, The Invention of Exile is an achingly painful and all too relevant meditation on what can happen to identity when human beings are crammed inside an unforgiving container of politics, bureaucracy, and fear…[A] wonderful first novel.”
San Francisco Chronicle:
“[An] assured debut…Manko paints a complicated and richly human portrait of the specific loss and separation that borders impose—a timeless subject that resonates with particular relevance in the contemporary moment.”
“A stunning, dream-like exploration of geographical and psychic borders… Manko weaves through time and place poetically, presenting striking images.”
Christian Science Monitor:
“Wistful, perceptive… A poignant tale of an immigrant's loss and longing.”
New York Magazine:
“The summer’s surest candidate for lit-hit crossover.”
“Manko’s debut thrums with longing.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred):
“A superb study of statelessness…Manko brings plenty of energy to this tale…Manko is a tremendous stylist, using clipped, simple sentences to capture Austin’s mindset as his confidence in escape erodes but never entirely fades; Manko’s shift in perspective toward the end of the book reveals just how much the years of exile have weathered him. She deeply explores two complicated questions: What is the impact of years of lacking a country? And how much does this lack reside in our imaginations? A top-notch debut, at once sober and lively and provocative.”
“[A] fine fiction debut… The beating heart of Manko’s story is Austin’s determination to be reunited with his family.”
“Manko’s debut is a potent examination of the costs of pride and fear as well as the redemptive power of familial bonds.”
The Independent (UK):
"Breathless.... Manko's prose and pacing are remarkably assured, rapid when traversing oceans and decades, unbearably tense when Voronkov attempts to re-enter America. 'Paper is stronger than one realises,' is a refrain based in part on the author's family history. With these indelible pages, Manko does her ancestors proud."
Salman Rushdie, author of Joseph Anton and Midnight's Children:
"Vanessa Manko's beautifully written and deeply affecting first novel is the story of a man stranded by history in a strange land, torn away by politics and paranoia from the people he loves, exiled and trapped behind an invisible frontier he dares not cross. Manko ranges expertly between Russia, the USA and Mexico to weave her absorbing tale of emigration, deportation, desperation, paranoia, and finally, improbably, love. The novel reminds one, at times, of Kafka, Ondaatje, and even, in its powerful evocation of marooned isolation, Robinson Crusoe. A brilliant debut."
Colum McCann, author of Transatlantic and Let the Great World Spin:
“Vanessa Manko is a voice for the years to come. Her first novel, The Invention of Exile, is an ambitious tale of a Russian émigré in Mexico City. It is an unflinching portrait of how our lives are structured around the complications of geography, beauty and chance, and, at its core, it is a story about those who live in the double shadows of home and history.”
Siri Hustvedt, author of What I Loved and The Summer Without Men:
“The Invention of Exile is an achingly immediate, sensuous, and psychologically acute novel about a man whose life has been suspended by the madness of American politics. The book moves deftly between past and present and from one consciousness to another to create a narrative of high emotional tension that turns on the fate of its exiled central character, the Russian born 'Austin.' Manko’s tender, compassionate, and wise portrait of this man, who waits and waits and waits to return to the life he was meant to live, continues to reverberate inside me. I suspect I will carry him around with me for years to come.”
Francisco Goldman, author of Say Her Name:
"Only writing like Vanessa Manko's, so finely tuned to subtle and nearly inexpressible emotions, to the whispers of deepest loneliness, to the inner-life of a man cut-off from family and country by the capricious machinery of politics and prejudice, can draw such a secret, marginal, puzzling life out of the shadows, and give it the vivid force and poetry of a universal myth. The novel's depiction of Austin [Voronkov] is so intimate and moving that I felt, as I read, that I was living his desperate life myself. The Invention of Exile is a beautiful, bewitching and profound novel."
Rivka Galchen, author of Atmospheric Distrubances:
"Vanessa Manko's fantastically ambitious and rewarding novel, The Invention of Exile, lovingly and carefully details the terrible but wondrous twining of one man's fate with Russian, Mexican and American history."
Betsy Detwiler, founder of Buttonwood Books in Cohasset, MA:
“Vanessa Manko is a true artist with words. Every locale, every scene, every emotion and interaction of characters is vividly created, all through observation of the small details and habits of daily life. The pain of exile, the loneliness, the futility of Austin Voronkov's efforts to reclaim his life, the injustice of the events which have brought him to his desperate existence; all these weigh more heavily as the story of his months and years brings the tension to a heartbreaking pitch. The ending is so right. On the one hand, so anticlimactic, on the other so fraught with the understanding of what lies ahead for Austin. Manko's writing is stunning, and she is able to move so beautifully between past and present. This is an unforgettable debut.”
About the Author
Vanessa Manko earned her MFA in creative writing from Hunter College. She has taught writing at NYU and SUNY Purchase. An excerpt of her novel was published in Granta's winter 2012 issue. Originally from Brookfield, Connecticut, Manko now lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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He also fails to develop a solid understanding of the Constitution of The United States, the culture of the USA, and the nuances of English language as spoken in the USA. He falls in with labor leaders and union organizers and develops friendships with agitators for union power, socialism, and even with some men who lean toward anarchism and advocate overthrow of governments. The times are in the 1920s and 1930s. Russia is being torn apart by the Red and White Armies and by Bolsheviks and agitators. The Great Depression of the 1930s has created fear and anger in the USA. The lead character in the story gets "married" by repeating a version of vows in private with his common law wife, but never obtains a proper marriage license because he has it in his head that he need not conform to dictates of governments and their bureaucracies. When he is caught up in an operation that results from the "Red Scare" in the late 1920s and into the 1930s, to seize and arrest anarchists , he is unfortunately betrayed by his own ill guided misconceptions about how governments operate and is shipped back to Russia along with his small family who want to remain with their father and husband. I did a little research and found real life examples of deportations of many Russians aboard a freighter taken over for this purpose. The author claims the novel is inspired by her actual family history. The story takes us to Russia and to several countries that become waypoints or long term residencies along the way, hopefully back to the United States. The main character grows in his understanding of the way the world works as he ages in his exile. He places hope in institutions and in his own engineering ability and learns some very hard lessons along the way. Unfortunately, his family suffers along with him --- in his foreign locations which they share ---- and the long, arduous wait to try to get him back into the USA.
Now, one hundred years after the first years in which the novel is set, real people and real narratives of deportation, exile, striving to enter America, are playing out in real time. This novel helps the reader gain an understanding of what it must be like to be in the limbo of an exile without a country of his own, separated from family, career and a predictable life.
Without giving the story away, this was about a Russian engineer to immigrated to the US. Fell in love, got married, and took his wife to Russia to see his home. While in Russia, the war got heated and he tried to come back to the US. He couldn't come back due to his potential association with Communists. So he and his wife moved to Mexico where they thought it would be easier to immigrate to the US. They have some kids, and his wife and kids go back to the US, leaving him in Mexico. They thought it would be a short time before he would be allowed entry. They were wrong. He ends up spending years in Mexico while his wife and kids live in the US.
The main character, Austin, didn't feel fully developed. He made some decisions that could have been put into context with his character a little better. I couldn't quite figure out what about his personality made him make some of his choices. In one way, that is very appropriate. Some people just do things for a reason that you will never understand. But when I'm reading a story, I would like to begin to understand the main character and "feel" why they make their choices. It also felt like their was a plot line developing at the end that was never developed and just fizzled out: Jack the "investigator."
On a side note, the plot line about immigrating to the US seemed very appropriate for today's political climate: a family separated due to an immigration ban from countries opposed to the US.