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The Signal Flame: A Novel Hardcover – January 24, 2017
"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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"Krivak is an extraordinarily elegant writer, with a deep awareness of the natural world. In spare and beautiful prose he evokes an austere landscape, a struggling family and a deep source of pain ... Krivak sets the grandeur of the mountain as a backdrop to the intimate drama of the heart."
—The New York Times Book Review
"A satisfying act of conjuration, the sine qua non of realistic fiction: a vivid rendering of felt life. “The Signal Flame’’ is a complex and layered portrait of a time and place, and a family shaped, generation after generation, by the memory of war."
—The Boston Globe
"There is a deft, scholarly touch to Andrew Krivák’s straightforward writing ... a gripping tale."
—The Buffalo News
"[G]reat fiction ... This beautifully told story will remain with the reader as a haunting and rewarding memory for a very long time."
—The Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Readers will hear some echoes of Faulkner in The Signal Flame, and even more of Kent Haruf in the simplicity, honesty, and wisdom of its prose. But what they'll hear most is the deep, thoughtful, resonant voice of Andrew Krivák, a writer seemingly destined for great things."
—Richard Russo, author of Empire Falls
There are many pleasures to be found in The Signal Flame: The intimacy and love with which Krivak writes about his postage stamp of rural Pennsylvania. His keen sense of time and place, the woods and forests and hills of the Endless Mountains. Page by page the book itself feels like an outgrowth of the soil in in which it is steeped.
—Brad Kessler, author of Birds in Fall
"This is a novel of tremendous sorrow and tremendous beauty. Of love shaped by war, and of how the past haunts the present, and shapes the future. An incandescent work."
—Marlon James, author of A Brief History of Seven Killings
“Andrew Krivák gives us characters and a community that could have come out of The Deer Hunter—men and women challenged by natural and human-made disasters, love and simmering hate. While these small town people confront life’s big questions, the true north of the novel is in the day-to-day, the ordinary, where Krivák has found the extraordinary. A well-crafted novel, elegantly told, The Signal Flame is a testament to Krivák's singular talent.”
—Jesmyn Ward, author of Salvage the Bones and Men We Reaped
“The language in this beautiful book is as textured and rich—as quiet and grand and unforgettable—as its setting: a small Pennsylvania town tucked in the mountains. It isn't often that a story finds me making comparisons to literary greats from the first page. This is one of those books. In the end, what Krivák does is something all his own, and it is a triumph.”
—Maaza Mengiste, author of Beneath the Lion's Gaze
About the Author
Andrew Krivák is the author of The Signal Flame and the National Book Award finalist, The Sojourn, which also won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize and the Chautauqua Prize. He lives with his wife and three children in Somerville, Massachusetts.
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I. THE SIGNAL FLAME is a sequel to Krivak's equally beautiful first novel, THE SOJOURN. So if you loved that book, then you'll love this one too.
II. There are deeply religious overtones - undertones? - to be found here. There are characters named Hannah (grace), Sam (name of god/asked by god/heard by god), and Ruth (friend/companion). All are biblical. Look 'em up. And there is Bo, short for Bohumir, Czech/Slovak for "God is great." Bread is broken often, grace is said, food is blessed. The depiction of a traditional Slovak Christmas Eve feast is mouth-wateringly vivid -
"She served sour mushroom soup, potatoes, cabbage rolls stuffed with rice, prune pirohy, and trout broiled whole and stuffed with lemon and sage."
III. War is always in the background. Jozef Vinich, the family patriarch (who was THE SOJOURN's protagonist), is a survivor of WWI. Bo and Sam's father (also with a connection to the first book), was a WWII deserter who served prison time. It is now 1972, and Sam, a Marine, has gone MIA in Vietnam, leaving his girl friend Ruth behind, pregnant. Here is a sample, which seemed especially moving and apt, since I was watching the Ken Burns PBS documentary, THE VIETNAM WAR, while reading this book -
"When Sam shipped out, Bo and Hannah watched the nightly news, the body counts at the bottom of the screen like the score of a football game, ten-second footage of helicopters flattening out elephant grass and artillery firing into jungles, and then the cut to angry faces of American college kids screaming and shouting to get the hell out of Vietnam."
IV. There is a flood, nearly biblical in its destruction of Dardan, the small Pennsylvania town where the story is set. (Krivak based this on a real flood that devastated the Wilkes-Barre Scranton area in 1972). Ruth is left homeless, and like the biblical Ruth, comes to live with Sam's mother.
But maybe that's enough. I could say more about Bo and Ruth and Hannah, but I don't want to spoil anything. I will say that I was moved to tears more than once by their story. I was often reminded of the rich evocative prose of Reynolds Price, specifically his novel, THE SURFACE OF EARTH. Price was a life-long Biblical scholar, and Krivak, as a young man, spent several years with the Jesuits. Maybe that's the connection I feel here. THE SURFACE OF EARTH was the first novel of what would become the Mayfield trilogy (followed by THE SOURCE OF LIGHT and THE PROMISE OF REST). My fervent hope, having read Krivak's first two novels of the Vinich and Konar families, is that there will be a third. I didn't want this book to end. I relished, savored, LOVED this book. Well done, Mr. Krivak. My highest recommendation.
- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER
THE SOJOURN was an excellent novel, but THE SIGNAL FLAME brought me to my knees with its quiet temperament and thoughtfulness. The sense of loss is never more powerful than when it is withstood and faced with remarkable dignity, and written by the author with a tensile delicacy.
Bo Konar, the primary protagonist, reminded me of an Abraham Lincoln, strong and sensitive, a natural-born intelligent leader, like his grandfather, Joseph Vinich, who came to American from Slovakia in 1919. Faced with life-altering decisions, Bo gained strength from sorrow with the love of family and friends, particularly an exemplary priest, whose friendship and humanity is consonant to his own.
At the opening of the novel, the patriarch, Joseph Vinich, lies in his casket under the roof that has held three generations of his family, the house that he built. Vinich passes down two thousand acres of logging land in Darden, (close to Wilkes-Barre), and worked hard for his prosperity. He came from Slovakia and fought in WW I, and with hard work and good business acumen, became successful.
Although the book begins in 1971, the narrative unpacks its weight gradually, revealing historical details that are salient to the characters and tale, creating a poignant story. Bo was raised primarily by his grandfather, and his mother, Hannah. His father, Hannah’s husband, European born Bex Konar, became an American citizen, went off to fight in WW II when Bo was a baby, and was subsequently reported missing. It was years later when he returned, only to face more tragedy. Now Bo’s brother, Sam, who joined up during the Vietnam War, is missing in action, and has left a pregnant girlfriend, Ruth, in Darden. Bo’s family has a complicated relationship with Ruth’s father.
There are no villains in this story, except maybe the formidable wars and an occasion of destructive weather. This isn’t an “us vs. them,” white hats vs. Black hats story. Instead, it is a portrait of a family and a community, living in the wooded Pennsylvania territory of lumbermen and mills, and the role of nature in the wilderness. This is not an action packed fasten-your-seatbelt story, and yet the subtle and flawless writing captures Bo and his family with flawless precision, a mixture of pointillist images woven together into a cohesive and stunning story.
“The trees were always the first thing his grandfather spoke of in the morning, weaving a forecast for the day based on the curve of leaves or a bird he might see nesting in the branches. Or he would tell a story that began with the planting of a particular sapling…its root pack bound in burlap and sitting in the front seat of his rig like a passenger…”
This is no MFA writing school author—Krivák pens with an exacting fidelity to story and character that seems to come from the deepest reaches of his heart, a soulful contemplation of dignity and compassion through adversity and a soulful benevolence even under the most profound suffering. Within the hardships there is still optimism and faith in mankind. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.