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The House of Widows: An Oral History

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The House of Widows: An Oral History Cover

ISBN13: 9781555974916
ISBN10: 1555974910
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Synopses & Reviews

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A novel of intrigue that is played across decades, continents, and generations by the celebrated, New York Times Notable author of Ambassador of the Dead
 
Late one night, a week after Fathers suicide, I finished sweeping the bulk of my inheritance into four giant trash bags, and heaved them into the Dumpster at the construction site around the corner from his apartment. Then I sat down at the two-person coffee table in the middle of his kitchen, the fluorescent light loud as cicadas, and examined the three

things Id kept.

The three things that James kept are his fathers British military uniform, an oversize glass jar, and a letter written in a language he cant read. They become the keys to unlocking the door on a past James never imagined while growing up amid the security of Bostons north shore, and they send him on an odyssey across England, Austria, and Ukraine. Along the way, he meets his dying aunt Vera, the matriarch of a mysterious branch of the family. His mission puts him face-to-face with the international sex trade, a displaced Palestinian girl with streaked pink hair and attitude to spare, and a violent world in which he is ultimately implicated. From old America, new Europe, and the timeless Middle East, James learns what it means to live in the webbed world of the twenty-first century.

In The House of Widows, Askold Melnyczuk offers a searing exploration of the individuals role in the inexorable assault of history.

Askold Melnyczuk is the director of creative writing at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. He is the author of two other novels, What Is Told and Ambassador of the Dead. He also teaches in the Graduate Writing Seminars at Bennington College.
His father's British military uniform, an oversize glass jar, and a letter written in a language he can't read: these are the only things James kept of his inheritance after his father's untimely death. They become the keys to unlocking the door on a past James never imagined while growing up amid the security of Boston's north shore, and they send him on an odyssey across England, Austria, and Ukraine. Along the way, he meets his dying aunt Vera, the matriarch of a mysterious branch of the family. His mission puts him face-to-face with the international sex trade, a displaced Palestinian girl with streaked pink hair and attitude to spare, and a violent world in which he is ultimately implicated. From old America, new Europe, and the timeless Middle East, James learns what it means to live in the webbed world of the twenty-first century. In The House of Widows, Askold Melnyczuk offers a searing exploration of the individual's role in the inexorable assault of history.
"Melnyczuk is a master at sustaining intrigue; the waiting is delightfully agonizing rather than tedious. He writes so precisely about secrets and betrayals that a reader's desire for instant gratification seems like a cheap impulse worth letting go of . . . It's a beautiful novel and redemptive in its own way—even though, by the end, the protagonist is left bruised by life's harsh and undeniable truths"—Carmela Ciuraru, Los Angeles Times
"The House of Widows is an absorbing, meditative exploration of the 20th century's horrific history, reflected in the dark secrets and painful dislocations of one family. Melnyczuk delves deeply into the mysterious life and suicide of Andrew Pak, a Ukrainian refugee who's adopted by a well-to-do British family, joins the British Army during World War II, and later flees to Boston's North Shore. Melnyczuk, director of creative writing at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, tells this brilliant story from shifting narrative points of view, including Andrew's and that of his son James, who witnessed his father's suicide . . . Melnyczuk's The House of Widows is a small gem of a novel that's filled with more crucial questions about the meaning and psychological impact of history than a hundred textbooks. As Voltaire once wrote, history is the set of lies commonly agreed upon. We can stop the lying too, if we're able to accept the darker truths the past reveals."—Chuck Leddy, The Boston Globe
 
"From its puzzling opening line ('The most common grammatical error is the lie'), there's an ominous vibe to Askold Melnyczuk's third novel, The House of Widows, and the sense of unease lingers until the final sentence. It's a mysterious, masterfully taut story in which dread plays a prominent role . . . Melnyczuk is a master at sustaining intrigue; the waiting is delightfully agonizing rather than tedious. He writes so precisely about secrets and betrayals that a reader's desire for instant gratification seems like a cheap impulse worth letting go of . . . That Melnyczuk manages to bring together so many strands of plot, all revealed and pondered through the troubled, fascinating psyche of James, is remarkable. Not only does the author explore the consequences of secrets in the context of personal history, but he also delves into how governmental cover-ups, especially in wartime, destroy lives. It's a beautiful novel and redemptive in its own way—even though, by the end, the protagonist is left bruised by life's harsh and undeniable truths."—Carmela Ciuraru, Los Angeles Times
 
"Brisk, lyrical writing and a winning narrator make The House of Widows irresistible. A son's quest to understand his father's suicide, and so to excavate a family history extinguished by the exigencies of the new world, make it exceptional."—Jhumpa Lahiri
 
"Melnyczuk's lyrical, lush prose—and harmonious dialogue—lure in the reader, but he's careful not to let the language become overblown, a feat that can be traced back to Melnyczuk's career as a poet. As in his previous novels, Widows explores the lives of Ukrainian children in America and the ghosts that haunt their parents—modern dramatic story telling at its finest."—Beth Dugan, Time Out Chicago 
 
"To divulge the plot twists of The House of Widows would be to deprive readers of one of the most compelling stories available this year. Askold Melnyczuk weaves a tale that has all the richness of Doctor Zhivago meeting The Odessa File . . . The House of Widows is a fine example of protagonist-driven literature. It is engrossing and involving. Like Paz we are not exactly sure of ourselves on every step, and equally as wide-eyed at every new piece of information that confronts him. Melnyczuk is a superb story-teller and an even better stylist. His sentences are concrete and clean, his control of detail seemingly effortless, his cast of supporting characters idiosyncratically human. This book deserves to be around for a long time."—Dex Westrum, Journal Sentinel (Milwaukee)
 
"The House of Widows is a dazzling novel, rich with fascinating characters, whose search for love and truth carries them from country to country, uncovering terrible secrets, and in the course of their journey revealing much about the history of the last half-century."—Howard Zinn
 
"The House of Widows is Askold Melnyczuk's masterwork. It is a compelling story of fathers and sons and family ties in general, brimming with adventure, international intrigue, mystery, true historical events, and memorable characters from all walks of life. A novel of great scope and great wisdom, The House of Widows shows how, even in the presence of the worst atrocities imaginable, human beings are still capable of hope and love. Written in the tradition of Tolstoy, Dickens, and Hemingway, The House of Widows represents serious contemporary fiction at its best."—Howard Frank Mosher
 
"Askold Melnyczuk's The House of Widows is a bewitching maze of storytelling that takes its postwar American hero on journeys to and through Europe to discover the secrets of earlier generations of his family. In so doing he comes across the would-be secret places of recent and contemporary European history — the betrayals, the uprootings, the iniquities, the cover-ups that seem to be demanded if individuals or organizations are to survive. But there is also, at moments, the 'light of a flickering candle' by which we can read and be heartened by the images that play on the wall of our cave. A mind-expanding book."—Nicholas Mosley

Review:

"Melnyczuk's ambitious third novel is a soulful noir about the damaging effects of history on one man's psyche. Cynical historian James Pak lives in Vienna and is still deeply affected by his father Andrew's suicide 16 years ago, and his confessional narrative, told mostly in flashbacks, fills the reader in on why he's still reeling. Just after Andrew's death, James takes possession of three of his dead father's belongings (a letter written in an unfamiliar language, a glass jar and military identification papers) and sets out to exhume his father's past. His pilgrimage leads him from Boston to England, Austria and Ukraine, and entangles him with Andrew's childhood friend, Marian, and her charge, Selena, a Palestinian woman with a twisted backstory. James encounters a branch of his father's family he never knew existed, and as he discovers the significance of the jar and military papers and the contents of the letter, his family's hidden past comes into sharp focus. James is a strikingly observant and literate guide to a world full of unsavory characters and nearly devoid of joy. Melnyczuk (What Is Told; Ambassador of the Dead) doesn't let anyone — especially the reader — off easy." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Synopsis:

A novel of intrigue that is played across decades, continents, and generations by the celebrated, New York Times Notable author of Ambassador of the Dead
 
Late one night, a week after Father's suicide, I finished sweeping the bulk of my inheritance into four giant trash bags, and heaved them into the Dumpster at the construction site around the corner from his apartment. Then I sat down at the two-person coffee table in the middle of his kitchen, the fluorescent light loud as cicadas, and examined the three

things I'd kept.

The three things that James kept are his father's British military uniform, an oversize glass jar, and a letter written in a language he can't read. They become the keys to unlocking the door on a past James never imagined while growing up amid the security of Boston's north shore, and they send him on an odyssey across England, Austria, and Ukraine. Along the way, he meets his dying aunt Vera, the matriarch of a mysterious branch of the family. His mission puts him face-to-face with the international sex trade, a displaced Palestinian girl with streaked pink hair and attitude to spare, and a violent world in which he is ultimately implicated. From old America, new Europe, and the timeless Middle East, James learns what it means to live in the webbed world of the twenty-first century.

In The House of Widows, Askold Melnyczuk offers a searing exploration of the individual's role in the inexorable assault of history.

About the Author

Askold Melnyczuk is the director of creative writing at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. He is the author of two other novels, What Is Told and Ambassador of the Dead. He also teaches in the Graduate Writing Seminars at Bennington College.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 1 comment:

tracyab, September 13, 2009 (view all comments by tracyab)
This novel has a bit of everything: a dark family secret, a romance, international intrigue and more, all written in beautiful, sharp prose. This is fiction that gives you something to think about and, at the same time, takes you on a page-turning adventure. More people need to read this.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9781555974916
Author:
Melnyczuk, Askold
Publisher:
Graywolf Press
Subject:
General
Subject:
General Fiction
Subject:
Fathers and sons
Subject:
Family
Subject:
Death
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Psychological fiction
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade Paper
Publication Date:
20080331
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
256
Dimensions:
8.56 x 6.5 x 0.755 in

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

The House of Widows: An Oral History New Trade Paper
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Product details 256 pages Graywolf Press - English 9781555974916 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Melnyczuk's ambitious third novel is a soulful noir about the damaging effects of history on one man's psyche. Cynical historian James Pak lives in Vienna and is still deeply affected by his father Andrew's suicide 16 years ago, and his confessional narrative, told mostly in flashbacks, fills the reader in on why he's still reeling. Just after Andrew's death, James takes possession of three of his dead father's belongings (a letter written in an unfamiliar language, a glass jar and military identification papers) and sets out to exhume his father's past. His pilgrimage leads him from Boston to England, Austria and Ukraine, and entangles him with Andrew's childhood friend, Marian, and her charge, Selena, a Palestinian woman with a twisted backstory. James encounters a branch of his father's family he never knew existed, and as he discovers the significance of the jar and military papers and the contents of the letter, his family's hidden past comes into sharp focus. James is a strikingly observant and literate guide to a world full of unsavory characters and nearly devoid of joy. Melnyczuk (What Is Told; Ambassador of the Dead) doesn't let anyone — especially the reader — off easy." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Synopsis" by ,
A novel of intrigue that is played across decades, continents, and generations by the celebrated, New York Times Notable author of Ambassador of the Dead
 
Late one night, a week after Father's suicide, I finished sweeping the bulk of my inheritance into four giant trash bags, and heaved them into the Dumpster at the construction site around the corner from his apartment. Then I sat down at the two-person coffee table in the middle of his kitchen, the fluorescent light loud as cicadas, and examined the three

things I'd kept.

The three things that James kept are his father's British military uniform, an oversize glass jar, and a letter written in a language he can't read. They become the keys to unlocking the door on a past James never imagined while growing up amid the security of Boston's north shore, and they send him on an odyssey across England, Austria, and Ukraine. Along the way, he meets his dying aunt Vera, the matriarch of a mysterious branch of the family. His mission puts him face-to-face with the international sex trade, a displaced Palestinian girl with streaked pink hair and attitude to spare, and a violent world in which he is ultimately implicated. From old America, new Europe, and the timeless Middle East, James learns what it means to live in the webbed world of the twenty-first century.

In The House of Widows, Askold Melnyczuk offers a searing exploration of the individual's role in the inexorable assault of history.

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