To call The Incendiaries a love story would be an oversimplification. There is love, yes, but there is also the darkness beyond that, where love crosses the line into obsession, and faith into fanaticism, and pain into annihilation. R. O. Kwon doesn't waste a single word, with prose sharp enough to draw blood and a distinctive, fully realized voice. I fully expect this to be one of the most-discussed debuts of 2018! Recommended By Lauren P., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
"In dazzlingly acrobatic prose, R. O. Kwon explores the lines between faith and fanaticism, passion and violence, the rational and the unknowable." — Celeste Ng, New York Times bestselling author of Little Fires Everywhere
A powerful, darkly glittering novel about violence, love, faith, and loss, as a young Korean American woman at an elite American university is drawn into acts of domestic terrorism by a cult tied to North Korea.
Phoebe Lin and Will Kendall meet their first month at prestigious Edwards University. Phoebe is a glamorous girl who doesn't tell anyone she blames herself for her mother's recent death. Will is a misfit scholarship boy who transfers to Edwards from Bible college, waiting tables to get by. What he knows for sure is that he loves Phoebe.
Grieving and guilt-ridden, Phoebe is increasingly drawn into a religious group — a secretive extremist cult — founded by a charismatic former student, John Leal. He has an enigmatic past that involves North Korea and Phoebe's Korean American family. Meanwhile, Will struggles to confront the fundamentalism he's tried to escape, and the obsession consuming the one he loves. When the group bombs several buildings in the name of faith, killing five people, Phoebe disappears. Will devotes himself to finding her, tilting into obsession himself, seeking answers to what happened to Phoebe and if she could have been responsible for this violent act.
The Incendiaries is a fractured love story and a brilliant examination of the minds of extremist terrorists, and of what can happen to people who lose what they love most.
"[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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
About the Author
R. O. Kwon is a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellow. Her writing is published or forthcoming in The Guardian, Vice, Buzzfeed, Time, Noon, Electric Literature, Playboy, and elsewhere. She has received awards from Yaddo, MacDowell, the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, the Sewanee Writers' Conference, Omi International, the Steinbeck Center, and the Norman Mailer Writers' Colony. Born in South Korea, she has lived most of her life in the United States.