Book Review: The Signal Flame by Andrew Krivák

Note: I received this book as an advanced reading copy from netgalley. You can read it in January 2017.

I didn’t expect to enjoy this book, but I ended up reading it over an evening and part of the next morning. It’s slow and steadfast, more a sense of time passing and life being lived than building up to anything. I HATED the ending, but only because i like things to be wrapped in neat packages. The ending instead just kind of stops, in the middle of a life, which is where the story starts so I supposed was to be expected.

The story, beginning with the death of his grandfather, is about Bo, a second generation Pennsylvanian Slovak who lives with his widowed mother, Hannah, on a farm near a small town. Bo runs the local mill and waits for his missing war veteran brother to return home. His brother’s fiancee also waits, now heavily pregnant. An accident in a terrible flood sees Bo, Ruth and Hannah living together in the house, trying to work through the problems the past has left them.

This story is about family history and legacy; those parts which must be endured and those parts that can be changed as people move on. Krivák has written a gorgeous novel, where each characters voice comes through strongly (even Jozef Vinich, who the reader never encounters alive, and Sam, who is MIA throughout the story). Each character is beautifully rounded and human, even the dog is honestly and sweetly rendered (who wouldn’t love a black lab called Beautiful in Slovak?).

The story is mostly from the point of view of Bo, but told in the third person, so you get occasional glimpses into the mind of Hannah (struggling to reconcile the loss of her husband with her affection for his killer’s daughter), and Ruth (shattered by her life, but ready to move on). There are memory pieces throughout which add to the story really well, especially Hannah’s memory of Sam drowning the hornets nest. I really enjoy this style of writing, where most of the story takes place in the present, but there is still that tie to the past (the birth of Bexhet, the buying of land from Augustin, Tomás becoming a priest) woven in.

All in all, if you have any ties to Slovakia or Pennsylvania, an interest in life in small town America during the Vietnam War, or a love for slow burn storytelling, you will like this book. You may possibly even like the open-ended ending, although I didn’t.

3.5/5

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