The Right Hand of Sleep: Book summary and reviews of The Right Hand of Sleep by John Wray

The Right Hand of Sleep

By John Wray

The Right Hand of Sleep
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  • Published in USA  Apr 2001,
    336 pages.

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Book Summary

Oskar Voxlauer is in flight from his past—from his bourgeois Austrian upbringing; from horrific memories of fighting on the Italian front in 1917 as a teenage recruit; and from the twenty years he has spent in the Ukraine watching his socialist ideals crumble and the life of the woman he loved slowly waste away. Alone, he finally decides to return to the Austrian village of his birth, where his mother is waiting to greet a son she hasn’t seen since he was a boy.

But the year is 1938, and despite Oskar’s attempt to live a reclusive existence as a gamekeeper in the hills, he cannot escape the tensions that are threatening the once tranquil village of Niessen. Hitler marches into Austria and the Black Shirts come to the valley. Voxlauer watches as his Jewish friend and benefactor is driven to ruin. The only things saving him—a 'Red,' a deserter and a 'Yid lover'—from the attentions of the SS seem to be the respect the community has for his parents and his growing love for the mysterious Else Bauer, cousin of the new SS Führer.

In his extraordinary first novel, John Wray has given both a poetic evocation of the Austrian landscape and an acute portrait of the dark side of its past. His subtle and human understanding of the ambiguities of history, the complexities of his characters and the stunning richness of his prose mark him as one of America's most gifted new writers.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Wray's first novel displays psychological acuity, a mastery of dialogue and an unfailing historical empathy, and should garner deserved raves." - Publishers Weekly.

"More a character study than a moral tale, this is a quietly memorable first novel." - Library Journal.

"Brilliant. ... A truly arresting work of fiction.... Is it really possible, the reader will wonder, for a young American to have written such a book?" – The New York Times Book Review.

"Elegantly written, hypnotic." – The Washington Post Book Review.

"Studded with precise, exquisite descriptions ... Wray is capable of writing with almost painful tenderness.... The Right Hand of Sleep make[s] another time seem astonishingly alive." – Chicago Tribune.

"Wray's novel is hampered by several instances of inconsistent characterization .... Equally confusing are the italicized sections that initially represent Voxlauer's flashback monologues but then turn into Kurt's own recollections late in the book. Such stylistic lapses weaken Wray's otherwise tight web of small-town relationships." - Book Magazine.

"A first novel that's really about something, blessedly free of authorial navel-gazing." - Kirkus Reviews.

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Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Alexander Gilgamesh
unqualified reviewer
This book is quiet and moves along at an enjoyably slow pace. I felt an atmosphere and sense of space as I read it and could read it again right now. I look forward to reading his other books and take pride in such a debut

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Author Information

John Wray Author Biography

John Wray, whose mother is Austrian and whose father is Californian, was born in Washington, D.C., where his parents, both scientists, were employed by the National Institute of Health. He grew up in Buffalo, New York, and in Friesach, a small town in the southern Austrian province of Carinthia. When he was a boy, his mother began reading Penguin Classics at a rate of exactly one per week, as a way to improve her English: one of his fondest memories of childhood is of having the entirety of The Pickwick Papers read to him at far too young an age, and understanding next to nothing, but loving the sound and mood of it regardless.

In the hope of following his parents into science, Wray majored in biology at Oberlin College, intending to become an ornithologist; in the end, he had to ...

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