Meet the Lamentsthe affably dysfunctional globetrotting family at the center of George Hagens exuberant debut novel.
Howard is an engineer who dreams of irrigating the Sahara and lives by the motto "Laments move!" His wife Julia is a fiery spirit who must balance her husbands oddly peripatetic nature with unexpected aspirations of her own. And Will is the "waif with a paper-thin heart" who is given to Howard and Julia in return for their own child who has been lost in a bizarre maternity ward mishap. As Will makes his way from infancy to manhood in a family that careens from continent to continent, one wonders where the Laments will ever belong.
In Bahrain, Howard takes a job with an oil company and young Will makes his first friend. But in short order he is wrenched off to another land, his mothers complicated friendship with the American siren Trixie Howitzer causing the family to bolt. In Northern Rhodesia, during its last days as a white colony, the twin enfants terribles Marcus and Julius are born, and Will falls for the gardeners daughter, a girl so vain that she admires her image in the lid of a biscuit tin. But soon the familys life is upturned again, this time by their neighbor Major Buck Quinn, with his suburban tirades against black self-rule. Envisioning a more civilized life on "the sceptered isle," the Laments board an ocean liner bound for England. Alas, poor Will is greeted by the tribal ferocity of his schoolmates and a society fixated on the Blitz. No sooner has he succumbed to British pop culture in the guise of mop-top Sally Byrd and her stacks of 45s, than the Laments uproot themselves once again, and its off to New Jersey, where life deals crisis and opportunity in equal measure.
Undeniably eccentric, the Laments are also universal. Every family moves on in life. Children grow up, things are left behind; there is always something to lament. Through the Laments restlessness, responses to adversity, and especially their unwieldy love for one another, George Hagen gives us a portrait of every family that is funny, tragic, and improbably true.
The Washington Post - Jonathan Yardley
It's a nice story about familiar and durable matters: family, love, identity, loyalty. George Hagen obviously has a good heart, and he has created people who share that admirable quality.... the novel reads easily and pleasantly, but once it ends you're left with the sensation of having been on a long journey that never went anywhere in particular. It may be true, as has been said, that it is the journey that matters, not the destination, but somehow that doesn't seem entirely the case with The Laments.
Janet Maslin - The New York Times
Mr. Hagen has shaped an affectionate family portrait in which the characters come vividly to life, no matter how adrift they may be. The Lament parents are especially memorable, Julia for her sense of lost opportunity and Howard for his gradual way of losing heart...Each of them sees new opportunity eternally on the horizon in ways that have the potential to make this a story of crushing disappointment. But Mr. Hagen somehow endows it with brightness and finds a universality here, too.
Library Journal - David A Beron
Although the characters could have been developed more fully, Hagen's strong writing offers a significant understanding of contemporary family relationships. Recommended.
How [The Lament Family] cope, fall apart, and grow up is the meat of the story, and it is fine. Newcomer Hagen's understanding of the mix of love, banality, humor, and sadness that are the features of family life is deep and nearly flawless: a lovely book.
This is a funny, touching novel about the meaning of family, with an oddly high body count.
Elizabeth Strout, author of Amy and Isabelle
A vital international journey through the vicissitudes of family life. This story, centering on the timeless theme of a child swapped at birth, is immensely readable, funny, and touching—a complete joy.
Roddy Doyle, author of The Barrytown Trilogy
The Laments is a fine novel, about family, migration, identity, and the struggle to find and hold on to it. It is also hugely entertaining and very, very funny.
Gary Shteyngart, author of The Russian Debutante’s Handbook
George Hagen’s highly entertaining debut novel features an irresistibly headstrong family, a global sweep, and not only a sense of loss and displacement that’s perfectly in tune with the world we live in but also a full measure of resilient humanity.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by peter Didn't like it I really really did not like this book. The first 1/3 was entertaining, interesting, funny. Then things got boring, then just plain weird, depressing, tragic. The characters were very undeveloped, the plot boring, the language stilted. Subtlety was... Read More
George Hagen was born in 1958 in Harare, Zimbabwe, and later moved to Northern Rhodesia, the London suburbs, and New Jersey. He studied film at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, and spent several years in Los Angeles as a screenwriter. He lives in New York City with his wife and three children. He says that The Laments was inspired by his own childhood.
Interesting Link: A short video clip of George Hagen discussing his book.
In a family driven by jealousy and propriety as much as by love, an unspoken tradition of deceit is passed from generation to generation. These fiercely protected secrets gradually drive the Santerres apart; it will take astonishing courage and compassion to bring them back together.
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