The Given World: Book summary and reviews of The Given World by Marian Palaia

The Given World

by Marian Palaia

The Given World by Marian Palaia X
The Given World by Marian Palaia
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  • Published in USA  Apr 2015
    304 pages
    Genre: Historical Fiction

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Book Summary

A sweeping portrait of post-Vietnam America seen through the eyes of a young woman searching for the courage to go home again.

It is 1968. Riley is thirteen, and her brother Mick has gone missing in Vietnam. She struggles to understand and accept, but the world she has always known has fallen apart. At sixteen, she meets a boy from the reservation. He becomes her first love and perhaps her deliverance, except that he, too, is sent to fight, unaware that Riley is carrying his child. Riley sets off then, in search of answers, of clues, of a way to be in the world. She travels from her family's Montana farm to San Francisco, and from there to Saigon. Along the way she becomes rescued and rescuer, by and for a band of scarred angels. Among them: Primo, a half-blind vet with a story he's not telling; Lu, a cab driver with an artist's eye and a habit she can't kick; Phuong, a Saigon barmaid who is Riley's conscience and confidante; and Grace, a banjo-playing girl on a train, carrying her dreams and her grandmother's ashes in a tin box. All are casualties, of the times and of the war, but they carry on, none more tenaciously than Riley herself, a masterpiece of courage and vulnerability, wondering if she'll ever be brave enough to return to the place she once called home.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Palaia demonstrates a magnificent command of craft for a first-time novelist, but it's her emotional honesty that makes this story so rich and affecting...An immensely rewarding and remarkable debut." - Kirkus

"The novel's true strengths are the variety of characters Riley meets on her journey and the sense of America changing with the decades. In the end, what the reader takes away is a visceral appreciation for how many lives, both on and off the battlefield, were permanently altered by the Vietnam War." - Publishers Weekly

"There is no denying Palaia's immense writing talent. She is able to convey three pieces of information in one elegant sentence, and she writes paragraphs that build meaning upon metaphorical meaning that leave your highlighter used up and dry - and you anticipating her next novel." - Booklist

"Palaia's prose is hypnotizing...fresh...not without a dark beauty." - Library Journal

"It has been a long time since a first book contained this much wisdom and knowledge of the world. She has a great ear for dialogue, a feel for dramatic confrontation, and a keen understanding of when background suddenly becomes foreground. She is a strong, soulful, and deeply gifted writer." - Lorrie Moore, author of Bark

"Not all the American casualties of Vietnam went to war. In stunning, gorgeous prose, in precise, prismatic detail, Palaia begins with that rupture and works her way deep into the aftermath - its impact on one person, on one family, on one country. Riveting and revelatory." - Karen Joy Fowler, author of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

"Marian Palaia is a writer of remarkable talent. In Riley, she has captured Vietnam's long shadow with prose that cuts straight to the bone. Readers who enjoyed Jennifer Egan's The Invisible Circus will love The Given World." - Suzanne Rindell, author of The Other Typist

"Marian Palaia is a writer of startling grace and sensuous lyricism - reading her, you feel as if you've never heard language this beautiful and this true." - Jonis Agee, author of The River Wife

"Some rare books give you the sense that a writer has been walking around with a story for years, storing it up, ruminating on it. This is one of those books. I'm grateful for the slow and patient emergence of these words on the page. No sentence is wasted. However long The Given World took, it was worth every minute." - Peter Orner, author of The Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge

"From the moment I met Riley I was drawn into her world, which is really ours, America in the last century as it careened into this one. I found this novel as thrilling and surprising as a ride on a vintage motorcycle, along the winding, sometimes hair-raising but always arresting ride that is Riley's life. It is a trip I will always remember." - Jesse Lee Kercheval, author of My Life as a Silent Movie

"Marian Palaia has imaginatively engaged the Vietnam War these many decades later and transformed it into a brilliant and complex narrative able to transcend that war, all wars, all politics, all eras and illuminate the great and eternally enduring human quest for self, for an identity, for a place in the universe." - Robert Olen Butler, winner of the Pulitzer Prize

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Author Information

Marian Palaia

Marian Palaia was born in Riverside, California, and grew up there and in Washington, DC. She lives in San Francisco and has also lived in Montana, Hong Kong, Ho Chi Minh City, and Nepal, where she was a Peace Corps volunteer. Marian has also been a truck driver, a bartender, and a logger. The Given World is her first novel.

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