Summary and book reviews of The Invention of Exile by Vanessa Manko

The Invention of Exile

A Novel

by Vanessa Manko

The Invention of Exile by Vanessa Manko
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    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Aug 2014, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2015, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Alta Ifland

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About this Book

Book Summary

Through the unforgettable character of Austin Voronkov, Manko explores the little-known period in American history of the Palmer Raids and the far-reaching implications of exile and loss.

Austin Voronkov is many things. He is an engineer, an inventor, an immigrant from Russia to Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1913, where he gets a job at a rifle factory. At the house where he rents a room, he falls in love with a woman named Julia, who becomes his wife and the mother of his three children. When Austin is wrongly accused of attending anarchist gatherings his limited grasp of English condemns him to his fate as a deportee, retreating with his new bride to his home in Russia, where he and his young family become embroiled in the Civil War and must flee once again, to Mexico.

While Julia and the children are eventually able to return to the U.S., Austin becomes indefinitely stranded in Mexico City because of the black mark on his record. He keeps a daily correspondence with Julia, as they each exchange their hopes and fears for the future, and as they struggle to remain a family across a distance of two countries. Austin becomes convinced that his engineering designs will be awarded patents, thereby paving the way for the government to approve his return and award his long sought-after American citizenship. At the same time he becomes convinced that an FBI agent is monitoring his every move, with the intent of blocking any possible return to the United States.

Austin and Julia's struggles build to crisis and heartrending resolution in this dazzling, sweeping debut. The novel is based in part on Vanessa Manko's family history and the life of a grandfather she never knew. Manko used this history as a jumping off point for the novel, which focuses on borders between the past and present, sanity and madness, while the very real U.S-Mexico border looms. The novel also explores how loss reshapes and transforms lives. It is a deeply moving testament to the enduring power of family and the meaning of home.

CONNECTICUT
1913–1920

He arrived in the United States in 1913 on a boat named Trieste. His face open, the brow smooth, eyes with the at once earnest, at once insecure gaze of hopeful, wanting youth. He began work fast. First at the Remington Arms Company, making ammunition for the Russian Imperial Army, rising up the ranks to become an inspector of the Mosin-Nagant rifle and later working for the Hitchcock Gas Engine Company. In Bridgeport, Connecticut. His early mornings spent among the others. The hordes of men shuttling to and from factories in lines and masses of gray or black through the dim light of winter mornings and in the spring when the morning sun was like a secret, coy and sparkling, the water flashing on the sound.

They found each other though. Through all of that, they, the Russians, found each other. They learned to spot each other through mannerisms, glances. This was later. In 1919. Then, the restrictions came at work and in the boardinghouse.

"English! You ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. What are your definitions of home and family? What are Austin's? How do your definitions align or differ?

  2. What was your reaction to the interrogation scenes in Connecticut (pp. 20–37)? Do you think there was anything Austin could have done to sway the inquisitor's mind?

  3. How is the lighthouse symbolic in Austin's and Julia's lives? What about Julia's flooded garden

  4. Austin is very hopeful, to the point of obsession, that his inventions will aid him in reuniting with his family. How does the theme of invention work in his life and in the novel

  5. What is Anarose's role

  6. The storyline and perspective shift and jump over time and place. How does this structure inform the story

  7. Austin muses, "Paper is ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

It is hard to believe that Vanessa Manko hasn’t been an immigrant herself, given her ability to put herself in the shoes of one and imagine the humiliations and gradual descent into paranoia brought by years of living in a constant state of expectation.   (Reviewed by Alta Ifland).

Full Review (647 words).

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Media Reviews

The Boston Globe

An achingly painful and all too relevant meditation on what can happen to identity when human beings are crammed inside an unforgiving container of politics, bureaucracy, and fear...[A] wonderful first novel.

New York Magazine

The summer's surest candidate for lit-hit crossover.

Publishers Weekly

[A] fine fiction debut… The beating heart of Manko's story is Austin's determination to be reunited with his family.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. A top-notch debut, at once sober and lively and provocative.

Author Blurb Colum McCann, author of Transatlantic and Let the Great World Spin
[An] unflinching portrait of how our lives are structured around the complications of geography, beauty and chance, and, at its core, it is a story about those who live in the double shadows of home and history.

Author Blurb Siri Hustvedt, author of What I Loved and The Summer Without Men
The Invention of Exile is an achingly immediate, sensuous, and psychologically acute novel about a man whose life has been suspended by the madness of American politics... Manko's tender, compassionate, and wise portrait of this man, who waits and waits and waits to return to the life he was meant to live, continues to reverberate inside me. I suspect I will carry him around with me for years to come.

Author Blurb Francisco Goldman, author of Say Her Name
Only writing like Vanessa Manko's, so finely tuned to subtle and nearly inexpressible emotions, to the whispers of deepest loneliness, to the inner-life of a man cut-off from family and country by the capricious machinery of politics and prejudice, can draw such a secret, marginal, puzzling life out of the shadows, and give it the vivid force and poetry of a universal myth... a beautiful, bewitching and profound novel.

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Beyond the Book

Life In Red: Russia in the 1920s

Earthly SignsAustin Voronkov, the protagonist of Vanessa Mankov's The Invention of Exile, spends two years in the Soviet Union with his American wife, Julia: from 1920 to 1922. This timeframe is part of a difficult period in Russian history, the 1917-1922 civil war between the Bolshevik Red Army and the White Army. This period is rendered with heartbreaking intensity by the poet Marina Tsvetaeva in Earthly Signs: Moscow Diaries, 1917-1922 The book comprises notes from several diaries and fragmentary essays on various subjects, mixing memories of daily hardships with passionate comments on poetry and vivid descriptions of people, all told with uncommon energy for someone who has to fight for survival every single second. The notes, often ...

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