Summary and book reviews of The Signal Flame by Andrew Krivak

The Signal Flame

by Andrew Krivak

The Signal Flame by Andrew Krivak
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jan 2017, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 12, 2017, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Matt Grant

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About this Book

Book Summary

The stunning second novel from National Book Award finalist Andrew Krivak - a heartbreaking, captivating story about a family awaiting the return of their youngest son from the Vietnam War.

In a small town in Pennsylvania's Endless Mountains Hannah and her son Bo mourn the loss of the family patriarch, Jozef Vinich. They were three generations under one roof. Three generations, but only one branch of a scraggy tree; they are a war-haunted family in a war-torn century. Having survived the trenches of World War I as an Austro-Hungarian conscript, Vinich journeyed to America and built a life for his family. His daughter married the Hungarian-born Bexhet Konar, who enlisted to fight with the Americans in the Second World War but brought disgrace on the family when he was imprisoned for desertion. He returned home to Pennsylvania a hollow man, only to be killed in a hunting accident on the family's land. Finally, in 1971, Hannah's prodigal younger son, Sam, was reported MIA in Vietnam.

And so there is only Bo, a quiet man full of conviction, a proud work ethic, and a firstborn's sense of duty. He is left to grieve but also to hope for reunion, to create a new life, to embrace the land and work its soil through the seasons. The Signal Flame is a stirring novel about generations of men and women and the events that define them, brothers who take different paths, the old European values yielding to new world ways, and the convalescence of memory and war.

Beginning shortly after Easter in 1972 and ending on Christmas Eve this ambitious novel beautifully evokes ordinary time, a period of living and working while waiting and watching and expecting. The Signal Flame is gorgeously written, honoring the cycles of earth and body, humming with blood and passion, and it confirms Andrew Krivak as a writer of extraordinary vision and power.

C H A P T E R
O N E

A fire in the great stone fireplace was as constant in the house as the lengthening days when Easter was early and spring was late. But on the morning after his grandfather died, Bo Konar took the logs and the log rack in the living room out to the barn, swept the bricks clean of ash, and dusted the andirons so that they looked like thin faceless centaurs of black. Two days later, after supper, he and his mother, Hannah, greeted mourners at the door and led them from the foyer into the living room, where each knelt before the body of the man waked in a pine casket by the window, and said a prayer. Some lingered then in the kitchen and the wide hallway to talk about Jozef Vinich. How he had come to America after World War I with fifty dollars in his pocket, after the gold his father had left him paid for the train from Kassa to Hamburg and passage on the Mount Clay. How he had risen from yard worker to co-owner of the Endless Roughing Mill. How he had acquired and ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. When young Bo asks Jozef, "Are we going to war?" (page 7), why does Jozef startle? Why might Bo think war has come to Dardan?
  2. In his eulogy for Jozef, Father Rovnávaha points out that Jozef's surname, Vinich, means "vine" in Slovak (page 20). How was Jozef a vine in his family and in the community?
  3. Why does Ann's death push Bo to give up on college (page 50)? Why does Jozef allow Bo to stay without any argument?
  4. After the crash, when Ruth goes to stay with Bo and Hannah, Ruth says to Hannah, "I'm just trying to keep it all together so you don't think I'm some kind of flower girl who was too delicate for your son" (page 154). Why does this worry Ruth?
  5. Bo is pleased to find that the house that Jozef leaves him needs ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Reading The Signal Flame is like being inside the eye of a hurricane. The story unfolds with relative calm, but death and devastation brim around the edges. It's only after reading the final page that one is aware of the emotional impact left in its wake. It's the kind of novel that gets its tenterhooks inside you and refuses to let go.   (Reviewed by Matt Grant).

Full Review (619 words).

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Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

A simple story, on its face, but full of resounding depths: a dark commemoration of a dark time but offering the slim hope that things will get better.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This family saga is quiet at its core, but it's Krivák's gorgeous prose and deep grasp of the relationship between longing and loss that make the book such a stunner.

Booklist

Starred Review. Krivák's story and characters are mythic. His prose is spare, but his portrait of a little-known mountain region "rife with stones and rattlesnakes" is compelling, beautiful, and ennobling.

Library Journal

Starred Review. With studied language and a strong sense of place, Krivák elucidates how family structures and narratives fractured, maintained, and evolved between World War I and the Vietnam War.

Author Blurb Richard Russo, author of Empire Falls
Readers will hear some echoes of Faulkner in The Signal Flame, and even more of Kent Haruf in the simplicity, honesty, and wisdom of its prose. But what they'll hear most is the deep, thoughtful, resonant voice of Andrew Krivák, a writer seemingly destined for great things.

Author Blurb Brad Kessler, author of Birds in Fall
There are many pleasures to be found in The Signal Flame: The intimacy and love with which Krivak writes about his postage stamp of rural Pennsylvania. His keen sense of time and place, the woods and forests and hills of the Endless Mountains. Page by page the book itself feels like an outgrowth of the soil in in which it is steeped.

Author Blurb Jesmyn Ward, author of Salvage the Bones and Men We Reaped
A well-crafted novel, elegantly told, The Signal Flame is a testament to Krivák's singular talent.

Author Blurb Marlon James, author of A Brief History of Seven Killings
This is a novel of tremendous sorrow and tremendous beauty. Of love shaped by war, and of how the past haunts the present, and shapes the future. An incandescent work.

Author Blurb Maaza Mengiste, author of Beneath the Lion's Gaze
It isn't often that a story finds me making comparisons to literary greats from the first page. This is one of those books. In the end, what Krivák does is something all his own, and it is a triumph.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

The MIA in Vietnam

In The Signal Flame, the Konar family grapples with the fact that Sam, the youngest son, is missing in action in Vietnam.

War, by its very nature, means that not all who leave to fight will return home. In addition to those who die in service to their country, conflicts yield prisoners of war (POWs) and soldiers missing in action (MIA) who remain unaccounted for after the hostilities end. In most cases, the fate of these missing men and women remains a mystery, leaving grieving families without the closure of knowing what happened to their loved ones.

The National League of Families' POW/MIA flag After the Vietnam War, 2,646 American servicemen were reported missing. Since that time, 1,028 have been identified and repatriated. It is the task of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting...

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