Summary and book reviews of The Incendiaries by R Kwon

The Incendiaries

A Novel

by R O. Kwon

The Incendiaries by R O. Kwon X
The Incendiaries by R O. Kwon
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jul 2018, 224 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2019, 240 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte
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About this Book

Book Summary

A powerful, darkly glittering novel of violence, love, faith, and loss, as a young woman at an elite American university is drawn into acts of domestic terrorism by a cult tied to North Korea.

Named a Most Anticipated Book of 2018 by the New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, Elle, Time, Parade, Vanity Fair, Cosmopolitan, Esquire, PBS, Vulture, Buzzfeed, BookRiot, PopSugar, Refinery29, Bustle, The Millions, The Rumpus, Paste and the BBC.

Phoebe Lin and Will Kendall meet their first month at prestigious Edwards University. Phoebe is a glamorous girl who doesn't tell anyone she blames herself for her mother's recent death. Will is a misfit scholarship boy who transfers to Edwards from Bible college, waiting tables to get by. What he knows for sure is that he loves Phoebe.

Grieving and guilt-ridden, Phoebe is increasingly drawn into a religious group--a secretive extremist cult--founded by a charismatic former student, John Leal. He has an enigmatic past that involves North Korea and Phoebe's Korean American family. Meanwhile, Will struggles to confront the fundamentalism he's tried to escape, and the obsession consuming the one he loves. When the group bombs several buildings in the name of faith, killing five people, Phoebe disappears. Will devotes himself to finding her, tilting into obsession himself, seeking answers to what happened to Phoebe and if she could have been responsible for this violent act.

The Incendiaries is a fractured love story and a brilliant examination of the minds of extremist terrorists, and of what can happen to people who lose what they love most.

1.
Will

They'd have gathered on a rooftop in Noxhurst to watch the ­explosion. Platt Hall, I think, eleven floors up: I know his ego, and he'd have picked the tallest point he could. So often, I've imagined how they felt, waiting. With six minutes left, the slant light of dusk reddened the high old spiresof the college, the level gables of its surrounding town. They poured festive wine into big-bellied glasses. Hands shaking, they laughed. She would sit apart from this reveling group, cross-legged on the roof's west ledge. Three minutes to go, two, one.

The Phipps building fell. Smoke plumed, the breath of God. Silence followed, then the group's shouts of triumph. Wine glasses clashed together, flashing martial light. He sang the first bars of a Jejah psalm. Others soon joined in. Carillon bells chimed, distant birds blowing white, strewn, like dandelion tufts, an outsize wish. It must have been then that John Leal came to her side. In his bare feet, he ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The slow burn focuses on just how systematically a life can spiral out of control and incinerate everyone in its wake. At its best, The Incendiaries teases out the subtle differences between religion and faith...continued

Full Review (721 words).

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(Reviewed by Poornima Apte).

Media Reviews

New York TImes
A dark, absorbing story of how first love can be as intoxicating and dangerous as religious fundamentalism.

Vulture
One of those slim novels that contains multitudes, R.O. Kwon's debut novel shows how unreliable we are as narrators when we're trying to invent — and reinvent — ourselves.

The Rumpus
Kwon's prose is artfully crafted. It is spare and accessible, then, delightfully explosive in its literary tendencies, the music and the flourish...Kwon cultivates a palpable emptiness, a space to feel the growing sense of loss that progressively saturates these pages

PBS Books
Deeply engrossing

Jezebel
R.O. Kwon's debut novel is the rare marriage of sparkling, poetic prose and propulsive narrative.... Big ideas of God and faith are explored, but it's all grounded in the story of the relationship between two people, and how loss and vulnerability can be exploited by a persuasive religion.

Marie Claire
A stunning debut…After this impressive introduction of her work to the world, we're excited to see where Kwon takes us in the future.

The Paris Review
Remarkable… Every page blooms with sensuous language and the book's mood is otherworldly, even if its setting, a wealthy college in the Northeast, isn't… These are characters in quiet crisis, burning, above all, to know themselves, and Kwon leads them, confidently, to an enthralling end.

Southern Living
If you only read one book this summer, make it this complex and searing debut novel by R.O. Kwon.

Nylon
This lyrical, haunting novel is a remarkable debut from Kwon, in which she shows with real lucidity the tangled ways in which passion slips into fanaticism, love into desperation, and faith into folly.

Mashable
If there is a novel that goes to unexpected places, it's The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon… Phenomenal

PopSugar
The Incendiaries will make you dizzy with its powerful prose… its heartbreaking and gut-wrenching meditations on the extremes human beings will push themselves to when they lose the thing they love most will stick with you long after you finish.

Kirkus Reviews
Aesthetically pleasing but narratively underwhelming.

Library Journal
Kwon successfully defines her characters' depth while maintaining an air of intrigue and suspense. Throughout, she looks at the imperfections in all our lives and how our interactions may lead us down paths unbeknownst to ourselves. With a breezy yet intense style, newcomer Kwon is a writer to watch.

Publishers Weekly
Written in dazzling, spare prose...In this intriguing cult story, Kwon thoroughly explores her characters' motivations, making for an urgent and disarming debut.

Publishers Weekly
Written in dazzling, spare prose...In this intriguing cult story, Kwon thoroughly explores her characters' motivations, making for an urgent and disarming debut.

Author Blurb Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of The Sympathizer and The Refugees
Every explosive requires a fuse. That's R. O. Kwon's novel, a straight, slow-burning fuse. To read her novel is to follow an inexorable flame coming closer and closer to the object it will detonate—the characters, the crime, the story, and, ultimately, the reader.

Author Blurb Celeste Ng, author of Little Fires Everywhere and Everything I Never Told You
The Incendiaries probes the seductive and dangerous places to which we drift when loss unmoors us. In dazzlingly acrobatic prose, R. O. Kwon explores the lines between faith and fanaticism, passion and violence, the rational and the unknowable."

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Beyond the Book

The Shinchonji Church

Alleged Shinchonji cult leader Lee Man-HeeIn The Incendiaries, Phoebe Lin is gradually drawn into a fictional Christian cult called Jejah. South Korea is home to a few such apocalyptic religious cults, the most prominent among them being Shinchonji.

Shinchonji, whose full name is Shinchonji, Church of Jesus, the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony, was founded in 1984 by Lee Man-hee. Chairman Lee, as he is known, was himself a member of another South Korean cult, the Tent Temple Movement, which came to an abrupt end in the 1970s after its founder was accused of fraud.

Shinchonji members believe in a doomsday prophecy stating that the end is near and only they will be invited to heaven, as they are the chosen ones. The organization's name is taken from the Bible's Book ...

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