Summary and book reviews of Those Who Knew by Idra Novey

Those Who Knew

A Novel

by Idra Novey

Those Who Knew by Idra Novey X
Those Who Knew by Idra Novey
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    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Nov 2018, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2019, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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About this Book

Book Summary

A taut, timely novel about what a powerful politician thinks he can get away with and the group of misfits who finally bring him down.

On an unnamed island country ten years after the collapse of a U.S.-supported regime, Lena suspects the powerful senator she was involved with back in her student activist days is taking advantage of a young woman who's been introducing him at rallies. When the young woman ends up dead, Lena revisits her own fraught history with the senator and the violent incident that ended their relationship.

Why didn't Lena speak up then, and will her family's support of the former regime still impact her credibility? What if her hunch about this young woman's death is wrong?

What follows is a riveting exploration of the cost of staying silent and the mixed rewards of speaking up in a profoundly divided country. Those Who Knew confirms Novey's place as an essential new voice in American fiction.

I
In the aging port city
of an island nation
near the start of the new millennium

Precisely a week after the death of Maria P. was declared an accident, a woman reached into her tote bag and found a sweater inside that didn't belong to her. Standing at the register in the supermarket, she had reached in for her wallet, which was there, as were her keys and the bundled up green bulk of her scarf.

Only now there was also this worn black sweater. I don't remember walking away from my cart, she told the cashier, but I must have, and somebody stuck this in my bag by accident.

She held the sweater up over the register and saw that a white zigzag ran across the front like the pulse line on a heart monitor. The broadness of the neckline brought to mind a sweater she'd worn in college. She'd worn it constantly until she lost it at the last protest before the election that finally brought Cato down. She'd liked the open feeling of the sweater's neckline, though it was always shifting and, like her...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
On an unnamed island country ten years after the collapse of a U.S.-supported regime, Lena suspects the powerful senator she was involved with back in her student activist days is taking advantage of a young woman who's been introducing him at rallies. When the young woman ends up dead, Lena revisits her own fraught history with the senator and the violent incident that ended their relationship.

Why didn't Lena speak up then, and will her family's support of the former regime still impact her credibility? What if her hunch about this young woman's death is wrong?

Moving between the island and New York City, Novey explores the cost of staying silent and the mixed rewards of speaking up in a profoundly divided country. Fleet yet ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The end of Those Who Knew leaves something to be desired, as one wishes to see Victor crushed into dust by the full weight of the law, but his reckoning, what there is of it, occurs off-page. It may be, however, that the author's primary intent is to let the strong women of the novel (and also Freddy) have the final words. Nevertheless, Novey effectively explores the ways in which the personal is political and vice versa, and how the consequences of a dictatorial government reverberate through the years, long after the oppressor has left power...continued

Full Review (695 words).

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(Reviewed by Lisa Butts).

Media Reviews

New York Times
There are beautifully bright details — fish scales glistening like sequins, the layers of a croissant flaked and dissolving on Lena’s tongue — that keep us hungry for more, turning the pages toward some sort of resolution. But the villain’s comeuppance seems like an afterthought rather than the cathartic moment it should be. And a last-minute attempt at an optimistic future seems tacked on as well: two boys playing together in a field and Olga throwing her hat into the political ring.

Publishers Weekly
Novey’s storytelling is taut and her diction sharp, and though there are some unnecessary structural turns...the book nevertheless has a striking sense of momentum. Add in a slight and intriguing sense of the supernatural, and the result is a provocative novel that has the feel of a thriller.

Library Journal
The personal is political in this new novel from Novey...By concentrating on the interconnected and very personal stories of each [character], Novey negotiates the surreal reality of an aging port city that is both victim and beneficiary of globalization...Highly recommended.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. It's not a particularly subtle book—after the initial setup, it unfurls more or less how you'd expect it to—but Novey's writing is so singularly vibrant it hardly matters...Dreamy and jarring and exceedingly topical.

Author Blurb Rebecca Traister, author of All the Single Ladies
Those Who Knew speaks with uncommon prescience to the swirl around us. Novey writes, with acuity and depth, about questions of silence, power, and complicity. The universe she has created is imagined, and all too real.

Author Blurb Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You
Those Who Knew is a devastating inquiry into the way lofty ideals can serve as cover for brutal impulses, the way struggles for control of the body politic wreak havoc on actual bodies. Most of all, it's an indictment, at once fierce and compassionate, of the collective silence that implicates us all in irrevocable wrongs.

Author Blurb Cristina Henriquez, author of The Book of Unknown Americans
Genius. That's what I kept thinking as I read this novel that somehow combines an invented island, a political bookstore, fragments of a stage production, and a story that's at once a damning critique of craven self-interest and a tale about our inescapable connectedness. Idra Novey has written an irreverent, magical, perfect puzzle of a book.

Author Blurb Alexander Chee, author of Queen of the Night
Those Who Knew is a beautiful novel about that which we cannot deny, in ourselves or others, and the price we are too often willing to pay for what we think is like freedom.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

U.S. Support of Totalitarian Regimes in Central and South America

The setting of Idra Novey's Those Who Knew is an unnamed island with a contentious intertwined relationship with its neighbor to the north, which supported the regime of a brutal dictator years before the events of the novel take place. The latter country would appear to represent the United States, and the circumstances reflect the numerous instances in which the U.S. has interceded on behalf of dictators or other non-democratically elected leaders, particularly in Central and South America.

Jacobo ÁrbenzIn the case of Guatemala, the U.S. State Department orchestrated the overthrow of President Jacobo Árbenz in 1954 after he pursued agrarian reforms that would have threatened the profit margins of the United Fruit Company's Latin American ...

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