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Reviews of Crossings by Alex Landragin


by Alex Landragin

Crossings by Alex Landragin X
Crossings by Alex Landragin
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2020, 384 pages

    Oct 2021, 384 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Ian Muehlenhaus
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About this Book

Book Summary

Alex Landragin's Crossings is an unforgettable and explosive genre-bending debut--a novel in three parts, designed to be read in two different directions, spanning a hundred and fifty years and seven lifetimes.

On the brink of the Nazi occupation of Paris, a German-Jewish bookbinder stumbles across a manuscript called Crossings. It has three narratives, each as unlikely as the next. And the narratives can be read one of two ways: either straight through or according to an alternate chapter sequence.

The first story in Crossings is a never-before-seen ghost story by the poet Charles Baudelaire, penned for an illiterate girl. Next is a noir romance about an exiled man, modeled on Walter Benjamin, whose recurring nightmares are cured when he falls in love with a storyteller who draws him into a dangerous intrigue of rare manuscripts, police corruption, and literary societies. Finally, there are the fantastical memoirs of a woman-turned-monarch whose singular life has spanned seven generations.

With each new chapter, the stunning connections between these seemingly disparate people grow clearer and more extraordinary. Crossings is an unforgettable adventure full of love, longing and empathy.

The Education of a Monster

A Disgraceful Episode

AS I WRITE THESE words, it occurs to me that I have never known a tale to be so beyond belief as that which I am about to relate to you, dear girl. Yet nothing I have written has ever been so true. Paradox, all is paradox. Perhaps I have taken leave of my senses once and for all. You see, as a youth, I contracted the pox, no doubt from Jeanne Duval. This scourge is known, in old age, to drive its victims to madness, so that they know not the difference between the real and the unreal. I live in the permanent shadow of my impending lunacy. But as you will learn, it is not the only way in which Jeanne haunts me still. Indeed, if I am writing to you at all, it is because of Jeanne.

We are not strangers, you and I. I am the gentleman you met this afternoon in the Church of Saint-Loup, accompanied by Madame Édmonde. Your name is Mathilde. You are a sullen, bovine sixteen-year-old girl. Despite the assurances of the nuns who discharged you ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. Right from the opening line, appropriation is a major theme in Crossings. How does the novel explore this theme? And to what end?
  2. The conceit of the crossing allows the reader to inhabit the bodies of characters of a variety of cultures, sexualities, genders, classes, and races. What does the novel have to say about identity?
  3. Discuss how Crossings challenges the reader's ability to distinguish the real from the fake, and why this might be important.
  4. Crossings traverses 150 years and seven lifetimes in under four hundred pages. Discuss how language, form, and genre are used to drive the narrative forward across this timeframe.
  5. "I am Alula. I am the one who remembers. You are Koahu. You are the one who forgets." Memory and ...
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BookBrowse Review


The problem with body-hopping over the course of 200 years is that one ends up with a lot of "main" characters with so many personalities, body traits, genders and memories, you cannot recall all of the previous people comprising the current one. I also had trouble remembering if the soul had already possessed a certain character yet. Still, Landragin's prose is gorgeous. If you enjoy mystical, history-spanning books that largely take place in France or in French colonies, you will probably love it...continued

Full Review (886 words)

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(Reviewed by Ian Muehlenhaus).

Media Reviews

BookPage (starred review)
The prose is engaging, asking you to keep up as the story jumps from ending to beginning, tangling time and stretching the edge of what a narrative can do. There’s a tension between wanting to read quickly, to let yourself be absorbed in this fantastical and real world, or slowing down to allow each story to breathe. The beauty here is the multiplicity of the reading experiences, of the chance to do both, as each iteration of the novel asks different questions and demands a different mode of attention from the reader.

A high-concept speculative adventure novel executed with intelligence and grace...an invigorating puzzle of a book that reads like a complete, intricate work of genre-defying fiction.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Landragin carries off the whole handsomely written enterprise with panache. This novel intrigues and delights with an assured orchestration of historical research and imaginative flights.

Library Journal (starred review)
This novel is outstanding for its sheer inventiveness. The alternative ordering of chapters creates a tension that heightens the awareness of the interlocking aspects of time and space, while deft writing seduces the reader in a complex tale of pursuit, denial, and retribution moving from past to future. Highly recommended.

Publishers Weekly
While tacking back and forth through the three narratives is going to require more effort than some readers will be willing to give, the author has a talent for injecting intrigue and answers into his literary puzzle...Landragin's seductive literary romp shines as a celebration of the act of storytelling.

Author Blurb Dan Chaon, author of Ill Will
This delightful puzzle box of a novel is full of clever structural tricks that echo works by Nabokov and Cortazar, but Crossings goes beyond postmodern gamesmanship and finds real heart and soul in its compelling characters and old-fashioned storytelling ethos. Alex Landrigan has given us a deeply satisfying read!

Author Blurb Kevin Brockmeier, New York Times bestselling author
Crossings is playful, obsessive, romantic, intelligent, and wholly absorbing, with fascinations enough for a whole shelf of novels. I followed its alternate sequence rather than its conventional one, and reading it I had the unusual?for me maybe even unprecedented?sense, no matter where I was in the page count, that I was always occupying its exact center. Like its characters, I was never sure how close I was to the beginning of the story, how close to the end, which gave it an aura of inexhaustibility. It's a book that feels not endless but endlessly replenishable.

Author Blurb Sam J. Miller, Nebula Award Winning author of Blackfish City
An exquisite novel. My initial melancholy rage at not having written it myself swiftly transformed into blissful gratitude that it exists at all, and that I am lucky enough to read it. Sure to be one of the biggest literary events of the year.

Author Blurb Tom Sweterlitsch, award-winning author of The Gone World
Crossings is at once a romance, a puzzle box, and a supernatural mystery that spans not only the globe but also the centuries. Landragin has crafted a richly imaginative novel sure to appeal to fans of Cloud Atlas and Possession.

Reader Reviews


Complicated, it worth it.
Thanks to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for the ARC of this upcoming novel. I wasn’t sure if it was for me after reading a reviewer compare it to Cloud Atlas which I struggled with and abandoned. I see the similarities but I found this work more ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Metempsychosis, Transmigration and Mesmerism

Drawing of a Mesmerism practitioner treating a womanCentral to Alex Landragin's debut novel Crossings is an idiosyncratic version of soul metempsychosis. Metempsychosis is the reincarnation of a soul from one biological body to another occurring after the first body's death. Reincarnation plays a prominent role in Hinduism and Buddhism. The European concept developed independently in ancient Greek philosophy, appearing in works by Plato and Pythagoras, and recurred in Western thought during the Enlightenment, when philosophers and writers returned to the concept but typically referred to it as transmigration. It appears in a variety of fiction throughout the 1800s, including in several pieces by Edgar Allen Poe, and in the 1900s in Ulysses by James Joyce. Nietzsche also made references to ...

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