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.
Read an excerpt HERE.
Colum McCann Interviews the author HERE.
Praise for the book:
“Vanessa Manko’s beautifully written and deeply affecting first novel is the story of a man stranded by history in a strange land, torn away by politics and paranoia from the people he loves, exiled and trapped behind an invisible frontier he dares not cross. Manko ranges expertly between Russia, the USA and Mexico to weave her absorbing tale of emigration, deportation, desperation, paranoia, and finally, improbably, love. The novel reminds one, at times, of Kafka, Ondaatje, and even, in its powerful evocation of marooned isolation, Robinson Crusoe. A brilliant debut.” ~Salman Rushdie, author of Midnight's Children and Joseph Anton
“Vanessa Manko is a voice for the years to come. Her first novel, The Invention of Exile , is an ambitious tale of a Russian émigré in Mexico City. It is 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.” ~Colum McCann, author of Transatlantic and Let The Great World Spin
“A superb study of statelessness…Manko brings plenty of energy to this tale…Manko is a tremendous stylist, using clipped, simple sentences to capture Austin’s mindset as his confidence in escape erodes but never entirely fades; Manko’s shift in perspective toward the end of the book reveals just how much the years of exile have weathered him. She deeply explores two complicated questions: What is the impact of years of lacking a country? And how much does this lack reside in our imaginations? A top-notch debut, at once sober and lively and provocative.” ~Kirkus Reviews
“The summer’s surest candidate for lit-hit crossover.” ~New York Magazine
“An incident from her own family history inspired Manko’s fine fiction debut. …The beating heart of Manko’s story is Austin’s determination to be reunited with his family.” ~Publisher’s Weekly