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 to 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.
The Invention of Exile deals with themes of labeling, exile and invention and explores how loss reshapes and transforms lives, invention. An absolutely wonderful read.
I loved the narrative, so many books remake the same basic plot only to change a few characters or to add minor differences, after a while they all run together not really being able to differentiate between each work. A reader can only tolerate so many love triangles, infidelity, who killed who, imaginary significant other before boredom and mundane sets in. The Invention of Exile is unique and addresses a very interesting premise, also the themes are quite moving.
Manko clearly possesses a songlike graceful literary prose which adds to the beauty and depth of the narrative. She also deserves credit regarding strong character development, the reader learns all about Austin, subtly and intimately both emotionally and mentally.
About 20 pages into The Invention of Exile , I asked myself the question
What would I do if I were separated from my family, living in different countries all because I was incorrectly accused of something I was innocent of, I was essentially ‘labeled’ thus creating serious ramifications? How would I deal with the absence, the emptiness and loneliness? All the years lost? Not knowing if I will ever be together with my family only the thread of hope remains.
Austin is a man desperate, desperate to be reunited with his family, desperate to call a country home. He’s in more than exile, the man is in limbo floating with nowhere to fall softly. Loneliness is his constant companion, yearning always a reminder and hope always present. Determination, patience – Austin’s weapons along with hope to once again reunite and embrace his family.
“Separation comes quite suddenly. One day you are as close as two people can be. The next, a line is drawn and you stand on opposite sides, regarding each other across an expanse that is broken and unknown.”
Stinging the reader most is the family love never faltered. All the years apart, the family still longing and hoping to see and be with their father. Julia and the children were in a different type of exile – an exile of the heart which is even more difficult to deal with then distance. The years dragged on but love never faded.
“She was learning the possibility of, the power of contradiction; one could have a fundamental connection – father, daughter – but still be two mere strangers.”
It is an immensely touching story of family, history, and the meaning of home. Worth your time and attention.
Published August 14th 2014 by The Penguin Press HC