Friday, June 27, 2008

The House of Widows

Based on the title alone, one might guess, correctly, that Askold Melnyczuk’s The House of Widows isn’t exactly light—or necessarily enjoyable—reading.

Following his father’s suicide, James Pak—a self-described historian—travels to London, Vienna, and Kyiv in search of his father’s, and consequently his own, history. What he discovers is far from comforting: war crimes, abuse, human trafficking.

The book has an interesting narrative pattern as it interweaves several stories and voices. Along with a 25-year-old James’s search for his family story, a contemporary James, now an employee at the U.S. embassy in Vienna, must decide how to deal with volatile information he’s been given about American soldiers in Iraq. Even James’s father and an Interpol agent have their own chapters.

The “House of Widows” isn’t what one might think, and the entire book is full of surprises: twists, turns, and history repeating itself. That being said, the book certainly does not read like popular spy/thriller fiction.

At times, particularly at the beginning, Melnyczuk’s writing feels almost intentionally obscure. As the story develops, though, the writing relaxes, the pace picks up, and Menyczuk creates an intriguing, thought-provoking read.

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