Exquisitely written tale of one family’s struggle to come to terms with loss and tragedy.
About the book
Publisher’s description: The Signal Flame is a novel about generations of men and women and the events that define them, brothers who take different paths, the old European values yielding to new world ways, and the convalescence of memory and war.
It’s 1972 and in a small town in Pennsylvania’s Endless Mountains, widowed Hannah and her son, Bo, mourn the loss of the family patriarch, Jozef Vinich and Bo’s brother, Sam, reported missing in action in Vietnam. Covering a period of a few months, we learn, mainly from the point of view of Bo, something of the tragic history of the family and the impact of his brother’s absence on the family and others.
There is some gorgeous writing: “The air smelled of the same candle smoke and slight perfume of frankincense and gardenia that she remembered, and it still sounded even in its silence like every voice uttered was a whisper and that whisper would echo forever if she just sat and listened long enough.”
The book is incredibly sad in parts as tragedies – natural and manmade – come one after another; the toll of grief on some of the characters is sympathetically conveyed: “No, she had come to believe that the only thing one could be certain of was loss. The loss of others as one lived on. Loss as the last thing one left behind.”
What prevents the book becoming too overwhelmingly depressing is the theme of reconciliation. There are some particularly moving and touching scenes between characters in which longstanding differences are set aside which, I’m not ashamed to say, moved me to tears. I loved the descriptions of the routine of daily domestic tasks which never become mundane but gave a sense of the rhythm of life in a small, isolated community. The author explores ideas of duty, obligation and continuity through Bo’s sense of connection to the land acquired by and handed down by his grandfather and there is a sense of a real regard for skill and craftsmanship.
The one slight negative is that the absence of speech marks sometimes made it difficult to distinguish conversation between characters from internal monologue.
I received an advance review copy courtesy of NetGalley and publishers, Scribner, in return for an honest review.
Book facts: 272 pages, publication date 24 January 2017
My rating: 5 (out of 5)
In three words: Evocative, moving, haunting
Try something similar…The Fortunate Brother by Donna Morrissey.
About the Author
Andrew Krivak is the author of National Book Award finalist The Sojourn, which also won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize and the Chautauqua Prize. He lives with his wife and three children in Somerville, Massachusetts.