Those Who Knew -- Idra Novey

Staff Pick

Set on an unnamed island still reeling from the Terrible Years under a brutal regime, Novey’s crisp, graceful novel explores ideas of politics and resistance through a handful of families. Unfolding in brief cinematic takes, the book begins in an unspecified year that turns out to be 2001. While readers will inevitably put this section into the context of 9/11 and the attack on the U.S., Novey’s island residents date the period by its distance from the repressive Cato era, which Northern powers put in place. Now these same Northerners visit the island as tourists. One, Oscar, falls for Lena, rebellious daughter of an elite family. As she struggles to resist the power and corruption of privilege yet still maintain ties with her family, she crystalizes some of the novel’s central tensions. Her greater dilemma involves Victor, a charismatic leftist with an uncontrollable violent streak. Lena is sure he killed a friend and fellow revolutionary, but she’s afraid to accuse him publically. Similarly, Victor’s brother, an aspiring playwright, can put his doubts about Victor on the stage, but can’t confront him directly. As the novel leaps ahead  by four and then two years, Lena, Oliver, and Victor all have children, and Novey expertly traces the effect of parenthood on their ideas as well as showing how the past influences successive generations. Despite “how impossible it can be to start over on this island,” some of Novey’s characters manage to do just that, and her vision is ultimately hopeful, ending with children bonding across class lines and women running for office—this is the next revolution. Along the way, Novey, a poet and translator, writes some breathtaking sentences, from Victor counting “the open mouths of the zeroes on” an illicit check to a description of how “trauma made a kite of the mind and there was no telling what kind of wind might take hold of it.”

Those Who Knew: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780525560432
Availability: Not On Our Shelves—Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Viking - November 6th, 2018

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