Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Invention of Exile: A Novel

Title:  The Invention of Exile: A Novel
Author:  Vanessa Manko
Publication Information:  Penguin Press. 2014. 304 pages.
ISBN:  1594205884 / 978-1594205880

Book Source:  I received this book through a publisher's giveaway free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Favorite Quote:  "You know something - you are a man with loss of your making."

Ustin "Austin" Voronkov is an immigrant to the United States. In Russia, he trained and worked as an engineer. In the United States, his qualifications are not recognized, and he becomes a factory worker. He falls in love and marries an American citizen. The environment he lives in is the pre-World War I era with its widespread suspicion of all things Russian. For statements made, he is deemed an anarchist.

 Is he an anarchist? Is he a danger to the country? Is he simply an innocent man caught is an atmosphere of fear? Regardless, he is convicted and deported. He leaves the country with his wife.

Over time, his wife and children are allowed to return to the country as American citizens. He is repeatedly denied a visa. He spends years attempting to legally find his way back to his family and back into the country. That is the entire story of this book.

The book, which stems from the history of the author's grandfather, grapples with a number of serious issues. What do you do when your adopted homeland shuts you out? What impact do immigration laws and bureaucracy have on individuals and families? What would you do if you thought you would never be reunited with your family? How do you reconcile the fact that even when you follow all the rules, sometimes things still don't work out?

This book puts a face to the immigration process - presenting not numbers or statistics or aggregates but the way in which it impacts one man. Unfortunately, the character that the book hinges on is not particularly engaging. The book presents the story through Austin's eyes, who spends the bulk of his life trying to make the system work and waiting for the system to work.

Austin spends years and years doing the same thing - working on his "inventions" and hoping that will undo the black mark on his record and allow him a venue back. He has no success. Yet, he tries again and again.

Albert Einstein defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Does Austin's predicament have the effect of driving him insane? Possibly. The book does not clearly state that, but such a situations would exact a heavy toll. The tone of the book certainly presents Austin as removed from the world around him. His constant desire to be somewhere else keeps him from creating a life where he is. He functions, but is forever caught in this struggle which he believes sets him apart from everyone else.

The book covers a span of about twenty five years; yet, nothing much really happens. The pace of the book is extremely slow. It is all about Austin; yet, his wife and children suffer through this separation also. Adding their perspective to the book would help create a fuller understanding of the impact of this situation.

The ending also is very abrupt and unexpected given the rest of the book. I am left wanting to know what happens after. Are the questions and conflicts resolved? Is there a way to move forward? How does Austin live the rest of his life? How does his family?

The concept of this story has enormous potential - to delve into and make the reader feel the ramification of what happens to Austin. The execution just scratches the surface.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.


  1. I agree with you totally! This book just missed the mark and it had so much potential!!! Her sentences were beautiful but the story just meandered.

    Read mu full review at

    1. I loved the premise of the book. It could have been such a heartfelt read, but unfortunately for me, it just wasn't.

      Thank you for stopping by. I look forward to checking out what you've been reading.