The Signal Flame

Written by Andrew Krivak
Review by Jessica Brockmole

The Signal Flame is a sequel, generations later, to Andrew Krivák’s exquisite debut, The Sojourn. Josef Vinich, a veteran of WWI, dies just before Easter in 1972, leaving behind a close-knit Hungarian family and two thousand acres in the Pennsylvania mountains. War twines throughout the Vinich family history: from Josef’s conscription in the Austro-Hungarian army during WWI, to his daughter Hannah’s marriage to a deserter during WWII, to his grandson Sam, missing in action in Vietnam. As Hannah writes letter after letter to find her youngest son, her oldest, Bo, quietly and patiently tends both the farm and the memory of his grandfather as he waits for his brother to come home.

So real are the characters that the reader waits willingly with them in this quiet unspooling of time. Though Josef only appears in flashbacks and memories, his presence is felt in the people and places left behind. It is a human story, one laden with the small decisions that make up a long life. When does one decide that a loved one will never return? When does one decide to move on? The characters, together and alone, struggle with these questions. The reader can be forgiven for wanting to reach into the pages and cushion their fragility. Krivák’s prose is achingly beautiful, brimful with emotion on each and every page. It does not disappoint.

One criticism, with readers of this publication in mind, is that, compared to Krivák’s first novel, this has only a faint dusting of history. This mattered not in the least to this reader, but it may to others looking for a more immersive dip into a period of history. Read it not as a work of historical fiction, but simply as an outstanding work of fiction.