The Sojourn is a beautiful sliver of a literary novel. A story about fathers, brothers, and finding inner strength, it is set against the unforgiving landscape of an impoverished Rusyn village in a corner of the Austro-Hungarian Empire on the eve of the First World War. Josef is raised by his shepherd father, along with Zlee, a hotheaded boy abandoned by a distant cousin. The two grow up as brothers, learning to hunt in the mountains and read in English.
When Zlee is conscripted at the start of the war, Josef follows. The pair single themselves out as a crack sharpshooting team, until capture and imprisonment on Sardinia separate them. After the Armistice, Josef is set free and pointed in the direction of home. The boy who was never more than a follower to his beloved adopted brother now must find his way home, discovering love and a newfound strength on his journey.
Deftly wrought, quietly told, the story of Josef and his love for father and brother tugs at the emotions without trying too hard. Krivak wields the first person point of view skillfully, with Josef becoming more distant from his own point of view as the trenches desensitize him, and coming closer to it as he regains his sense of self on the way home. The language is subtle in its elegance, the simple language of a shepherd wrought into the narrative of a poet. The words, the winding sentences, sound almost like German-in-translation, making it feel more like a Remarque. Krivak studied all the Great War novels before writing, and the result is a debut novel at home amongst those classics. Highly recommended.