The worldly young people of Thomas Leveritt’s novel have all the information they need. They know that religion doesn’t work; ideology doesn’t work; movements and philanthropy and even basic goodness are broken irredeemably. Ah, but there’s always graft, corruption, and commerce; the profit motive, the predatory principle. Leveritt’s protagonist Bannerman joins his buddy Frito in a venture exporting Bosnian beer from a Sarajevo transformed into by war, ethnic cleansing, and international aid into a bazaar of gnashing teeth. The beer, Frito is convinced, was the secret to the Sarajevans’ uncanny survival during the siege; this makes it not only an enticing enigma but — more important to Frito — a saleable brand. But Bannerman and Frito’s designs go awry; they find the almighty dollar is broken, too — broken by design, and no warranty. What’s left? Love, of course: Bannerman falls into it with Frito’s girlfriend, Clare, a placid, freckled prosecutor for The Hague. Love is broken, too, but we already knew that; everything that falls converges also. As love and the export business break them, Bannerman and Frito turn to bounty hunting, helping to seize the war criminals who are as abundant as beer in the once-besieged city. In the end they’re left with violence — which always works, only never as intended. Leveritt’s novel is knowing, sometimes cloyingly so. But he catches the frustrated hopes of a generation for whom cosmopolitan idealism and world-weary ennui are unresolved. And he does it through a living idiom that fizzes, crackles, and tingles but never breaks.
About the Author
Matthew Battles is the author of Library: An Unquiet History. He has written about language, technology, and history for such publications as The American Scholar, The Boston Sunday Globe, and Harper's.