The Woman Who Lost Her Soul

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Overview


Renowned through four award-winning books for his gritty and revelatory visions of the Caribbean, Bob Shacochis returns to occupied Haiti in The Woman Who Lost Her Soul before sweeping across time and continents to unravel tangled knots of romance, espionage, and vengeance. In riveting prose, Shacochis builds a complex and disturbing story about the coming of age of America in a pre-9/11 world. Set over fifty years and in four countries backdropped by different wars, The Woman Who Lost Her Soul is National Book ...
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Overview


Renowned through four award-winning books for his gritty and revelatory visions of the Caribbean, Bob Shacochis returns to occupied Haiti in The Woman Who Lost Her Soul before sweeping across time and continents to unravel tangled knots of romance, espionage, and vengeance. In riveting prose, Shacochis builds a complex and disturbing story about the coming of age of America in a pre-9/11 world. Set over fifty years and in four countries backdropped by different wars, The Woman Who Lost Her Soul is National Book Award winner Bob Shacochis’ magnum opus that brings to life, through the mystique and allure of history, an intricate portrait of catastrophic events that led up to the war on terror and the America we are today.

2014 Pulitzer Prize Finalist for Fiction

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

THE WOMAN WHO LOST HER SOUL

A 2013 Best Book of the Year for

O Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, NPR, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Library Journal, Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, The Oregonian

A Washington Post Notable Fiction Pick 2013

An Amazon Omnivoracious Celebrity Pick—John Irving’s Favorite Reads of 2013

"Engrossing...a soaring literary epic about the ­forces that have driven us to the 9/11 age....Shacochis darts around the globe over the span of five decades like a sorcerer of world history: Locations shift, time swirls, characters reappear in new disguises with new names. He’s always so relentlessly captivating that you don’t dare fall behind."—Ron Charles, The Washington Post

"A love story, a thriller, a family saga, a historical novel, and a political analysis of America’s tragic misadventures abroad. The novel yokes the narrative drive of the best Graham Greene and le Carré to the rhetorical force and moral rigor of Faulkner... With a vision at once bitingly realistic and sweepingly romantic, Bob Shacochis has written what may well be the last Great American Novel. What other American writer has put as much heart into his creations, as much drive, as much history?"—Askold Melnyczuk, Los Angeles Review of Books

"This novel amounts to a prequel of sorts to the war on terror, an epic examination of American foreign policy and loss of innocence, a worthy successor to the darkest works of Graham Greene and John le Carré...Elegiac...is a searching and searing meditation on the questions someone might ask a century from now: Who were these Americans? How should history judge them? And us?"—Jane Ciabattari, Boston Globe

"Shacochis has written one of the most morally serious and intellectually substantive novels about the world of intelligence since Norman Mailer’s Harlot’s Ghost.”—Tom Bissell,Harper's

"This big beauty of a book was worth the wait. It’s tinglingly ambitious, vast in scope, and magnificently written. I could unerringly pick a Bob Shacochis sentence out of a police line-up of sentences, which is just about the highest praise I can offer to any writer."—Michael Cunningham

"Now, just as Graham Greene and John le Carre penned the essential novels of the Cold War, so has writer and journalist Bob Shacochis given us a new masterpiece, every bit their equal, that will surely stand as the definitive political thriller of those fragile years of relative peace before Sept. 11, 2001... priceless prose and unforgettable characters. Shacochis’ knack for the pitch-perfect observation extends far beyond the “splashy colors” of Haiti....Once again, Shacochis proves that he does take our recent history seriously, and his engaging, challenging and thoroughly satisfying new novel does, too. There may be no final drafts of history, but this one will be read and reread for many years to come."—Dan Zigmond,San Francisco Chronicle

"Heartbreaking and riveting...a sweeping, expansive book grounded by details such as epic potholes in Haiti’s roads and crowded ferry decks in Turkey. Without veering into conspiracy theories or melodrama, Shacochis builds for both his readers and his characters a sense that something important is being overlooked amid competing agendas...an elegant reminder that connections are made one by one — but not everyone is playing the same game."—Jennifer Kay, The Seattle Times

"[A] masterful and sumptuous novel...deliriously dense...No one moves as forcefully through that terrain as Shacochis. He writes tenderly about terrible things. He unearths humanity when the reader most needs to lean against it...This is a memorable book by a great writer."—Steve Duin, The Oregonian

"A compelling and thought-provoking novel...it plays a deep game, and it will haunt your dreams... [Shacochis] controls a hugely complex plot with great skill and writes set pieces with gripping effect...Line for line, his writing is stunning.”—Colette Bancroft, Tampa Bay Times

"Shacochis could make anyone fall in love with history. With this magnum opus, he's earned his own little piece of it."—Entertainment Weekly(A)

"The Woman Who Lost Her Soul cannot be put down...it never loses its way or its ability to drag you along with it...a wild, deadly ride. You won’t want to let go."—Glenn Garvin, Miami Herald

"A big book in every sense of the word...Shacochis is a master at the top of his game...In this novel, he gives us real, raw-edged characters and a narrative that grips the reader from the get-go. And he does it with such gleaming word-craft and such a sure hand that the reader’s utter engagement never falters. The book is a murder-mystery, a tale of political intrigue, a love story and a fraught father-daughter psychological saga. It was 10 years in the writing and it is a masterpiece...a brilliant, beautiful page-turner ...luminous writing unfurls across every blood-spattered, sweat-speckled, dust-caked page and makes “The Woman Who Lost Her Soul” a riveting, heartbreaking and ravishing read. It’s a novel of uncommon grace and grit that lodges like shrapnel in the psyche and works its way surely to the reader’s heart, without ever losing sight of those 'terrible intimacies.'"—Tallahassee Democrat

"The Woman Who Lost Her Soul, was a long time coming, but critics are saying it was well worth the wait."—NPR

“No one in American literature is better at casting his imagination into the deepest currents of American culture and politics than Bob Shacochis. The long, ardent, admiring wait for his next novel has been worth every moment: The Woman Who Lost Her Soul is his masterpiece.”—Robert Olen Butler

“Bob Shacochis is the man for all syntheses, confabulating decades of time and volumetric immensities of geography into pitched and vivid dramatic narrative. Long in the making, but longer in the lasting, The Woman Who Lost Her Soul is unafraid of its ambitions. Shacochis is, in Glengarry-speak, a ‘closer.’” —Sven Birkerts

“The Woman Who Lost Her Soul will grab you from the first sentence and keep you gasping and laughing and weeping until the end. A murder mystery, a spy thriller and a Daddy and daughter story, it is a thrilling gripping lesson in the dynamics that have swept through our world in the 21st century. Shacochis writes like an angel, and in this novel of culture, betrayal and love he has found a perfect subject.” —Susan Cheever

"A masterful novel with the power to shake the bones of Graham Greene."—Bruce Barcott, Outside Magazine

“Brilliantly unveils the darker regions of human sexality, evoked inside a historical build-up of international political deceit.”—Jeffrey Hillard, Interview Magazine

"Shacochis raises morally tough questions within a significant political/historical frame, and his language is luscious."—Library Journal(fall preview)

“Shacochis thinks big, and his new novel (his first in two decades) is truly magisterial...immensely readable, this eye-opener (which could have been titled "Why We Are in the Middle East") is essential reading.” —Library Journal (Starred Review)

"National Book Award—winning novelist Shacochis makes a long-awaited—indeed, much-anticipated—return to fiction with this stunning novel of love, innocence and honor lost... The wait was worth it... Shacochis has delivered a work that belongs alongside Joseph Conrad and Graham Greene... [The Woman Who Lost Her Soul] moves like a fast-flowing river, and it is memorably, smartly written... An often depressing, cautionary and thoroughly excellent tale of the excesses of empire, ambition and the too easily fragmented human soul."—Kirkus (Starred Review)

"A beautifully written, Norman Mailer–like treatise on international politics, secret wars, espionage, and terrorism...A brilliant book, likely to win prizes, with echoes of Joseph Joseph Conrad, Graham Greene, and John le Carré."—Booklist (Starred Review)

"In Shacochis’s powerful novel of sex, lies, and American foreign policy, 1990s
Haiti, Nazi-occupied Croatia, and Cold War–era Istanbul are shown as places where people are pulled into a vortex of personal and political destruction...A brutal American-style le Carré, Shacochis details how espionage not only reflects a nation’s character but can also endanger its soul. Gritty characters find themselves in grueling situations against a moral and physical landscape depicted in rich language as war-torn, resilient, angry, evil, and hopeful."
Publisher's Weekly (Starred Review)

Publishers Weekly
In Shacochis’s powerful novel of sex, lies, and American foreign policy, 1990s Haiti, Nazi-occupied Croatia, and Cold War–era Istanbul are shown as places where people are pulled into a vortex of personal and political destruction. After leaving Haiti’s Truth Commission, lawyer Tom Harrington returns to Florida and family routine until a private investigator asks him to help a client accused of murdering his wife, Renee Gardner, whom Harrington knew in Haiti as Jackie Scott. Harrington once took Jackie to a voodoo priest so she could ask him to restore her soul, and in flashbacks we discover why. First, Shacochis shows Jackie’s father, Stjepan, as an eight-year-old Croatian boy during the German occupation who witnesses his father’s beheading and his mother’s torture. Forty years later, a teenage Jackie, then called Dorothy Chambers, learns the meaning of secret service from her father, who’s serving as an American diplomat in Turkey. A brutal American-style le Carré, Shacochis details how espionage not only reflects a nation’s character but can also endanger its soul. Gritty characters find themselves in grueling situations against a moral and physical landscape depicted in rich language as war-torn, resilient, angry, evil, and hopeful. Agent: Gail Hochman, Brandt & Hochman. (Sept.)
Library Journal
A skilled journalist and the author of National Book Award-winning fiction (Easy in the Islands), Shacochis thinks big, and his new novel (his first in two decades) is truly magisterial. It opens with humanitarian lawyer Tom Harrington investigating the death of Jackie Scott, a feisty photojournalist who once whipped him around in Haiti. But Harrington turns out to be a relatively minor player in large-scale story dating back to the end of World War II, as the beheading of young Stjepan Kovacevic's Iron Cross father signals coming changes in the Balkans and the world at large. Thus are sown the seeds of Stjepan's hatred for all things communist, Muslim, and, finally, not gloriously righteous Christian West. Flash forward, and Stjepan is U.S. diplomat Steve Chambers, training the teenage daughter he covets to shift personas in the act of serving her country. Eventually, she's the woman who loses her soul, as "America…at war behind the drapery of shadows and secrets" has lost its soul. Throughout, we see how policy is shaped by both the historical and the blindingly personal. VERDICT Densely detailed yet immensely readable, this eye-opener (which could have been titled "Why We Are in the Middle East") is essential reading. [See Prepub Alert, 3/25/13.]—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
Kirkus Reviews
National Book Award--winning novelist Shacochis (The Immaculate Invasion, 1999, etc.) makes a long-awaited--indeed, much-anticipated--return to fiction with this stunning novel of love, innocence and honor lost. The wait was worth it, for Shacochis has delivered a work that in its discomfiting moral complexity and philosophical density belongs alongside Joseph Conrad and Graham Greene. Tom Harrington is a humanitarian lawyer whose path takes him into difficult country: Haiti in the wake of dictatorship and storm, for one. He is unsettled and lonely, even as his stateside wife is one of those blessedly ignorant Americans who "pray for the deafness that comes with a comfortable life"--a comfortable life that would be much more attainable were Tom someone who cared about money. He is not saintly, though. Into his orbit has come a fetching, utterly mysterious journalist whom Tom has met more than once along the trail of good deeds done by sometimes not so good people. Her murder sends him reeling into a long, arcing story of discovery that becomes ever more tangled as Shacochis spins it, taking it across decades and oceans. Among the players are a tough-as-nails Delta Force combatant who surely knows that he's being played as a pawn by the likes of an unlikable senior spook who lives for opera, cocktails and deception; even so, the soldier takes pride in his role in what he calls "Jihadi pest control," just as the spy takes pride in what he did in all those dark corners during the Cold War. These characters are bound to one another, and to Jackie, by blood or elective affinities. Either way, Shacochis would seem to suggest, their real business is to hide themselves from the world, while the business of the world is to help them disguise their subterfuge. Everything in the landscape is secret and forbidden, potentially fatal, doomed to fail--and yet everyone persists, presses on, with what they believe their missions to be. Shacochis is a master of characterization; his story, though very long, moves like a fast-flowing river, and it is memorably, smartly written: " ‘Cleopatra spoke nine languages,' Jackie informed him with a distinctly peevish rise to her voice for what she obviously considered a set series of infinitely tiresome challenges to the perception of her specialness, the unfair excesses of her drop-dead good looks or intellect or courage or God knows, her very birth, as if she had somehow stolen those laudable parts of herself from someone else, an imaginary deprived person." An often depressing, cautionary and thoroughly excellent tale of the excesses of empire, ambition and the too easily fragmented human soul.
The Barnes & Noble Review

Since his first collection of stories, Easy in the Islands, Bob Shacochis has been our man in the Caribbean. The fictions in that book, as well as many in his second collection, The Next New World, and his novel Swimming in the Volcano are set in the islands, both real and imagined. Shacochis also published a nonfiction book, The Immaculate Invasion, about the U.S. and U.N. intervention in Haiti in 1994. The Woman Who Lost Her Soul begins in Haiti in 1998 but travels far in time — back to World War II, forward to the war against Osama bin Laden, who makes a cameo appearance — and ranges widely through space: Croatia, Istanbul, Montana, Nairobi. Like Graham Greene's Our Man in Havana, The Woman Who Lost Her Soul is about intelligence services, but Greene's comedy has mutated into absurdity and menace.

Shacochis's demigod spymaster, Stjepan Kovacevic, dictates the novel's varied locations. As an eight-year-old Croatian Catholic in 1944, he sees his father beheaded by a Bosnian Muslim. After moving to America and changing his name to Steven Chambers, he graduates from Yale Law and becomes a deep-cover CIA agent posted around the world. When living in Rome, Chambers has dinner with John le Carré — hence it's little surprise that The Woman Who Lost Her Soul seems much influenced by le Carré's novels. A Russian-doll plot keeps popping open (once revealing a living doll inside a casket); characters attempt to impose a Manichaean vision on a Venn-diagram world; period details of streets, food, dress, and local patois are exact. Shacochis, though, is more committed than le Carré to historical causality and multiple protagonists, so after Book One, featuring American human rights lawyer Tom Harrington in 1998 Haiti, Book Two focuses on Chambers in 1945 Croatia, and Book Three concentrates on his daughter, Dottie, as a teenager in 1986 Istanbul. Books Four and Five return to 1998 Haiti with a new focal character, Special Forces captain Eville Burnette.

Dottie Chambers, also known as Jackie Scott and Renee Gardner, believes she has lost her soul and, in the novel's early pages, loses her life in Haiti after marrying a drug smuggler. The novel is thus set up like a murder mystery, with Harrington, who was mesmerized by Dottie's beauty and recklessness, investigating her death and with Shacochis back-storying what Machiavelli would have called her "virtù," not to be confused with "virtue." From an early age, Dottie is trained in tradecraft by her father, who also molests her. When she is seventeen and experiencing first love in Istanbul, he has her pretend to be a prostitute in a sting operation that results in Dottie's rape by a Muslim wearing a Russian-made dildo. Why Chambers is a charming monster may be explained by his traumatic sufferings as a refugee in postwar Croatia and by what he understands — and enforces — as a tribal code of revenge.

The flashbacks in Books Two and Three demonstrate Shacochis's impressive knowledge of Balkan ethnic politics and Istanbul street life, but these middle books also present characters as victims of uncontrollable forces, historical or personal. In the books set in Haiti, Shacochis and that failed state give his characters more freedom to respond to and participate in complicated plots. Harrington once uncovered graves and human rights abuses in Haiti, but there are too many possible hit men for him to solve the murder of Dottie. Burnette, a hard-bodied but soft-souled cowboy out of Montana, was with the military in Haiti, has "intel" experience, and gets closer to the Dottie mystery — which involves her father's surveillance of a Pakistani colonel, the head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti, who is smuggling Muslim bad guys into the U.S. Though rather tortuous, this plot does allow Shacochis to tie the novel's sections together through Chambers's hatred of Muslims.

Shacochis's genre inducements — Poe's death of a beautiful woman, international espionage, jihadists on the doorstep, voodoo exoticism — and the 700 pages of The Woman Who Lost Her Soul would seem to make it ideal beach reading, but the novel is really dune reading, best done up in some private fold of sand where there are no distractions from its dense expositions and fulsome descriptions. Like the lawyer Harrington, Shacochis is probably well intentioned in his "exposé" of dangerous interagency conflicts in the U.S. intelligence community and in his suggestion that personality warps policy; and he is certainly sympathetic to Haitians victimized by occupiers, their own governments, and their God or gods, but the novel's attempt to connect all its countries, times, and characters feels overworked, particularly the foreshadowing of 9/11.

Near the end of Swimming in the Volcano, four U.S. agents, whom the American protagonist calls the "friends of golf," enter the book to explain his political naiveté to him. In the new novel, Steven Chambers is one of the "friends of golf," so The Woman Who Lost Her Soul can be read as an expansive, global sequel to the local politics of Shacochis's invented island in that first novel. Though widely praised, Swimming in the Volcano was also faulted for its digressions and lack of a unifying narrative. I doubt anyone will accuse Shacochis of losing his soul, but in surrendering to the temptation of an all-enfolding plot he does resemble in some ways the deceptive and manipulative Steven Chambers.

Like the nod to le Carré that promises a well-coiled narrative, Shacochis's title implies a profound religious portrait (unless the title is supposed to echo The Girl Who Played with Fire). But the many pages devoted to Dottie Chambers instead present a troubled, idealistic woman who may have misplaced or surrendered her soul temporarily but never gives up on its existence or the possibility that her actions in the service of others - - like a nun with a gun — can relocate and claim it. Though off- putting, the misdirection of the title is less damaging than an authorial deception that is central to the plot, a bit of voodoo hocus-pocus that can be described only as a cheap trick, something like a magician making his beautiful assistant disappear and reappear.

Though obsessed, Chambers is usually a suave and subtle persuader. Shacochis tends to hector to communicate the seriousness of his subjects and endeavor. In the following passage and elsewhere, he plants prose inflated by hyperbole and metaphor in the mind of a character unlikely to think in the diction Shacochis gives him. Here the high school-educated Burnette, tangled in one of Chambers's subplots, feels like

a decoy in their fucking games, the self- dramatizing schemes of overheated minds, unrestrained in power and influence and felonious inspiration. It all seemed a bit too diabolically fanciful and he felt once again shanghaied, made to join an absurd theater troupe renowned for bloodshed, performing exclusively for kings and their unsuspecting subjects, the cast and audience equally at risk of cutthroating or mock executions or ironically, because it was less titillating, almost a disappointment in its imaginative deficit, wholesale slaughter.
A longtime defender of long novels, I almost never find a book too big. Sometimes I think that every novel should be part of a trilogy or that Ulysses should also include June 17th. But The Woman Who Lost Her Soul is too long — and overdone. It's overloaded with historical verisimilitude and character background, convoluted with what Burnette calls "the schemes of overheated minds," and occasionally overwritten by an author who wants to rise above the genre elements he chose to work with. The novel winds its way to a redeeming ending, but you will need many days in the dunes to work your way to it.

Tom LeClair is the author of five novels, two critical books, and hundreds of essays and reviews in nationally circulated periodicals. He can be reached at thomas.leclair@uc.edu.

Reviewer: Tom LeClair

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802122759
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 7/1/2014
  • Pages: 736
  • Sales rank: 106,648
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author


Bob Shacochis’s first collection of stories, Easy in the Islands, won the National Book Award for First Fiction, and his second collection, The Next New World, was awarded the Prix de Rome from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He is also the author of the novel Swimming in the Volcano, a finalist for the National Book Award, and The Immaculate Invasion, a work of literary reportage that was a finalist for The New Yorker Book Award for Best Nonfiction of the Year. Shacochis is a contributing editor at Outside, a former columnist for Gentleman’s Quarterly, and has served as a contributing editor for Harper’s and GQ. His op-eds on the US military, Haiti, and Florida politics have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal.
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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 19, 2013

    Wonderful

    A materpiece well worth the wait rendered in a luscious language as true litterature should.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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