The Wake of Forgiveness

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Overview

Bruce Machart tells an epic story of a Texas family at the turn of the twentieth century: a family of men led by a father, emotionally crippled following the death of his wife while in childbirth with their fourth boy, Karel. From an early age, Karel proves so talented on horseback that his father enlists him to ride in acreage-staked horseraces against his neighbors, culminating in the ultimate high-stakes race against a powerful Spanish patriarch and his alluring daughters. Hanging in the balance are his ...

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The Wake of Forgiveness

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Overview

Bruce Machart tells an epic story of a Texas family at the turn of the twentieth century: a family of men led by a father, emotionally crippled following the death of his wife while in childbirth with their fourth boy, Karel. From an early age, Karel proves so talented on horseback that his father enlists him to ride in acreage-staked horseraces against his neighbors, culminating in the ultimate high-stakes race against a powerful Spanish patriarch and his alluring daughters. Hanging in the balance are his father’s fortune, his brothers’ futures, and his own fate. Fourteen years later, with the stake of the race still driven hard between him and his brothers, Karel is finally forced to dress the wounds of his past and salvage the tattered fabric of his family. 

With rich descriptive language and a cadence as deliberate and determined as the people and horses of the story,The Wake of Forgivenesscompels us to consider the inescapable connections between sons and their mothers, between landscape and family, and between remembrance and redemption.

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  • The Wake of Forgiveness
    The Wake of Forgiveness  

Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

One moonless night in February 1895, a young landowner in Texas cow country loses his wife in childbirth. In the lonely years that follow, his new son, his fourth, grows to become a skillful, aggressive jockey and his father, with equal fervor, stakes his land and fortunes on his success. In 1910, father and son, distant, yet strangely joined in this venture, race to a point of no return for the entire family. What happens to the son beyond that juncture will not reconfigure his past, but it will burnish him into unexpected maturity. (Hand-selling tip: Of this first novel, one early reader wrote, "If Evan S. Connell, William Faulkner, and Norman Maclean had been born as one person, he might possess the extraordinary gifts of Bruce Machart.")

Publishers Weekly
Machart's bleak, accomplished debut opens in 1895 as a landowning Texas family faces both sides of life's spectrum: the birth of a fourth son and the death of the boy's mother during childbirth. This event resonates throughout the lives of Vaclav Skala, who lost "the only woman he'd ever been fond of," and his four sons who, 15 years later, find their youngest sibling, Karel, to be a preternaturally talented equestrian. While Vaclav's wagers on his son's races increase, so does Karel's confidence, especially when facing off against the talk of the town: Guillermo Villaseñor, a powerful, moneyed, patronizing patriarch with three beautiful daughters. Yet Karel remains haunted by the memory of his mother, often feeling "the flat cool of her absence," and a prideful father who keeps him at arm's length. The consequences of a race that has his father's land hanging in the balance play out some 14 years later when, in 1924, Karel is married with children, yet still finds himself straying and facing inter-familial discord. Machart's moving story unfolds lyrically and sensually, with little fanfare, as his thoughtful prose propels a character-driven story about family, morality, and redemption. (Oct.)
Kirkus Reviews

A wager destroys a farm family in this risk-taking first novel about Czech immigrant landowners in early 20th-century South Texas.

Hard men are grabbing land any way they can. Vaclav Skala has been softened by a loving wife, who has borne him three sons, but when she dies giving birth to a fourth (Karel), he reverts to his old self, the hardest of taskmasters. He has his boys, not horses, plow the fields; they will be marked for life by misshapen necks. In 1910, their lives are upended by the arrival of Villaseñor, a hugely rich Mexican looking for land and husbands for his three comely daughters. He proposes a horserace to Vaclav; if he wins, he'll marry off his girls. Vaclav, confident in his racehorse and Karel's riding skills, agrees. The race is a fine set piece. Villaseñor, the superior strategist, has already won over the older boys, who will ignore some dirty tricks. Karel loses to Graciela, the Mexican's youngest. There are recriminations. After a vicious fight, Vaclav banishes his three oldest, who marry the next day. What next? A violent blood feud? Not at all. Machart is after more than stirring melodrama. The cadences of his formal prose, punctuated occasionally by earthy dialogue, tell you that, just as his shuttling between 1910 and 1924 minimizes suspense. He is making a resonant statement about the deformities of a world in which men make the rules, and mothers are dead or powerless. This involves the introduction, in 1924, of benighted twins, teenage brothers, firebugs who have avenged their dead mother by burning to death the father who brutalized her. There is much more, including bootlegging rivalries and a second deadly fire, but the trouble is, Machart fails to integrate plot and theme, and the novel splinters into a variety of episodes, all of them rendered with flair.

Though he navigates erratically within it, Machart has created a dense, vibrant world, achievement enough for his debut.

Philip Caputo
…a mesmerizing, mythic saga of four motherless brothers at war with one another and with their stern father…Above all, as its title promises, it's a story about forgiveness and a hard-won redemption…[Machart] has a good ear for Western speech, and he writes as convincingly about an era he never experienced as he does about such diverse topics as cotton farming, quail hunting and gelding stallions. The echoes of McCarthy are loud in his lush style, but there are also undertones of Faulkner, Larry McMurtry, Norman Maclean and Charles Frazier. Machart blends these influences into a style uniquely his. The Wake of Forgiveness is a fine debut.
—The New York Times
Yvonne Zipp
The Wake of Forgiveness, which hails from the Robert Olmstead school of western, is a dark tale about fathers and sons, missing mothers and the poison that lies at the heart of the question, Who's to blame?
—The Washington Post
From the Publisher
 "A mesmerizing, mythic saga...”—New York Times

“In his luminous and wrenching tale of four motherless brothers, Machart skillfully evokes the rural Texas landscape...”—Entertainment Weekly

“Bruce Machart has penned a dazzling, gratifying tale of retribution, redemption and morality.”—San Antonio Express News

“This is pure literature; an emphasis on language over plot; risky, complex and often unlikable characters and that echo, that ripple that flows forward into the future and backward into myth.”—Los Angeles Times

“Such evocative prose helps make Machart's novel a standout this year, in any genre.”—Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Machart writes fine idiomatic dialogue and unwinds textured details of farm life, horse racing, and the vagaries of the weather.”—Houston Chronicle

“The big state of Texas is home to many good writers, and the arrival of Bruce Machart's debut novel shows there's always room for one more.”—Dallas Morning News

"Machart's prose is so evocative that you can smell the men's cheap tobacco and corn mash, feel the bare, hard-packed earth from which they coax crops. Their dialogue, rural south Texas vernacular, is spare, gnarled and often funny. In addition to the violence, betrayals and cruelty of an old-fashioned western, The Wake of Forgiveness also finds redemption ..."—Wall Street Journal

"This intense, fast-paced debut novel is hard to put down. Machart's hard-hitting style is sure to capture fans of Cormac McCarthy and Jim Harrison. We can only hope for more exceptional fiction from this very talented writer. Enthusiastically recommended."—STARRED, LIBRARY JOURNAL

"... [an] accomplished debut ... Machart's moving story unfolds lyrically and sensually, with little fanfare, as his thoughtful prose propels a character-driven story about family, morality, and redemption."—STARRED, PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

"The Wake of Forgiveness impressed me on many levels. The prose is polished and evocative, the physicality of rural Texas in the year 1910 shimmers with loving exactitude, and the story of Karel Skala is a gripping American drama of misplaced guilt, familial struggle, and a search for identity. At the heart of this remarkable novel is a question that is both age-old and completely modern: Who am I? What a fine, rich, absorbing book."—Tim O'Brien
"If Evan S. Connell, William Faulkner, and Norman Maclean had been born as one person, he might possess the extraordinary gifts of Bruce Machart. The Wake of Forgiveness is a wild, God-forsaken cry delivered in language so lush we cannot stop listening. The dazzling velocity of Machart’s prose bears a tale redemptive and resonant as myth, insistent and intimate as breath in the body. With fierce grace and uncompromising passion, this visionary young writer offers the reader the mercy of his own heart and the capaciousness of mind that makes it possible to love the lost without fear or judgment."—Melanie Rae Thon
 
"In his richly told novel, The Wake of Forgiveness, Bruce Machart tells a story of fathers and sons that stretches wide across the Texas landscape, leaving behind its own beautiful wake of remembrance , inheritance, and the unbreakable bonds of family."—Hannah Tinti

The Barnes & Noble Review

The Wake of Forgiveness, the rich, evocative debut novel by Bruce Machart, doesn't amble gently into a prolonged introduction of place and characters, but begins bang-on in the middle of a peak scene: a messy, fatal childbirth in the winter of 1895:

The blood had come hard from her, so much of it that, when Vaclav Skala awoke in wet bed linens to find her curled up against him on her side, moaning and glazed with sweat, rosary beads twisted around her clenched fingers, he smiled at the thought that she'd finally broken her water.

But, Machart continues, the birth was not an easy one: "When the baby arrived, their fourth boy, blood slicked and clot flecked, he appeared to have been as much ripped from flesh as born of it."

Likewise, this novel feels as if it was torn by a bare-handed surgeon from Machart's fecund imagination. Story and style writhe intertwined in a string of densely-packed sentences, the narrative itself taking on a bloody, clotted life of its own. Just a few paragraphs in and readers will find it hard to tamp down the urge to compare The Wake of Forgiveness to William Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy -- two "go-to" authors lazy reviewers pull out of their shirt pocket when they want to telegraph blurb-ready assessments. Machart is one of the few contemporary writers worthy of that comparison, however. His labyrinthine sentences can run-on with the best of them.

But while The Wake of Forgiveness may unspool like another chapter from Faulkner's Snopes trilogy, and certainly has plenty of brutal McCarthian machismo pumping through its veins, Machart stakes his own territory in this engrossing novel which spans nearly thirty years in the troubled life of one south Texas family.

In that crucial opening scene, immigrant farmer Vaclav Skala loses "the only woman he'd ever been fond of" and his four sons must go through the rest of their childhoods without a mother's gentle touch to balance their father's harsh treatment. Karel, the newborn who "kills" his mother, grows up under the disregard and blame from his three older brothers and father. Unable to shake his guilt (misplaced or not), he is raised among men -- "for whom pain was weathered in silence and pleasure announced in exaggerated groans of relief" -- never knowing the soft comfort a woman, he believes, would have brought to the household.

Karel finds his mother in every girl he meets. In another of the book's important scenes -- a nighttime horse race with his father's land at stake -- he sees his competitor, the daughter of local patriarch Guillermo Villasenor, ride up to the starting line out of the darkness: "her face rapt in a solemn beauty that reminds Karel of a memory he can't possibly have…He's seeing his mother, blond and lovely and sitting on a horse in the night, and he can't help now but imagine himself curled up and floating inside her, his blood an extension of hers, his bobbing movement a function of her horse's gait, his heart beating only so long as hers refuses to stop."

Karel has as many "issues" as Oedipus and it will take the entire length of the novel for him to work them out, starting with his troubled relationship with his father. Vaclav is a hard man, made even more impenetrable by his wife's death.

The townsfolk would assume, from this day forward, that Klara's death had turned a gentle man bitter and hard, but the truth, Vaclav knew, was that her absence only rendered him, again, the man he'd been before he'd met her, one only her proximity had ever softened.

He's a man who loves his horses more than his sons and hitches the latter to the plow to work the fields while the former remain stabled. The Skala boys all grow to be misshapen men -- emotionally and physically -- their necks permanently bent to the side and bearing scars from the plow harness. The entire novel is populated with harsh fathers -- Villasenor gives away his daughters in a high-stakes wager, and another man beats his son with a whip when the boy loses a horse race to Karel. Forgiveness and mercy are in short supply, but are desperately needed in a landscape parched for human kindness.

Perhaps the key to the whole book comes when Karel finds himself ruminating too much over the loss of his mother:

He shakes his head now, scolds himself for thinking more fondly of a past that never happened than of a future he might occasion with hard work and horsemanship and concentration. There are times, goddamn them, that won't turn loose of you any more than they'll permit you to take hold of them.

There is a lot at stake for all of the characters in The Wake of Forgiveness, and Machart pushes them to their limits in scenes of violent confrontation, all rendered starkly against the rough Texas frontier. Likewise, Machart's prose rips through the landscape of the book, often bordering on the archaic, but never failing to excite the senses. Here, for instance, is Karel, waiting for a suspected horse-thief to come out of the barn: "he hunkers there with his rifle leveled at the open door and waits while his guts work against themselves in such a way that Karel wonders if a man can set himself afire with only the friction of his own fears." In another instance, rain comes down with "a sound like slow-tearing parchment that grows steadily louder in its approach."

There is more information packed in one Bruce Machart sentence than some writers' entire stories. Machart tells you everything you need to know about a character in the short distance between first letter and last period. This was also Faulkner's forte -- running his sentences like country roads winding through hills full of dips and swerves -- and Machart has ably shouldered that mantle and then set forth on his own path, one that shows thrilling promise.

--David Abrams

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780151014439
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 10/21/2010
  • Pages: 309
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Bruce Machart

BRUCE MACHART is the author of The Wake of Forgiveness. His fiction has appeared in Zoetrope: All-Story, Glimmer Train, Story, One Story and elsewhere, and has been anthologized in Best Stories of the American West . A graduate of the MFA program at Ohio State University, he currently lives and teaches in Houston.

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Read an Excerpt

THE BLOOD HAD COME hard from her, so much of it that, when Vaclav Skala awoke in wet bed linens to find her curled up against him on her side, moaning and glazed with sweat, rosary beads twisted around her clenched fingers, he smiled at the thought that she’d finally broken her water. He pulled back the quilt, a wedding gift sent six years before from his mother in the old country, and kissed Klara on the forehead before climbing from bed to light the lamp. He struck a match, and there it was, streaked down his legs and matted in the coarse hair on his thighs = dark and half-dried smears of his wife’s blood.
 And it kept coming. He saddled his horse and rode shivering under a cloudless midnight sky to the Janek farm to fetch Edna, the midwife. By the time they made it back, Klara’s eyes were open but glazed in such a way that they knew she wasn’t seeing through them anymore. Her pale lips moved without giving voice to her final prayer, which entreated the child to come or her own spirit to stay, either one.
 When the baby arrived, their fourth boy, blood slicked and clot flecked, he appeared to have been as much ripped from flesh as born of it. Klara was lost, and Edna tended to what had been saved, pinching the little thing’s toe to get the breathing started, cleaning him with a rag dipped in warm milk and water, wrapping him in a blanket.
 Vaclav Skala stood at the foot of the bed, grinding his back teeth slowly against a stringy mash of tobacco he’d chewed flavorless half an hour before. He watched Edna, a slight young woman with narrow hips and long hair as black as her eyes. She bunched pillows beneath the dead woman’s shoulder blades and behind her head before resting the baby on his mother’s stomach. Taking one of Klara’s breasts between her thumb and finger, she puckered the nipple so the baby could get hold of it. The little thing threw his hands up about his face and worked his legs beneath the blanket, and Edna held him unremittingly to the breast until he hollowed his cheeks and found it with his mouth. “It’s no hind milk in her yet,” she said, “but he might get some of the yellow mother’s milk. We’ll be needing a wet nurse. It’s several up county who might do it.”
 Vaclav stepped back into the doorway and looked down the dark hallway toward the room where his other three boys were sleeping. “We’ll be needing a hell of a lot more than that,” he said. “Let him get what’s left of her if he can. He’s done taken the rest.”

Just before dawn, after Edna had washed the body and wrapped it in clean bedding, Vaclav carried it out and up into the loft of the barn so the boys wouldn’t find her when they woke. Then he dragged the drenched mattress from the house and out through the young pear grove to the hard-caked plot of earth where he planned one day to build his stable. There, beneath the wash kettle, he kindled a fire with last year’s fallen mesquite branches. The mattress was soaked through and heavier than Klara’s body had been, and Vaclav found himself cursing its weight even while he recalled how Klara had stitched the ticking and stuffed it with goose feathers before their wedding night; how, when he lay pressed for the first time between her tender skin and the soft warmth of the bed she’d made for him, he’d startled his bride, so loud was his laugh.
 Now, as the horizon gave way to the pink glow of another south Texas dawn and the mockingbirds came to life in the pear grove, Vaclav worked his knife along the mattress seam, undoing his wife’s work, as he would find himself doing for years. With several inches of the stitching cut away, he reached in and pulled out the feathers, one bloody handful after another, and fed them to the fire, which spat and sizzled before blazing into yellow flames and thick white billows of smoke.
 In the near pasture, the cattle stood lowing against the fence, and had Vaclav been paying attention the way he usually did, he would have puzzled at their behavior, wondering what it was that kept them clustered against the fenceline instead of in the center of the parcel near the three square bales of hay he’d set out for them the day before. Instead, he stood staring into the fire, adding the steady fuel of feathers, looking into the flames so he wouldn’t have cause to look at his hands, which were chapped and creased deeply with calluses and stained with the blood of the only woman he’d ever been fond of.
 The townsfolk would assume, from this day forward, that Klara’s death had turned a gentle man bitter and hard, but the truth, Vaclav knew, was that her absence only rendered him, again, the man he’d been before he’d met her, one only her proximity had ever softened. He’d known land in his life that, before a few seasons of regular rainfall, had been hard enough to crack a plow point, and he knew that if, by stubbornness or circumstance, that earth became yours to farm, you’d do well to live with the constant understanding that, in time, absent the work of swollen clouds and providence, your boots would fall loudly, giving rise to dust, when you walked your fields.
 With the sun breaking clear of the horizon and the ticking gutted of its down, Vaclav whittled his knife against a brick of lye soap and added a handful of shavings to the boiling kettle water. He squinted against the sharp fumes of Klara’s strong soap, and when he got the bloodstained ticking into the kettle, the water roiled and frothed red like so much sick stew.
 Softly, a cool wind came up from the north and swirled the smoke around the kettle and out into the newly lit morning. Across the pasture, hidden in the far hedgerow near the creekside stand of trees, three half-starved coyotes raised their twitching snouts to catch a breeze laced of a sudden with the hot, iron-rich scent of blood. Their mouths flooded with anticipation as they hunkered their bellies low and inched forward, shifting their feet beneath them and waiting, their reticence born more of caution than patience. In the pasture, the cows went to lowing again, pressing themselves together against the fencewires.
 With a twisted mesquite branch, Vaclav moved the ticking around in the boiling liquid and then threw that wood, too, on the fire. When he turned toward the house and weaved his way through the grove, he found the back door swung open, his three young boys standing just inside wearing nightclothes and wet cheeks. The oldest, Stanislav, was only five, but he held on to his brothers’ shoulders the way a father would. The wind gusted enough to ripple -Vaclav’s shirt, and when it calmed he heard the baby crying inside. Standing in the bare yard, he took his plug of tobacco from his shirt pocket and tore off a portion with his teeth. Edna appeared behind the boys and turned them away from the door. “Their breakfast’s gone cold on the table,” she said. “They’re asking after her.”
 He nodded and spit tobacco juice into the hard earth near the porch, and then, without washing his hands or taking off his boots, he stepped into the house where, for all but one wailing newborn, as in the pasture and the hedgerows, even hunger had been plowed under by fear.

 

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Average Rating 3.5
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  • Posted September 19, 2010

    Some books are meant to be remembered; this is one of them.

    This book is so well written that the words leap from the page and make you an active participant in the story, rather than a voyeur. Every page makes you think more deeply about each of the characters. They almost invite themselves to be examined.
    The story begins in the late 1800's and continues over a span of 29 years. The lawlessness, cruelty and hardship, that the author describes is palpable and his prose so powerful that it seemed to reach out and suck me into it, making me aware of the horrors of the characters lives as if I were actually there, in the moment, witnessing what they experienced. I could almost feel the tug of the yoke on the fields, the kicks to the animals, the beatings, the labor pains of the women, and even the sadness of heartache; such was the power of the words on the page that the tension lived inside me too.
    Although the subject matter is difficult because of the violence and deeply flawed characters, there is occasionally a hint of softness, kindness and a longing for tenderness. In those moments you can catch your breath.
    As I continued to read, it became harder. The brutality of the book is so penetrating that I found myself hoping there would be some kind of relief, some moment of redemption for some of the characters and some kind of retribution for others so that I could feel my feet on solid ground again. I would root for one or another character's success and then reverse myself when the character study deepened.
    The book creates tension from page one and interest grows with each passing page to find out what is going to happen but with the interest comes the fear of what you will eventually learn about the unpredictable, too quick to react, violently brutal and competitive characters. Although there are those gentler moments which interject some calmness and allow the reader a small respite from the constant emotional seesaw, the author pushes the envelope in every scene in which men are interacting with each other.
    Having finished the book, I can only come to one conclusion. It may be hard to read it because of its darkness, but read it you must, because this author has the power to make the words on the page live; this book is truly alive; it breathes with every breath caught in your throat as what you read seizes you with surprise and/or mystifies you as you become more and more enmeshed in the tale, completely in awe of the power of the written word and enrapt by the characters lives and travails.
    This book is so well worth the effort to read. It would really lend itself to the analysis of a discussion group. There are endless topics to discuss, women's rights, physical abuse, equal rights, love and loss, dysfunctional family relationships, heartbreak, uncontrolled violence, vengeance, redemption, and forgiveness just to name a few. An analysis of the writer's style and his ability to almost take the reader hostage, would be rewarding, as well.
    My recommendation is steel yourself and read it.

    9 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 15, 2010

    Difficult time getting into this book

    I am an avid reader but I had a very hard time getting into this book. It was probably because I didn't like the characters. I thought most of the men were cruel and the story was harsh and a little slow. I enjoy finding new authors but I didn't really care for this story or author.

    7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 9, 2010

    would not recommend

    This book was a study in the cruelty of a man...from his birth where he was rejected by his father, to his growing years without the love of a mother or father, to his coming of age. The main character knows no love growing up and knows not how to love in his life. The timeline in the book jumps around in crucial points in the plot...making it more disturbing and disjointed. I did not enjoy this book and would not recomment it.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 26, 2010

    The Wake of Forgiveness

    Like the sureness and the certainty of the cycles in life on the sprawling, dusty ranches in late nineteenth century- early twentieth century Texas, this book meanders through the passages of time and story. The prose of Bruce Machart's first novel reads like poetry, each word stuffed with meaning, carefully chosen, and contributing concisely and exactly to descriptions painted for the reader, as with the surest strokes of the brush of an experienced artist.


    This story, starting and ending in the same breath of time, winds through twenty-nine years in the life of Karel Skala, last-born son of Vaclav, Czech Texas rancher, and Klara, his mother who died from the struggle of his birth. Never knowing the loving tenderness of his mother's touch, Karel grew up with hard work and an affinity for horses. Raised by a hard, calloused father who believed that there "ain't nothing that ain't someone's fault"*, and literally yoked to his three brothers to work the even harder, more calloused land, we follow along as the motherless boy works, struggles, suffers, and learns how to become a man.


    The most remarkable aspect of this book is the author's exceptional descriptions. Whether he is describing the arduous but revered Texas landscape or the feelings of one of his characters, his words ring true and perfect, describing the indescribable, finding a way to say something that no one ever thought to put into words. He describes experiences common to human beings that, although universally felt, were previously left implicit and buried within habitual existence.


    The author's development of his characters is thorough and endearing, leaving the reader to feel as if these "ghosts of his imagination"* were personal acquaintances. Each character is finely tuned, his every action consistent with his personality and history.


    The author does make the reader work though. Some of the intricately-wrought descriptions tend to be a little too long and cumbersome, often requiring several readings before they can be understood. But they are well worth the effort.


    Another challenge that the reader faces are the major time shifts that occur throughout the book. Beginning and ending with the birth of our main character, Karel, chapters oscillate in time, forcing the reader to remember that which happened in the last chapter dealing with that particular time period. The flashbacks within each time frame can also prove to be confusing. But these inconveniences also add to the continuity and value of the story, reminding us that time does in fact roll along, the past mixing with the present, all wrapped into a tight package called a life.


    I feel honored to have experienced Mr. Machart's tale, and I am sure that it will be a very long time before it will be "surrendered to the whitewash of forgetting."*



    * Bruce Machart's words from THE WAKE OF FORGIEVNESS.

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 20, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Difficult to handle

    There are many positives of this story including the talent of the writer. The historical aspect of this book is amazing, you can see & feel everything about this time. The language will make you feel you are right there with the characters. For all of these reasons, I applaud the author & know he has a promising future. The reason I only gave this 3 stars is because this is a very hard story. 99% of the characters are unlikeable due to cruelty. If you are looking for a light or happy read, it's definitely not here. There was also not much interaction between the characters, mainly focusing on descriptions of places, thoughts to one self, explanations of certain scenes being witnessed. While the author has a talent for this, sometimes it just seemed to go on too long & I began to get bored. Towards the end is when I was finally hooked, finding some likable qualities in some of the characters & more interaction between them. I am truly torn as to whether I liked this book in the end. I guess I can only say that I was able to appreciate the quality of the writing but the story was just too dark & cruel for me.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 16, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Dark and Depressing

    I really wanted to like this book much more than I did. The writing is beautifully descriptive. However, I found the storyline to be dark and depressing. The time line goes back and forth and I found myself having to go back and figure out what time period I was now in. The flow was confusing to me. There were some rather descriptive moments of child abuse and animal abuse that were just too much for me. All in all I would say the writing is beautiful in spots. The author has a wonderful way with words but this just wasn't the book for me. I really wanted to like it more.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 24, 2010

    Recommend--but not a book I would have picked out for myself!

    I read this book through FL and finished it in two days. It's a very interesting read, however, there are some areas that might not be appealing to all. The book had a jumping timeline making it hard to follow, and the beginning was a little difficult to trudge through. Halfway through it becomes an easier read and more enjoyable in that sense. None of the characters are likeable. Cruelty, violence, infidelity and abuse is rapid throughout. However, the morbidity of the novel pulls you in and it's like slowing down while passing an accident...you have to see what happens! This is definitely not a book I would have picked out for myself, but I'm glad for the FL opportunity. It was something different from the norm and opened up me up to other possibilities. I would consider reading another novel from this author in the future.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 24, 2010

    Too dark for me, but well written and descriptive

    While I personally found the characters unlikable and the overall story depressing, it was well written and the scenes were descriptive and very easy to visualize. I would recommend it to people from Texas interested in their history, from people who don't need as much of a feel good or at least hopeful story as I do, and for fans of dark authors.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 22, 2010

    Intriguing plot

    This book was so different from anything I've read in ages, and it was a most intriguing plot! The prose was quite remarkable and the characters were intensely drawn. The reader was drawn into the lifestyle of this small town in TX and the description of the locale was such that you could picture yourself walking down one of the streets or riding along a dusty road. I found myself making time to get back to this book at every chance. Just had to know how the various strings of the plot came together in the end!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 21, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A masterpiece!

    From cover to cover this book is amazing. You will go on an amazing journey with a family that struggles with showing love and care, but deep down the bonds of family are strong. You will be taken back in time and find the book hard to put down. A masterpiece for all generations!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 20, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Wonderful read!

    This is such a wonderful read!
    Every word and every sentence needs to be read.
    This story really captured this time period well.
    I liked how the author blended a warm humorous
    scene with the stark images of life during this time.
    Each scene in the book is so descriptive you feel a part of it.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 20, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Nitty and Gritty...

    This book isn't really my cup of tea, but I don't want that to mean that it isn't a good book, hence the three stars. I think that a lot of people will love the story, the language, the experience of a book like this. I just couldn't get into it.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 1, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    The Wake of Forgiveness is a poignant must read.

    The Skala's are one imperfect family living in Texas at the turn of the century and this is their story. It's a story a full generation long of an, I hope unlikely farm family. Karel Skala is the youngest son, he's a forlorn man trying to better his present by not reliving his past, but in doing so he finds that the past always seems to rise it's sometimes ugly head, but he also hopes that if one can rise above his past then maybe he'll find "The Wake of Forgiveness".
    Mr. Machart has a real hit on his hands with this his debut novel The Wake of Forgiveness. He gives us a unique look at the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century USA, Texas from the perspective of one family and the town they call home, it's before the dust bowl and before the depression but he makes us see just how treacherous and precipitous life can be. He does this using dramatic prose like dialogue that enhances the reader's enjoyment of the novel by adding stimulus that will definitely affect our senses while it tells the story of this one imperfect family, he adds time jumps that also enlighten us about his characters. His characters are plentiful, colorful, complicated and some are difficult to imagine, while others will tear at your heartstrings. His characters the Skala's are an unbelievably believable family and Mr. Machart makes them so to his audience by giving us multifaceted looks at the differences and similarities in their personalities. His main protagonist Karel Skala is a character that you will want to get to know, and as we find out bits and pieces of his life so far it will become clear to us why he became the man he did.
    This is a love story, it's a coming of age story, it's a family drama and will appeal to so many different audiences at the same time. It's mainly a beautifully written matter of fact piece of literary fiction and who ever you are will be better for having read it. And I want to thank Mr. Machart for allowing it to be a part of the Barnes and Noble First Look program.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 18, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Forgive me, but.....

    I had the opportunity to read "The Wake of Forgiveness" by Bruce Machart, as a part of Barnes & Noble's First Look program. As much as I wanted to enjoy reading this book, I had a very hard time reading it. I did not form a connection with any of the characters. If I cannot form any connection to them, I have a difficult time with the book. Every time I tried to pick up TWoF to read, I found that I couldn't. Perhaps it just was not the time for me to read this book. I will try again, at some point.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 15, 2010

    Beautifully written but ultimately unsatisfying

    While this book was beautifully written, there was a lot of violence and cruelty in this book. After Vaclav Skala's beloved wife dies giving birth to their fourth son, Karel, Vaclav becomes cruel and unforgiving--to the extent of harnessing his sons to the plow rather than use his race horses for farm work. When a rich, Mexican man comes with three daughters he inexplicably wants to wed to three of Skala's four sons, trouble starts. Although there's clearly an attempt for the patterns of blame and guilt (which are as much a result of the hard land and bad luck as bad decisions) to be resolved in forgiveness by the book's end, I found the plot to be somewhat contrived--so it ultimately didn't come together for me. Beautifully written, but definitely a book I'd rather check out of the library than buy.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 31, 2010

    A Brilliant, Beautiful Novel

    This was a brilliant, beautiful novel.

    Literary fiction fans will want to read this book, and it should win some major awards. The prose is gorgeous and graphic. Though the subject matter is more of a "guy's book," I could not put it down. The setting in rural Texas at the turn of the 20th century and the masculine tone of the novel is reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy, but the novel has a rich, passionate story and characters. The dialog is brutally authentic, and the characters communicate with the barest of glances or blows or both.

    The scenes of this novel are huge, incredibly intense and dramatic. I found myself glued to the pages of this novel and riveted by the action. I would then need to put it aside for a bit to decompress before diving into the next long passage.

    The Wake of Forgiveness is rife with imagery of blood, water, spit, fire, birth, death and gaping wounds. A priest finds himself with a smashed vial of holy water and his own blood. There's the specter of an empty tomb and a daughter thought dead but mercifully resurrected. An English teacher would have a field day with this book. I'm glad I could just enjoy this novel, and I can't wait for a film version of it.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 20, 2010

    Not my cup of Tea . . . .

    The writing prose of the author was somewhat difficult to follow. I had to stop often to look up passages since most of the writing is <somewhat> reflective of an era gone by writing. The book jumps back and forth to previous times and locations thru-out.

    The characters were just plain 'nasty' and not positive at all. Sad read and not very optimistic in the least bit. The artwork is great & catchy. The characters seem a bit too opportunistic and extreme for my understanding.
    Relationships in this book are so stressed makes one wonder 'how did they manage without killing each other?'
    Sad read....

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 16, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    More of a book for men

    "The Wake of Forgiveness" looks at the relationships between fathers and sons. Set in Texas in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the protagonist is Karel Skala, whose mother died giving birth to him and who is resented by his father for that reason. Karel has three brothers, and their father works them mercilessly, using them instead of horses to plow his farm.

    Horses are a huge part of this novel. Karel races one of his father's horses with more land as the prize. He's unbeaten untl he races a girl named Graciella. She and Karel share the bond of motherless children. She's one of three sisters who marry Karel's three brothers, but not before she and Karel spend a stormy night in a barn together.

    I really think this is more a book written by a man for men, though some of the writing is beautiful. It was interesting to learn that many Czech immigrants settled in Texas, which made me wonder about how the two cultures influenced each other.

    The book jumps back and forth between three time periods, which I wasn't crazy about, but that's just me. It also has a few explicit sex scenes, so if that's not your thing, be warned.

    Women have a rough time in this book, but they all seem to be smart and strong. One of my favorite quotes is from another character near the end of the story: "Ain't a woman ever been paid enough for all that gets taken from her."

    Though it isn't the best book I've read this year, I did learn about that time and place, and I really liked the ending. I think a different reader would love it.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 7, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A Beautifully Executed and Gripping Novel

    Karel Skala is the youngest son of Klara and Vaclav, born in 1895 on the same night his mother dies while struggling to birth him. Karel's father, a Czech immigrant and a rough and violent man who has made a living off the Texas land of Lavaca County, only becomes more hardened after the death of his wife. He turns away from the son he blames for her death and immerses himself in the land. This is a man who harnesses his sons to a plow to work his fields (causing them to develop perpetually kinked necks), and accumulates his land by sitting Karel atop a horse to race against his nearest neighbor's son.

    Bruce Machart's debut novel The Wake of Forgiveness is about Karel and his father, about the bonds of family and the crevices in sibling relationships, about the Texas land and the men and women who work it, and about love, loss and redemption. Machart writes in a non linear fashion, weaving back and forth from the late nineteenth century, to 1910 (when Karel is fifteen years old), to 1924 (when Karel is a grown man, married with his own children). His prose is poetic and balanced, intense and captivating, violent and heartbreaking. This is a big, sprawling book like the Texas landscape itself.

    I found myself enthralled by Machart's book. I loved how he crafted his characters, adding layers to them as the novel progresses. When a rich Mexican arrives in Lavaca County with his three desirable, raven haired daughters, a horse race is organized between Karel and Graciela (one of the daughters) with either land or marriage at stake - depending on who wins the race. The interaction between these two characters on the eve of the race is just another fine example of Machart's talent to create tension while unveiling another aspect of character.

    ""Well," says Karel, "seems only fair that you tell me your name, don't it? Before you leave me in the dust, I mean."

    She turns the horse back at him, her eyes so deep and full of their dark allure that Karel imagines she could pull him out of his boots and into the saddle with nothing more than a look. She curls a few strands of the horse's mane around her finger and wets her lips with her tongue, and, before she gives her horse a heel and gallops him into the early morning fields, she leans down over Karel such that her hair brushes against his face and he breathes her in and she smells of lavender and of beeswax and of sweet feed, and then her voice is in his ear and she's whispering: "Ask me Saturday, and I'll tell you it's Skala."" - from the ARC of The Wake of Forgiveness, page 35 -

    Machart's writing is some of the finest I have read in a long time. Dialogue, setting, plot, character.all are fully developed. Machart captures the wide open spaces of Texas, the hard work of farming and ranching, and the beauty of a horse running.all with gorgeous writing that takes the reader's breath away. This novel is about the troubled relationship between a boy and his father, and the sibling rivalry between brothers who suffer beneath the unrelenting hand of their father. It is also about the human heart's capacity for love and forgiveness amid hardship.

    I would not be at all surprised if The Wake of Forgiveness shows up on the literary prize lists in 2011. It is a gripping drama beautifully executed with unforgettable characters. This is one I highly recommend.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 5, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    just not into it

    This was one I just couldn't get into. There's a backwards time jump early on that really threw me off. Usually I have no problem with books that do that, but I feel this one didn't have enough action/characters not appearing in both times to differentiate the time periods. The time jump took me out of the story and I had trouble getting back into it. Furthermore, I never connected with the characters (no sympathy from me) and wasn't invested in the plot at all.

    I read this as part of the First Look program.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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