Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever?

Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever?

3.8 9
by Dave Eggers

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From Dave Eggers, bestselling author of The Circle, a tightly-controlled, emotionally searching novel. Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? is the formally daring, brilliantly executed story of one man, struggling to make sense of his country, seeking answers the only way he knows how.
In a barracks on…  See more details below


From Dave Eggers, bestselling author of The Circle, a tightly-controlled, emotionally searching novel. Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? is the formally daring, brilliantly executed story of one man, struggling to make sense of his country, seeking answers the only way he knows how.
In a barracks on an abandoned military base, miles from the nearest road, Thomas watches as the man he has brought wakes up. Kev, a NASA astronaut, doesn't recognize his captor, though Thomas remembers him. Kev cries for help. He pulls at his chain. But the ocean is close by, and nobody can hear him over the waves and wind. Thomas apologizes. He didn't want to have to resort to this. But they really needed to have a conversation, and Kev didn't answer his messages. And now, if Kev can just stop yelling, Thomas has a few questions.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Thomas is mad as hell. Life isn't going according to his grand plan, his government has made some bad decisions, and the folks he needs to talk with won't respond. Thomas has never hurt anyone—in fact, he considers himself a principled man—but he's so angry and his head hurts, and he just wants someone to share his umbrage. Using a trick he picked up from a TV cop show, Thomas begins his search for the truth by chloroforming and kidnapping Kevin, a NASA astronaut and former instructor. His destination is Fort Ord, an abandoned army base in California, and an ideal location for holding prisoners. Interviewing his captives about war, police brutality, and pedophilia, Thomas reveals the layers of his troubled soul. Like the biblical prophets of the title, he hopes to elicit repentance from those who have committed grave wrongs. VERDICT A quick read, part psychological thriller, part political screed, this novel poses important questions but offers frustratingly few answers. Eggers was a finalist for both the National Book Critics Circle Award (What Is the What) and the National Book Award (A Hologram for the King). Though this slight novel falls short in comparison, fans will still be asking about it. [See Prepub Alert, 4/14/14.]—Sally Bissell, Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Fort Myers, FL

Dave Eggers's novel is not big on nuance. Its unwieldy title, Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever?, comes from the Old Testament. The novel, written more like a theatrical script in dashed-out dialogue, focuses on Thomas, a crazed man living out his sick fantasy. He's kidnapped everyone who has ever wronged him in any significant way, holding his captives in an abandoned military base, each chained to a post in separate barracks, where Thomas carries out their lengthy interrogations.

In each chapter, Thomas questions one of his hostages — a college acquaintance who became an astronaut, a Vietnam veteran congressman, a childhood math teacher, his mother. At its core, the novel is a broad overview of the shortcomings of modern American machismo. Thomas, in his rants, grazes a disparate spectrum of testosterone-infused topics: war, work, the demise of the space program, video games, the relationships between mothers and sons, how men forge healthy relationships in the modern world.

Mr. Eggers seems like a wise person to tackle this topic. In his 2000 debut memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, he adroitly and sensitively wrote about how, as a college student, he lost his parents and adopted his younger brother within the span of a few weeks. Raw and engaging, the memoir was a commentary on his sometimes flawed, but ultimately morally driven, manhood. That stunning debut was followed by the creation of a small Eggers empire: A publishing house, McSweeney's, a tutoring and mentoring service, a literary journal, and several more well-received novels, including The Circle, which nicely skewered Silicon Valley culture.

But in this latest book, it's unclear who is getting skewered. It might be the reader. If one wanted to read the ravings of a common American madman — as is Thomas — they could turn to the comments section of any news website and perhaps become better educated.

In Mr. Eggers's scripted interrogations, there's a strange lack of fear, energy and tension, even though each person's life is supposedly on edge. Compounding that missing verve, Mr. Eggers's dialogue often comes off as stilted and clichéd, his characters ringing false. The congressman — missing limbs from Vietnam — likes to use the expressions ''Holy Christ on a cracker'' and ''cockamamie.'' More confusing is Eggers's portrayal of Thomas's mother, who in one breath is a deadbeat wino, in another a prescient psychoanalyst with an SAT prep–worthy vocabulary.

It might be for the best that Mr. Eggers doesn't focus much on developing female characters. There's enough to mill with the male ones. Consider this passage:

Don't you think that the vast majority of the chaos in the world is caused by a relatively small group of disappointed men?'' Thomas asks the congressman. ''The men who haven't gotten the work they expected to get. The men who don't get the promotion they expected. The men who are dropped in a jungle or a desert and expected video games and got mundanity and depravity and friends dying like animals. These men can't be left to mix with the rest of society. Something bad always happens.
It all seems a bit too neat. Sure, it's difficult to parse the ravings of the insane, and perhaps unfair to judge, but Thomas's brief soliloquies make for melodrama at best, smacking of slush pile superfluity.

One would think that there would be no better time for this type of book, as a certain brand of raging American male struggles to find his place in the modern world. Angry, disgruntled, dissatisfied men, young and old — too often wielding guns, with deadly results — dominate the news cycle. Thomas's inane blather recalls Elliot Rodger, who in May killed six people in Isla Vista, California,. before committing suicide. Mr. Rodger wrote a 107,000-word manifesto declaring his hatred for women and minorities, detailing how he planned to lure people into his apartment through trickery in order to kill them.

Thomas also brings to mind Bowe Bergdahl, the army sergeant who was released in June after being held captive by the Taliban for five years. A political firestorm erupted after Bergdahl was exchanged for five Taliban prisoners from Guantánamo Bay and questions were raised over whether the Taliban kidnapped him or if he deserted. In his last e-mail to his parents before disappearing, he wrote: ''The horror that is America is disgusting.'' Nightly, cable news asks its commentators to decide if Sgt. Bergdahl is a traitor or a hero: Is this the crux of manhood today?

The difference between Thomas and Rodger and Bergdahl is that the latter two are real and Thomas is not, revealing a significantly missed opportunity on Mr. Eggers's part. Forever proves a false take on an extremely grave situation playing out in real time before our eyes.

The only thing close we get to approximating an explanation of Thomas's behavior are some tenuous euphemisms for mental illness. ''All along I had a feeling there was something strange about you,'' Thomas's nameless mother tells him. ''And I know I'm right. You were born with certain tendencies, and I really don't think I could have done anything to prevent them. I had a feeling something like this would happen.''

Mr. Eggers is nothing if not earnest, but this novel is a didactic mess. The subject matter at hand leads to a wistful recall of two earlier novels, J.M.G. Le Clézio's The Interrogation and J. M. Ledgard's Submergence. But where those books masterfully explored and meditated on the state of man during times of war and upheaval, Mr. Eggers merely skims the surface. His effort, like Thomas's master plan, feels dashed off.

Reviewer: Leah Finnegan

Publishers Weekly
Composed entirely of dialogue, the latest from Eggers (The Circle) is more tedious deposition than gripping drama. The novel is set on an abandoned military base along the Pacific coast, where Thomas, a troubled man, is interrogating a diverse group of chained captives. Frustrated by his lack of purpose and in search of answers about injustices large and small, Thomas kidnaps Kev, a driven astronaut who represents "the one fulfilled promise" he's ever known. This first interview inspires Thomas to seek out further captives: an ex-congressman, a policeman, a disgraced schoolteacher, his own mother and others. Depending on the prisoner, Thomas is respectful or abusive, solicitous or prosecutorial, but he never wavers in his view of himself as a "moral" and "principled man." He is outraged at the abuses, shortsightedness, and skewed priorities of the government and its institutions, yet yearns for that government to provide him with some defining role or plan: "Don't we deserve grand human projects that give us meaning?" As for the captives, they generally respond to their unhinged interrogator with sententious or stilted speechifying: "Thomas, you want to attribute your behavior to a set of external factors." There are flashes of sardonic humor and revelations about the triggering event behind the kidnappings, but by then readers will feel as if they themselves have been detained far too long. Agent: Andrew Wylie, Wylie Agency. (Jun.)
From the Publisher
“Politically and polemically engaged in the tradition of Dickens and Zola . . . another novel located in a frightened, divided, deceitful and possibly disintegrating America . . . Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? is a hostage drama of sorts. It opens with Thomas, the disaffected protagonist, explaining to Kev Paciorek, a Nasa astronaut who just missed out on the space shuttle when funding was withdrawn, why he has been kidnapped and tied to a post in Building 52, an empty hangar in Fort Ord, an abandoned military base on the California coast . . . Many skilfully delayed revelations . . .  privately and publicly astute, confirming that the writer's joke about genius in his debut title was not entirely misplaced.” -- Mark Lawson, The Guardian
"Another startling leap into new territory . . . Here is a tale as tightly wound as an alarm clock. Told entirely in dialogue, it takes place on a deserted military base on the California coast. Thomas, its hero, has kidnapped an astronaut, Kev, and chained him to a post. . . Eggers has always been as elastic writer, but in Your Fathers he puts his language to the ultimate test. Thomas’ tone yaws from sincerity to creepy insinuation, capturing the abrupt shifts and feedback loops of delirium. Happily, however, Eggers never pushes his young hero over the edge. Thomas has done something at best ill-advised, at worse criminal. Thomas merely wants what we all want; an accounting. In this gripping and saddening book, Eggers has shown what happens when young men like him don’t get answers." -- John Freeman, Toronto Star

“Joan Didion began her career chronicling a certain ennui afflicting Californians coming up in the Vietnam era who were quickly losing faith in the society their parents created . . . The sense of a similar void animates Dave Eggers' new novel, Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? . . . Eggers has a knack for potent images of frustration . . . So soon after Elliot Rodger's California massacre, Eggers has produced something timely. There is a book to be written about angry young white men turning against a society that isn't giving them what they think they're owed.” -- Sam Worley, Chicago Tribune

"The third instalment in what now seems a triptych about people slipping through the cracks of our contemporary aspirations . . . a peculiar hostage drama told entirely in dialogue, looks like farce on the surface, but a sharp set of teeth soon shows through . . . alert, quick-witted and dogma-averse . . . [Eggers] works hard to surprise, challenge and confound . . . A book whose themes resonate far beyond its short length. This is a writer on the best kind of roll." -- Tim Martin, The Telegraph

"Fathers is a screaming, bleating cry for society to fix itself. It is a frothing, angry, mournful meditation on what is slipping away as America plows on into the 21st century….Eggers' decision to make Fathers a continuous dialogue is an interesting one. It intensifies the already manic qualities of his protagonist, Thomas, and makes for a lightning-quick read . . . compelling and at times suspenseful.” -- Henry C. Jackson, Chicago Daily Herald

“Hard not to be affected by his charm and literary DIY . . . We begin with Thomas, a confused young man who has drugged and kidnapped a NASA astronaut named Kev. Thomas is a mixed-up psychopath and arsonist who previously has attempted to burn down a hospital after his mentally disturbed best friend, Don Banh, was killed in a police shooting. . . Working in the tradition of Manuel Puig’s Kiss of the Spiderwoman and Nicholson Baker’s Vox, the novel is without description or speaker attribution. . . Ambitious.” -- Alex Gilvarry, The Boston Globe

"Dave Eggers' latest novel is short and snappy. Composed entirely of dialogue, it breezes through four days in the life of Thomas, a disillusioned sociopath who has finally decided to get some answers to the questions that are strangling him at night . . . Eggers has created an appropriately Sophoclean space to look at Thomas' burning questions: Why does society prepare you for a life that doesn't exist? Why is there no grand, universal struggle? Why is there no purpose in life outside of individual needs? These concerns dance so gracefully into the discussions that you barely notice you're sparring with the existential heavyweights until one of them knocks you out . . . This short, provocative novel feels a bit like Jack Bauer stepping into Kierkegaard's collected works. Lively and fast enough for the casual reader, it also ambitiously confronts a grand history of philosophical angst. While the book's literary kin might be Dostoevsky or Kafka, its kissing cousin is Walker Percy . . . Swift and smart." -- Zoë Ferraris, San Francisco Gate

"Unmistakably the work of a singular talent . . . with each tightly controlled book, Eggers' fiction becomes more prescient, moving and unsettling . . . Eggers again finds the perfect form for his subject-matter . . . The novel thrives on ambiguity . . . Eggers examines the cataclysms that occur when our lives veer from the narratives that we construct for them. He's interested in the "throwaway people" who don't meet society's expectations. . . Even if all generations are lost generations, we need engaged, incendiary novels which ask: What now?" -- Max Liu, The Independent

"Dave Eggers never writes the same book twice, and his latest may be his most unusual to date . . . [A] fleet and forceful story by one of our finest fiction writers . . . The author makes his points in stark exchanges, with little exposition, and the book's spare style propels the reader to the end. Thomas isn't a likeable character, but he's an oddly sympathetic one -- or, at least, one who is easy to recognize.” -- Georgia Rowe, San Jose Mercury News 

"So deft . . . the setting and mood are perfectly clear - the remoteness of the dilapidated base, the roaring sea nearby, the danger facing his victims . . . Compelling, rattling along so lightly it would be a jeu d'esprit but for its sobering subject. Eggers writes so well you would read a computer manual if it was by him, but beneath his beguiling style is a base note of genuine concern about those who find themselves out of kilter with society . . . Intriguing . . . Eggers shows the tripwire that lies between acknowledging the world is unfair, and finding targets on whom to pin the blame when - perhaps the cruellest truth of all - the finger can rarely be pointed in any meaningful direction." -- Rosemary Goring, The Herald Scotland
“Engaging . . . You have to go back to Steinbeck and Vonnegut to find a popular American novelist so willing to deploy his talents to such deliberately political ends. . . . A moral fiction that’s as flexible and subtle as any other kind. . . . The dialogue-only structure and depth of feeling in Your Fathers are to its credit. You know what Eggers wants to say, he says it quickly, and he says it with a respectably righteous fury. And, ultimately, he says it with a compassion that’s always been present in his work. . . . Fascinating.” -- Mark Athitakis, The Washington Post

"[A] story about someone who takes revenge against the world because he can't fathom how he fits into it. . . This is a one-sitting read . . . Insightful." -- USA Today

“A jazz session—a brief, single helping of strangeness that flaunts his panache for stylistic experimentation. . . The writing is compelling and the characterization astute.” -- Booklist

“Have questions for an astronaut and can’t get him to answer your letters? You can always kidnap him, drag him to an abandoned military base near Monterey Bay, chain him to a post and threaten another jolt from your friendly Taser if he doesn’t cooperate. At least that’s the approach taken by 34-year-old Thomas in Dave Eggers’ new novel . . . As is always true with Eggers, those ideas—laid out here in quasi-Socratic dialogue—are inherently interesting. I can think of few contemporary American writers who convey such a sense of urgency about the mess we're in—or how important it is that we, like the Israelites surrounding Zechariah, resurrect the once-glorious Temple.  Eggers pulls no punches. . . Eggers makes these points even as he simultaneously manages empathy for Thomas’ plight, as a man who has inherited a fallen world he never made.” -- Mike Fischer, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

"The faint echo of Plato's dialogues . . . Raising questions about the appropriate relationship between authority and compassion." -- Kirkus

"Within 212 pages, Eggers displays a delicate, haunting, sometimes dire picture of the world. It may not be a comfortable read, but it's an interesting take on what we believe to be true and what we hope to be true." -- Mark Lopez,

Kirkus Reviews
A man takes a bunch of hostages for the sake of some robust, moderately unhinged conversation about ethics in Eggers' latest big-issue novel.With A Hologram for the King (2012), Eggers began diligently feeling his way toward a form for a moral novel that would address 21st-century economics and politics. The results have been hit or miss: Hologram was an impressive Hemingway-esque study of the alienation that rapid high-tech expansion sows, while The Circle (2013) was a sodden and didactic jeremiad about social media's capacity to chisel away at our privacy. His new novel is similarly message-laden but, since it's brief and told exclusively in dialogue, doesn't wear out its welcome. Thomas, the novel's antihero, has kidnapped a number of people and shackled them in separate buildings on a decommissioned California Army base; among them are an astronaut he knew in college, a Vietnam-vet congressman, a grade school teacher, his mother and a police officer. Thomas is clearly unstable, but the discussions that spill out address legitimate real-world concerns. Why are governments more adept at financing war than education? Where is the line between inappropriate and criminal behavior, and who decides? How much of our capacity to navigate the world is predetermined, and how much of it is a function of experience? The deliberately unrealistic structure carries the faint echo of Plato's dialogues, though Eggers is careful to keep the tone relatively casual. (Like many fictional madmen, Thomas is frightening, but he holds your attention.) Over the course of the handful of days the novel covers, Thomas becomes more delusional, but also more revealing of a critical incident in this life, which gives the closing pages some needed drama while raising questions about the appropriate relationship between authority and compassion.Eggers turns this novel's contrivances into an asset, though overall it feels more like a series of philosophy-symposium prompts than a full-fledged story.

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Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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Random House
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Read an Excerpt

—I did it. You’re really here. An astronaut. Jesus.
—Who’s that?
—You probably have a headache. From the chloroform.
—What? Where am I? Where is this place? Who the fuck are you?
—You don’t recognize me?
—What? No. What is this?
—That? It’s a chain. It’s attached to that post. Don’t pull on it.
—Holy shit. Holy shit.
—I said don’t pull on it. And I have to tell you right away how sorry I am that you’re here under these circumstances.
—Who are you?
—We know each other, Kev. From way back. And I didn’t want to bring you here like this. I mean, I’d rather just grab a beer with you sometime, but you didn’t answer any of my letters and then I saw you were coming through town so— Really, don’t yank on that. You’ll mess up your leg.
—Why the fuck am I here?
—You’re here because I brought you here.
—You did this? You have me chained to a post?
—Isn’t that thing great? I don’t know if you’d call it a post. Whatever it is, it’s incredibly strong. This place came with them. This was a military base...

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Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Each book Eggers writes is an exploration of style. This novel, written entirely in dialogue is no different. While this form may be off-putting for some, I found it entirely engaging and appropriate for 21st century readers whose favorite authors are themselves. Eggers is a pioneer in writing and I can't wait to see what he does next.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Pure genius.  David Eggers is magnificent.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Different the whole book being a dialect was interesting. There are a lot of meanings and messages through out the conversation about society, and the government. In all a decent book, not what i was expecting but glad i read it. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
And it does nothing for the story which is silly anyway
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
At asher res 1
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I titally agree
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Kiss your hand three times post this on three other books and check under your pillow
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you hate kitty clan spammers, attack soaring high res 1 and nightengale res 2.