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All That Is Solid Melts into Air

All That Is Solid Melts into Air

4.0 6
by Darragh McKeon

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All That Is Solid Melts into Air is a gripping end-of-empire novel, charting the collapse of the Soviet Union through the focalpoint of the Chernobyl disaster. Part historical epic, part love story, it recalls The English Patient in its mix of emotional intimacy and sweeping landscape.

In a run-down apartment block in Moscow, a nine-year-old piano


All That Is Solid Melts into Air is a gripping end-of-empire novel, charting the collapse of the Soviet Union through the focalpoint of the Chernobyl disaster. Part historical epic, part love story, it recalls The English Patient in its mix of emotional intimacy and sweeping landscape.

In a run-down apartment block in Moscow, a nine-year-old piano prodigy practices silently for fear of disturbing the neighbors.

In a factory on the outskirts of the city, his aunt makes car parts, trying to hide her dissident past.

In the hospital, a leading surgeon buries himself deep in his work to avoid facing his failed marriage.

And in a rural village in the Ukraine, a teenage boy wakes up to a sky of the deepest crimson. In the fields, the ears of the cattle are dripping blood. Ten miles away, at the Chernobyl Power Plant, something unimaginable has happened.

Now their lives will change forever.

All That Is Solid Melts Into Air is an astonishing end-of-empire novel by a major new talent.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Anthony Marra
All That Is Solid Melts Into Air [is] a startling achievement. Even as McKeon cuts a wide swath, his scenes, characters and story lines build as the gradual accumulation of the particular…By investing objects and settings with a history of individual triumphs and disappointments, he wrings surprising emotional depth from the mundane. And by proving that stories too intimate to ever make their way into the history books are nonetheless worth telling, the novel makes a powerful argument that no one is unremarkable…it's hard to find fault in a novel so fearless. If McKeon's imaginative reach at times exceeds his structural grasp, this feels less like the avoidable missteps of a rookie than the inevitable fissures of a seasoned novelist pushing against the boundaries of his form.
Publishers Weekly
In 1986 Moscow, as first-time novelist McKeon presents it, few expect the Soviet government to change: strikes fail, newspapers are corrupt, and many men and woman can only find work in factories. Even Grigory, a successful surgeon, mourns his relentless routine: “The life that had silently formed around him seemed such a solid thing now.” McKeon conveys the U.S.S.R.’s rigidity through the miseries of his characters: Grigory’s wife Maria, a savvy journalist, loses her career, reputation, and marriage in one fell swoop when her anti-Soviet sympathies are discovered. But while hope for personal betterment is relentlessly checked, the horrific nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl proves that massive-scale change is possible. McKeon offers four clear fictional perspectives on Soviet history, and not once do the private affairs of his characters (Grigory and Maria’s love for one another; the tension between a nine-year-old piano prodigy and his mother, who has too much riding on her son’s success; a boy’s efforts to grapple with his father’s sudden death) bump up awkwardly against the historical account. Instead, McKeon’s fiction serves up, without cliché, what so many futuristic dystopian novels aspire to: a reminder that human beings can bring about their own demise. (May)
Anthony Marra
“A startling achievement….McKeon’s characters may already have receded into history, but by imprinting their triumphs and tragedies onto the imagination with such visceral empathy, he has given them a deserving afterlife in this powerful novel.”
Colm Tóibín
“This daring and ambitious novel blends historical epic and love story…. Darragh McKeon handles the struggles of his characters with care and compassion and creates a book rich with resonance far beyond its historical moment.”
Colum McCann
“Brilliantly imagined in its harrowing account of the Chernobyl disaster and exhilarating in its sweep, All That Is Solid Melts into Air is a debut to rattle all the windows and open up the ventricles of the heart.…McKeon is here to stay.”
“Set amidst the Chernobyl disaster, McKeon’s…graceful writing gives depth to his characters as they navigate indelibly changed landscapes and search for connection within chaos.”
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-03-06
This debut novel is set in 1986, the year of the catastrophe at Chernobyl, and that disaster serves as the dramatic backdrop for the unfolding of action and character. First we meet Grigory Ivanovich Brovkin, a Moscow physician whose marriage to Maria has recently failed. Maria has a nephew, Yevgeni, her sister's son, who, at age 9, shows great promise as a piano prodigy, though his poverty militates against his success. For example, except when he goes for lessons at the house of his teacher, Mr. Leibniz, he has no piano to practice on but only a keyboard that makes no sound. Despite his promise, Yevgeni occasionally (and understandably) loses heart, especially when physically tormented, as he frequently is, by his gym teacher and fellow students. After the Chernobyl debacle, Grigory's medical skills are called on, for he must treat those who have been exposed to massive amounts of radiation. He feels dispirited by this as well as by official attempts to cover up the extent of the ecological and human disaster. McKeon takes the title for his novel from The Communist Manifesto, and everything solid does indeed seem to shift and evanesce as the events at Chernobyl reshape character and landscape. Eventually, Grigory pays a terrible physical price for his conscientious attention to duty, and Yevgeni, in a grace note of a conclusion set in 2011, receives a state prize for his virtuosity. A leisurely paced novel intended for those who like serious and thoughtful fiction.
Library Journal
★ 05/01/2014
Top surgeon Grigory finds refuge from his failed marriage in his work at a Moscow hospital. His ex-wife, Maria, makes car parts at a factory, the numbing repetition crushing her rebellious spirit. Maria's nephew is a nine-year-old piano prodigy, who practices noiselessly to avoid disturbing the neighbors at their dilapidated apartment building. And in a Ukrainian village, residents awaken to a crimson sky while in a nearby field the ears of cattle are dripping blood. An unthinkable tragedy has happened at the Chernobyl Power Plant, ten miles away, and nothing will ever be the same. This startling debut novel is a love story set against the harrowing tale of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. As the government attempts to downplay and even cover up the catastrophe, people are dying, some quickly, others slowly over years, black sores appearing on their tongues and skin; out in the woods, "Mother Nature is bleeding." VERDICT McKeon's thrilling narrative is matter-of-fact but emotionally powerful, and his convincing characters depict precisely the perseverance of the human spirit in the darkest of times. A promising debut; highly recommended. [See "Key Summer Titles," 2/3/14.]—Lisa Block, Atlanta

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
7.80(w) x 5.20(h) x 0.80(d)

Meet the Author

Darragh McKeon was born in 1979 and grew up in the midlands of Ireland. He has worked as a theater director and lives in New York. This is his first novel.

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All That is Solid Melts into Air 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved reading this book. It is well written and has wonderful characters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book has a powerful message about but understated in the telling. These characters and these places will stay with me.
TulaneGirl More than 1 year ago
The place? Soviet Russia. The setting? The aftermath of Chernobyl. The players? Grigory, a Russian surgeon throwing himself into work in order to forget the memories of his past. Maria, the doctor's rebellious past. Alina, Maria's sister and a single mother to a prodigy trying to make ends meet. Yevgeni, the unwilling prodigy. Steadfast Grigory met and fell in love with headstrong, rebellious Maria in a bleak, cold world where every move is scrutinized and every thought is regulated. Maria finds herself trapped and ends up breaking Grigory's heart in a misguided attempt to save him. Grigory throws himself into work to avoid thinking about the loneliness that awaits at home. Disaster strikes in Chernobyl and Grigory heads west to volunteers his services. He finds incompetence at every turn. The bureaucrats in charge are too scared to admit government fault in the Chernobyl disaster and so are perfectly content to allow people to die as a result. When Grigory tries to question them, he finds himself in a precarious position. Since leaving Grigory, Maria, meanwhile, has been keeping her head down working in a factory and living with her sister, Alina, and nephew, Yevgeni. Maria puts in her time at a factory and places all her hopes into Yevgeni and his prodigious piano playing talent. All Yevgeni wants to do is play piano but, even at 9 years of age, understands the ways of the corrupt world and the need to please the people in charge of the neighborhood. Soon, he must make a decision between pursuing his dreams and playing the political games. I adored the characters - their heartbreak, their decisions, their experiences. Each had a distinct way of coping witht he world they live in. Highly recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great historical reaf
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Im here
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Weather plus drink have done for the rest ho ho ho and a bottle of vodka all noir that ends noir and always does why cabt they drink beer teetotal