Home Leave: A Novelby Brittani Sonnenberg
Chris Kriegstein is a man on the move, with a global career that catapults his family across North America, Europe, and Asia. For his wife, Elise, the hardship of chronic relocation is soothed by the allure of reinvention. Over the years, Elise shape-shifts: once a secretive Southern Baptist, she finds herself becoming a seasoned expat in Shanghai, an
Chris Kriegstein is a man on the move, with a global career that catapults his family across North America, Europe, and Asia. For his wife, Elise, the hardship of chronic relocation is soothed by the allure of reinvention. Over the years, Elise shape-shifts: once a secretive Southern Baptist, she finds herself becoming a seasoned expat in Shanghai, an unapologetic adulterer in Thailand, and, finally, a renowned interior decorator in Madison.
But it's the Kriegstein daughters, Leah and Sophie, who face the most tumult. Fiercely protective of each otherbut also fiercely competitivethe two sisters long for stability in an ever-changing environment. With each new move, the girls find they can count on only one thing: the consoling, confounding presence of each other.
When the family suffers an unimaginable loss, they can't help but wonder: Was it meant to be, or did one decision change their lives forever? And what does it mean when home is everywhere and nowhere at the same time? With humor and heart, Brittani Sonnenberg chases this wildly loveable family through the excitement and anguish of their adventures around the world.
Drawing on her upbringing as a “third culture kid” (a child who grows up in a culture other than that of his or her parents), Sonnenberg delivers a sympathetic, funny debut. Elise wants to escape from her hometown in Mississippi, so when she marries Chris Kriegstein, CEO of a company whose job takes him around the world, she’s on board for globe-trotting adventure. Although Elise is at first ambivalent about motherhood, she and Chris eventually have two beloved daughters, Leah and Sophie, who grow up as much in Shanghai and Singapore as they do in the U.S. They return to the States once a year (“to remind you of what you were missing and where you were really from”), but the trip often leaves the family feeling fragmented. Then tragedy strikes, and the Kriegsteins must consider what home and family mean when there’s no real home to return to. The story spans 1885 to the present, and some of the chapters, written from multiple points of view (including that of Elise’s childhood home, Chris’s German great-grandmother, and a “we” meant to encompass the voices of all third-culture young adults), read like writing class exercises. But these continuously shifting perspectives also help convey the disorientation of the Kriegsteins’ lives, and Sonnenberg eloquently illustrates the challenges and rewards of expat life. (June)
[A] compelling debut. . . [Home Leave] reveals a dialectical truth about families; they are places of joyous hope, and also crushing loneliness."Los Angeles Review of Books"
A lyrical meditation on loss, geographical place, expatriate experience, sibling rivalry, family, and growing up. Sonnenberg writes with clarity about the messiness of the expat Kriegstein family's lives. . . . Sonnenberg captures beautifully what it's like to grow up as an American abroad, not as a tourist but not fully as a native either."Cleaver Magazine"
[An] inventive debut . . . Captures the everywhere-but-nowhere paradoxes of our global world."Vogue.com (A "Summer Book" selection)"
[A] striking debut."Bethanne Patrick, Washingtonian ("A Top 10 Book for June")"
Emotionally charged . . . The Kreigsteins are such authentic and complex characters that readers will be captivated by all of them."Real Simple ("The Best Books of 2014")"
Stark but sweet, warm and wise, Home Leave is an ambitious, well-executed debut. . . [it] will leave many readers hoping for another Sonnenberg novel full of the same humor, compassion and honesty."Minneapolis Star-Tribune"
The lucidity of Sonnenberg's prose . . . is notable for its stark honesty and sharply observed details. . . . [An] ambitious debut."Kirkus Reviews"
Sonnenberg delivers a sympathetic, funny debut."Publishers Weekly"
Sonnenberg writes like a house on fire. The opening chapter alone is worth the price of this book."ReadHerLikeanOpenBook.wordpress.com"
HOME LEAVE is a rich, lively novel. Original in conception and set in various continents, it describes migrations as a contemporary existential condition. More importantly, it shows how this condition effects change, loss, and growth in the migrants. It offers many insights that are true."Ha Jin, National Book Award winner for Waiting"
It's hard to believe that this astonishing novel is Brittani Sonnenberg's firstshe writes about family with wisdom, humor, and native daring. Here is Persephone's journey, undertaken by an entire family, the Kriegsteins, who ricochet through time zones, moving from Berlin to Singapore to Wisconsin to Shanghai to Atlanta, together and alone. Sonnenberg's prose is so vital and so enchanting that you will read this book in the dilated state of a world-traveler, with all of your senses wide open. Her family members are so well-drawn and complex that you'll close this book certain they exist."Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia! and Vampires in the Lemon Grove"
A captivating tour de force that follows a nomadic family across generations and continents."filmmaker Wim Wenders"
Brittani Sonnenberg, like the best storytellers, shows us what we carry and what we leave behind as we travel across time zones (from America to Germany to Singapore), as we sit in airports, alone with the aloneness, as we love, live, grieve, and then try to live once more. Authentic, beautiful, bravely-told, HOME LEAVE is alive with characters you want to protect and hold-characters you won't want to leave behind."Nami Mun, author of Miles from Nowhere"
HOME LEAVE is a remarkable debut, notable for the insightful intimacy of its characterization and a restless formal invention which perfectly evokes the uncertainties of expatriate life."Peter Ho Davies, author of The Welsh Girl"
Utterly convincing in its observations and confusions, Home Leave captures the realities of a globetrotting life with aplomb and poignancy. What a marvel!"Gish Jen, author of Who's Irish and The Love Wife
A tapestry of settings and voices speaks of dislocation and grief in Sonnenberg's ambitious debut.Multiple narrators—both human and inanimate—relate the story of the Kriegstein family: father Chris, who escaped Midwestern dreariness for corporate stardom; mother Elise, whose genteel Southern childhood ended abruptly with her grandfather's abuse; and their daughters, Leah and Sophie. Elise's childhood home bemoans the desolation of losing its last resident, Elise's elderly mother, Ada, to a nursing home—and the rift that arose when Ada accused Elise of "telling tales" about her grandfather. Chris' parents, reluctant assisted living residents, comment on their son's distance—emotional and geographical. From there, the narrators and points of view proliferate, ranging from deeply interior to collective and omniscient. During the first of Chris' many international postings, to Hamburg, Germany, Elise, pregnant with Leah, blunders into a bizarre winter picnic with strangers, perhaps intended to symbolize her own frozen family life, past and future. Back in the States, left alone as Chris travels, Elise is unable to muster motherly feelings for baby Leah. As teens, negotiating a difficult adjustment to life in Shanghai, Leah and Sophie are most comfortable when they can escape the expat country club and American School for summer "home leaves" with their grandparents. Early on, visits to a family therapist, presented as scenes from a play, reveal that Sophie has died suddenly—though she is still very much present, especially to Leah. Sonnenberg is particularly adept at portraying the conflicting and ambivalent feelings associated with grief: anguish, guilt, even relief (on Leah's part) that she no longer has to compete with her blonde, athletic younger sibling for her parents' or boys' attention. Since the nuclear Kriegstein family is the main focus, chapters featuring peripheral characters, though intriguing in themselves, serve only to distract. The experimental form cannot, however, distract from the lucidity of Sonnenberg's prose, which is notable for its stark honesty and sharply observed details.
- Grand Central Publishing
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.70(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.10(d)
Meet the Author
Brittani Sonnenberg was raised across three continents and has worked as a journalist in Germany, China, and throughout Southeast Asia. A graduate of Harvard, she received her MFA in fiction from the University of Michigan. Her fiction has been published in The O. Henry Prize Stories 2008 as well as Ploughshares, Short Fiction, and Asymptote. Her nonfiction has appeared in Time, the Associated Press, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and NPR Berlin. She has taught creative writing at the University of Michigan, Carleton College, and the University of Hong Kong. She is currently based in Berlin. HOME LEAVE is her first novel.
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Once I started reading this, I could not put it down. I felt like I was being pulled in, witnessing every interaction between family members. The last line was particularly powerful and I cannot stop thinking about it.