Invitation to a Bonfire

Invitation to a Bonfire

by Adrienne Celt


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"A tense psychological thriller and deft character study." --The Chicago Tribune

In the 1920s, Zoya Andropova, a young refugee from the Soviet Union, finds herself in the alien landscape of an elite all-girls New Jersey boarding school. Having lost her family, her home, and her sense of purpose, Zoya must now endure the malice her peers heap on scholarship students and her new country's paranoia about Russian spies. With the arrival of visiting writer and fellow Russian émigré Leo Orlov--whose books Zoya has privately obsessed over for years--her luck seems poised to change, but the relationship that forms between them will put Zoya, Leo, and his calculating wife, Vera, all at risk.

Grappling with class distinctions, national allegiance, and ethical fidelity--not to mention the powerful magnetism of sex--Invitation to a Bonfire investigates how one's identity is formed, irrevocably, through a series of momentary decisions, including how to survive, who to love, and whether to pay the complicated price of happiness.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781635571530
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 05/21/2019
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 328,908
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Adrienne Celt's debut novel, The Daughters, won the PEN Southwest Book Award for Fiction and was an NPR Best Book of the Year and an NYPL Favorite Book of the Year. Her story “Temples” was included in The O. Henry Prize Stories 2016. Her work has appeared in Epoch, Zyzzyva, Prairie Schooner, Esquire, Electric Literature, The Rumpus, The Millions, and elsewhere. She has an MFA in fiction from Arizona State University, draws weekly comics at, and lives in Tucson.

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Invitation to a Bonfire 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Aditi-ATWAMB More than 1 year ago
“I wanted you dead. You put flame to paper. We both had our reasons, didn’t we?” It took me a WHILE to get into this book. In fact, I picked it up and dropped it a few times before I managed to get invested enough that I simply had to read till the ending. Invitation to a Bonfire was a highly bizarre book, told through letters and journal entries from different points of view, in a non-linear style that it took me a while to enjoy, but I ultimately did. Let me break it down so I can explain it better: PLOT: Zoe Andropova is an orphan from Soviet Russia, brought to the United States on a ship filled with orphans and enrolled in a girl’s school. The story is told half from her point of view, and half from a celebrated author of Russian origin, Lev Orlov. Even though we don’t hear from Vera, Lev’s wife, I feel like we get to know her, both through Zoe and Lev’s descriptions of her. Invitation to a Bonfire is a story of the past, entwined with the present. CHARACTERS: I feel like I knew a LOT about Lev, Zoe and Vera, and still nothing at all. They were monotone characters, with singular purposes and yet, made all the sense in the world as well rounded people. WRITING: If there’s one thing I KNOW I loved, it was Adrienne Celt’s writing. It was deep, sensual, haunting, lyrical and gorgeous all at the same time, and without the mystical tinge to it all, I probably wouldn’t have liked this book at all. CONCLUSION: Truth be told, I’m CONFUSED as to what I feel about this book. I struggled to connect with it, and, then, as soon as I did, the story was over. I feel like we were left at the edge of a cliff, with so many unanswered questions about Lev, Zoe and Vera just left hanging in the air and yet, the story had come to an end. In a nutshell, I got a piece of literature completely contradictory to both my expectations and predictions, and maybe that’s what the best mystery novels do, but it also all feels just incomplete and needless to a degree, especially the REASON behind the killing of one of the three in main characters. DO I KNOW I’M BEING CONFUSING? YES. But ‘confused’ accurately describes what I feel about this book, even a week after I put it down. Would I recommend this book? If you’re looking for something to completely defy what you think you expect from it, definitely.
KimMc More than 1 year ago
Set in post-revolutionary Russia, Paris and the US, this unique compilation of historic experiences intertwine into life, loneliness and love that will capture you and hold you tight. Celt’s intelligent and melodic writing style is refreshing and lyrical in its elegant delivery - this is a love story like no other. Who’s the predator, who’s the prey? You’ll be kept guessing as weaknesses are exposed, strengths confounded and cleverness prevails! *I received an arc from the publisher through NetGalley for an honest review
miss_mesmerized More than 1 year ago
The revolution and following turmoil made an orphan of Zoya Andropova. Therefore, she like so many other kids comes to the USA as an orphan and is welcomed in a New Jersey boarding school. She never belongs even though she quickly acquires the language and gets good marks. After her schooling, she can stay on the premises and work in the newly built greenhouse where she fully immerses in her work with the plants. Neither does she have friends, nor a lover. It is just her work and the love for literature that keep her going. There is one author she has worshipped for years, Leo Orlov, another Russian émigré whose works she devours. When Leo comes to teach at the boarding school, Zoya seems close to happiness, but even though Leo returns her love, there is one person in the way of their luck: Vera, his wife. Adrienne Celt’s second novel “Invitation to a Bonfire” is set in a complicated time and therefore offers several layers of narration. The book can be read against the background of Russian-American confrontation and distrust. It is also a coming-of-age novel of a girl who struggles in her new surroundings. The story provides a good example of group dynamics, of exclusion and bullying, of rich vs. poor. It clearly also broaches the issue of being forced to leave your country, forced to leave behind everything from your family, to your belongings and even your language. And, after all, it is a story about love and being loved and about what people are willing to do for the one they have fallen for. With such an abundance of topics, it is hard to find a beginning. Let’s start with the protagonist. It really liked Zoya, she is a decent and modest character, she humbly accepts her status in the new school and avoids attracting attention. Even though the other girls play tricks on her, she remains loyal and keeps quiet. She can endure a lot and does not expect life to be fair. After what happened to her family, she knows that justice is not something you can rely on in this world. This is a truth she has accepted and thus, she can follow her ideals. When she falls under the spell of Leo, you want to shout at her to run, far far away from this man and his wife. You can see that nothing good can come from this relationship – but: what else could she do than immediately fall in love? He is the first to see her, to show her affection and to love her. Her free will is gone and the is easy to manipulate. The story is not fast paced, actually the love story comes at quite a late point in the novel considering its relevance. What made the narration really lively was the fact that Leo’s letters to his wife and other documents were integrated which allowed you a glimpse at a later point and thus added to the underlying suspense. The author has cleverly constructed the novel and her writing is adorably poetic and multi-layered, is starts with the first sentences which immediately drag you into the novel and don’t let you out before the finishing dot: “Let me begin by saying I did not think it would end this way. No—let me begin by saying I will burn this diary shortly.”