The Sojourn

The Sojourn

by Andrew Krivak


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781934137345
Publisher: Bellevue Literary Press
Publication date: 04/19/2011
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 263,219
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.62(h) x 0.56(d)

About the Author

The Sojourn , winner of the Chautauqua Prize and finalist for the National Book Award, is Andrew Krivak ’s first novel. Krivak is also the author of A Long Retreat: In Search of a Religious Life , a memoir about his eight years in the Jesuit Order, and editor of The Letters of William Carlos Williams to Edgar Irving Williams, 1902-1912 , which received the Louis L. Martz Prize. The grandson of Slovak immigrants, Krivak grew up in Pennsylvania, has lived in London, and now lives with his wife and three children in Massachusetts where he teaches in the Honors Program at Boston College.

Read an Excerpt

ZLEE AND I WERE LUCKY TO HAVE JOINED UP TOGETHER. Basic training, with its weeks of constant drilling from dawn well into the night, seemed a thing requiring no effort. We were used to a life of early mornings and physical labor outside all day. It knocked us down a few pegs, got us used to hearing obscenities for marching sloppily or wearing scuffed boots, or maybe it was just to remind us that there was someone whose job it was to tell us what to do every waking hour of those days, and I began to miss the leisure of books and conversation, but I confronted these obstacles as a simple rite of passage. And Zlee, Zlee had this way?maddening to our corporal, who had never seen battle, and would likely have turned tail if he had?of conforming to the least detail with obsessive perfection, all the while making it clear by his indifferent, canine stride and aloof, unanimated face that these least details (which he would see to their completion) meant nothing to him. Zlee was as indomitable as he was bereft of guile.
But it wasn't until the final weeks, when we began to practice on the rifle range, that our fate, you might say, was sealed, when the training officer discovered that we really could shoot.
Conditions on those firing ranges were ideal?no reflecting sun, no tree branches, no animals bolting when you got a bead on them. The only thing we weren't used to were the Steyr Mannlicher rifles we fired, standard infantry issue in the army of the empire. They were thin top-bolt rifles with a five-clip magazine, one of the first of their kind. They had a strong kick and could jam easily when exposed to dirt, but we didn't have to worry about any of this yet. It took the two of us a few rounds to sight them, and after that, on the twenty-five-yard range, Zlee and I hit ten out of ten bull's-eyes, dead center, some of the rounds piled up on top of one another. The other conscripts barely raised dirt around those targets.
At first, we were assigned, along with all the others who mustered in Eperjes, to General Kray's command. Kray was a Napoleonic Hungarian who led a brigade made up of Slovak march batallions, which meant that we'd be fighting with men who shared not only a common language but the experience of daily life, ritual, and labor. Kray's soldiers were known for being good fighters because they worked the land and weren't soft, and I had a deep sense of having done the right thing, feeling as though I had been called somehow to take leave of my father and Pastvina and to prove myself in the world.
Then, at the end of our basic training, Zlee and I were pulled from the ranks without explanation and led into a tent where a captain sat behind a desk made up of two trunks with a board laid across the top. He was Austrian, which was evident by his uniform, and spoke to us in a bookish-sounding Hungarian. He wore black boots that had a soft, worn gloss to them, and he fiddled with a riding crop.
"So, you are from one of Kray's regiments," he said, and began to pace behind his station and question us about our village, our parents, how it was we had learned to shoot so well. He seemed intrigued by Zlee's insistence that he was an orphan adopted by my father and that we were brothers not of blood but of labor and the land.
"Labor," he said. "You sound like a Communist. Don't all mothers labor to bear their sons in blood?"
Zlee said that he had never met a Communist and so couldn't say what one sounded like. What he meant was that he and I were as close as brothers because of the life my father had given us both. "Sir, I have seen him work on the land, and so I know what this Soldat will do in battle," Zlee said, staring straight ahead as he spoke of me as a Soldat, which I was, all the while maintaining the soldier's respect for his superior and never once making eye contact with that captain, who cursed and spat and said, "You know nothing of battle."
Then he turned to me. "Und Sie," he said. "Was haben Sie u?ber diese Bruderschaft zu sagen?"
I don't know why he switched to his native language then, but I knew enough German to understand that he wanted to know what I thought of this brotherhood Zlee spoke of. The summer before I signed up, I had studied the standard commands of the army so that I wouldn't be turned away if they questioned me, and the language came easily. Could he have known this? Could he have known, too, that Zlee's German didn't go beyond twenty or so words because he had no head for anything that required study, from a book, that is? No, this captain was testing my loyalty?it was plain to me?wanting to see how I would respond if I was given a chance to speak privately. And so, thinking not in German but in a foreign language I knew fluently, I replied in English, "Sir, there is nothing my father taught me that he didn't teach him also."
The captain looked surprised, smiled, and asked Zlee, "How is your English, Private Pes?"
Zlee, still staring doggedly at some point on the wall, said, "Herr Hauptmann, better than you might expect."
A few days later, just before the entire battalion was supposed to move out, we were released from our regiment, given lance corporal stars to attach to our uniform collars, and boarded a train with a company of other soldiers going in the same direction, but not the same place.
That night, we arrived at a camp on the Danube outside of Pozsony. A sergeant barked orders at us there in the dark, where we stood at attention for what seemed like hours, until two officers showed up, and the sergeant snapped to attention himself and then receded. One, another Austrian captain, did all the talking, while the other, whose uniform was German but whose overcoat looked more like some Bavarian hunter's, stood by, listening and surveying us there in the harsh light.
Nineteen sixteen was the year the Austrians started sending sharpshooters to learn sniping skills for the front. Most of these schools recruited men from the Tirolean region of the Southern Alps, on the border with Italy, and were run by German officers. Scharfschu?tzen, they called them. The Italians called them cecchini and (we were to learn in time) feared them more than anything else in those mountains. Under that veil of mock secrecy, it emerged that we were being sent to a place in Austria called Klagenfurt to be trained as Scharfschu?tzen for the empire's defense of its culture and threatened borders on the southern front. We had been chosen, the captain told us, not only for our marksmanship but for our character and ability to endure hardship in conditions under which most men would buckle, although I'm sure he knew or cared nothing about my character. The emperor himself understood who we were and how important our mission was, he said to us, and from there on out we were ordered never to speak unless spoken to by a superior officer, and any soldier showing the least amount of weakness or lack of discipline and restraint would be sent straight back to his regiment and a trench on the eastern front.
There we were, forty of us, men from the ranks?although there were only four other Slavs, two Bosnians, and two Czechs?brought together because we had a common skill that was about to be pressed into service. I didn't understand what it meant then to have what the captain referred to as a gift. There were plenty of Frontk?mpfer, he said, the frontline infantry, who wore the marksman's badge and would line up in the trenches next to machine gunners when the enemy attacked. We weren't riflemen, though. Weweren't Frontk?mpfer. We were hunters who already knew how to stalk game in the mountains and forests we had lived in before the war, and who were now being taught to hunt men, observing their numbers, their movements, their skills or the lack of them, their habits, and ultimately their faces?front or back?through the crosshairs of a rifle scope, all so that we might kill them, one at a time, with a silence that terrified them more than anything because it held nothing of the glory they imagined they'd find in battle.
In Klagenfurt, we trained and practiced?not just drilled but practiced?as though virtuosi who would one day be given their concert hall solos in some great symphonic concerto, conducted by our maestro, Sergeant Major Bu?cher, who had been fighting on the western front since August 1914, until he lost a leg to a long-range French shell that had caught him leaving the line at Verdun. He limped well enough with the prosthetic limb a puppet maker in Leipzig had carved for him, but the Germans were one sharpshooter down at the front as a result. So he offered his services as an instructor and would always say, as we stood at attention at dawn on snow-packed and frozen ground while he paced before us, that the sharpshooter should consider himself above rank and disregard it, as it is rank that ought to be hunted first, killing from the top down in order to leave an army leaderless and demoralized. Search for whom and what seems out of the ordinary, he instructed us. The nonuniform, the affectation. Field glasses around the neck out in the open. A scarf of school colors catching the wind. A knitted pullover. An umbrella.
"To desire rank is to desire death," he intoned aphoristically. "You must find the soldier of rank, and find in yourselves the will to remain calm, silent, and alert. Then kill as though it were your only chance to live."
For the first week, we never fired a shot. We cleaned our rifles six times a day and became familiar with the meticulous care of optical sights. We learned to read maps and draw maps and study maps taken from prisoners, so that we could see our ground from their perspective. We dressed in white cover to blend in with the snow during those late-winter months and practiced Nordic techniques until we could ski fifteen miles with a thirtypound pack on our backs and not fall. We learned how to range, judge distances, take into account variations of topography, spot and report small troop movement, and how to move instinctively?against the instincts of the average man? toward higher ground there in the Alps, while we sought out a good hide, and a good means of escape. That was, Bu?cher said, if we knew and could employ well the full quiver of our skills, the most important weapon we could find, a safe place to hide, and this exercise made up the second week of our training.
Each day, we disappeared into the woods, wanting to see and not be seen. Most of us they had chosen in twos, and so we worked in twos, Zlee and I seemingly inseparable now as spotter and shooter. After we were dismissed into the forests in teams, the remaining men fanned out to find us, just as my father and I had done in the mountains years ago, hunter and hunted making notes on details of an occupied position, until the hunter ultimately revealed his target. If the hunted?watching from the hide?had more information on the hunter, the teams switched roles. The one with better notes got the kill. Sometimes it was as insignificant as the fold in a man's cap.
Zlee and I started out against a pair of Tiroleans from the Landesschu?tzen, severe and insular men of the Alpine regions who had remained loyal to the Habsburgs. They kept to themselves and seemed especially derisive of the standard Austrian officers. They hated Slavs, too. It didn't matter that we were fighting for the same king.
We found them easily enough because they whispered to each other in their mountain dialect as they hid in the socket of two large boulders, which created a kind of sounding board. They must have thought we couldn't hear them if we couldn't understand them, and so they cursed us when Zlee inched his head over the top of the rock, looked down, and said in a whisper, "Boom." I had a page of notes on them, even jotting down a word I transliterated from their Austrian, which Bu?cher knew I could not have known, and he called them "useless joker," and sent them back to their regiment. Once Zlee and I were given the chance to disappear, no one found us, not even Bu?cher, who had his own perch with a telescope, from which he made notes?good ones, too.
It was just as well that we couldn't be found, because, but for the sergeant major's attention, we were ignored. The men we trained with were mostly Austrians, and the training we got was unique to the man sent to instruct us. In spite of Bu?cher's insistence that the best weapon the empire had were the men who lived and survived in her mountains, captains who did the recruiting chose as sharpshooters young Austrian men who knew the luxury of sport hunting and who arrived in Klagenfurt with their own rifles, like gentlemen showing up at school with their own horses. That's where I saw my first Schoenauer, a beautiful and powerful rifle with the precision of a surgical instrument. I saw the Norwegian model of the Krag, German Mausers and Gewehr 98s sent down from the western front, and a few other strange-looking cannons that looked as though they should have been left in the nineteenth century. But the weapon didn't make the shot, and in the end more than a few of those gentlemen were sent home with their rifles, where they'd live to hunt game-park deer, not Italian soldiers.
Twenty-five of us remained by the third week, and that's when we took to the range again, this time firing a long-barrel Mannlicher 95 with a double-set trigger and fitted with an optical sight, the physical effect of which was still something new for Zlee and me, despite the fact that we had been carrying them around and caring for them for weeks. We were trained to make head shots and aimed for the teeth, which seems ludicrous until, on a cold morning, across the distance of a valley through refracted light, you can suddenly see a man's breath, see that he's speaking to a comrade, or perhaps only to himself, having a smoke, singing a song he loves, or maybe giving voice to some prayer, words that will be his last. It was hand-to-hand combat, except that the enemy never saw your hand, and lifted his to no effect.
As a team with rifle, rounds, field glasses, and maps, Zlee and I were a rarity, spotter and shooter equally good at both. Bu?cher called us die Zwillinge, "the twins." And then, almost as quickly as it began, just shy of a month of training in that mountain forest by the lake and on ground soft and thawing in the sun, we were pronounced ready, given gold-colored sharpshooter cords for our uniforms, told to keep silent and alert, and sent off to the front, unaware of what kind of war awaited us there

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The Sojourn 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 34 reviews.
ColonialBookworm More than 1 year ago
I was thoroughly impressed with this book. Krivak's writing style was sparse, yet elegant, and covered a topic--Austro-Hungarian soldiers on the Italian front in WWI--that is seldom mentioned in overviews of that conflict. I am recommending this to everyone I know!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
While it is a war novel, the main character's experience is more about life than killing or death. His duties as a sniper provide a platform to build from in examining life, how we live it, how we are when it is time to end, how we value it (or not) and how it doesn't change as much as it changes us. Part morality play, part biography and part fable, it is a book that will - to some degree or another, depending on your view of life - make you stop and examine many things about how you live yours.
bookscoutCB More than 1 year ago
A beautifully written book that I would have guessed could only be written by a much older man. I will remember this tale about family love, war and forgiveness for a long time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Rarley are writers able to convey the horrors of war and the examination of self on such concise, evocative language.
peregrine36 More than 1 year ago
I was disappointed in the brevity of the book. The character development was adequate but insufficient in depth. The story ended before the protagonist could accomplish anything of significance. This would not be a book for a book club discussion.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed the book -wish a map of the area had been included in the book. I kept trying to figure out where they were as they traveled.
fuzzy_patters on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Andrew Krivak's The Sojourn follows young Jozef Vinich through his life being born in America to a family of immigrants, growing up in the old country, fighting in World War I, and coming back home to America. Krivak's writing style is reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy in that he writes with great imagery despite an economy of words. Likewise, his writing is reminiscent of Hemingway in the stoicism of his protagonist despite adversity and Remarque in his portrayal of World War I from the perspective of a soldier fighting for the Central Power.I found this to be a very compelling book. The biblical imagery comparing Jozef's life to Moses and well as references to Shakespeare in having Vinich meet a character named Banquo, who correlated strongly with the character of the same name in MacBeth, was very appealing to me as a reader. As much care as was given to use biblical and literary symbolism, every bit as much care was put into ensuring that the characters were believable and relateable enough so that the reader would begin to question the same things about the world that Vinich questions in the novel. In the end, this is a novel that has a lot to say about war, peace, life, death, and why we live. I came away very impressed with this novel.
eduscapes on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Andrew Kriviak's novel follows the exploits of a sharpshooter, an expert sniper who fought on the southern front in World War I. Through a set of uncommon and tragic events, the young man born in Pueblo, Colorado returned to Europe at age two with his widower father. In Austria the boy grew up poor and in the summer followed his father, a shepherd, into the Carpathian Mountains. Under his father's tutelage, young Jozef learned to blend into the natural landscape, became expert with a rifle, and hunted wild game. As the war broke out, Jozef and his cousin join the Austria-Hungarian Army. This is a great coming-of-age novel that exposes the hardships and horrors of trench warfare. lj (May 2011)
Artymedon on LibraryThing 7 months ago
A truly mesmerizing book which starts like "The deer hunter" transitions to a war story exploring the less known but well researched by Andrew Krivak, role of snipers during the mountain wars of the Italo-Austrian Theater in 1917, starting in the trenches and climbing to a Dino Buzzatti like mountain fort where an invisible ennemy sniper gives random death to the sentries. It ends poignantly with an encounter with a gypsy woman and then her tribe. It is also a book that has its Hemingway moments inevitably thinking "Farewell to Arms" also around the same period and war theater. A trek novel starting in Pueblo Colorado, then back to Europe and then back again for America. Splendid prose and moving encounters throughout. Five stars!!!!
LDVoorberg on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Three stars because I enjoyed rather than loved the book, even though I think it is well-written."The Sojourn" is a good title for this book which really is about the narrator's journey. There is no typical plot line with a specific conflict that must be resolved by the end of the novel. Characters enter and exit as they do in real life, often leaving an impact but not necessarily having grand literary significance. In this way the novel is not American (something I appreciate) and if someone told me it was a true story, I would readily believe them. I can't recall having read a WWI book in which the protagonist is on the Austria-Hungary side, or even one that takes place in this part of Europe. There was a lot of narrative spent on the guns and locations involved in the character's movements during the war, and most of this went over my head. I'm sorry to admit I found that section rather dull, but it did have the bleak effect of conveying some metaphor of what the war may have been like in the character's memory (I say this very lightly, because obviously the war was MUCH worse, unbelieveably worse than a dull part of a novel). There is very little colour in the book, likely intentionally.My one criticism is that some of the subtle references to Scripture and religion in the first half of the book were not picked up/continued/resolved in the latter half. They seem to be dropped (though perhaps I missed something). I wanted to see that developed further.Overall, a unique story.
convivia on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Sojourn: To dwell for a time. To live in a place as a temporary resident or stranger, not considering the place as a permanent habitation; to delay, to tarry; temporary residence, as in a foreign land.-Webster¿s dictionary¿To sojourn signified to be instructed; and therefore sojourner signified those who suffered themselves to be instructed in the statutes and doctrinal things¿¿Hence a sojourner before Jehovah partakes of the statutes of eternity. ¿ -Swedenborg¿Sojourn¿ to me has held the connotation of a moment within a period of transition. In terms of Andrew Krivak¿s novel, THE SOJOURN, this may actually have represented a relatively short period in protagonist Jozef Vinich¿s life, from infancy until the age of twenty or so when he lived in Europe. The amazements of this finely cut novel shine like a polished gem¿s facets. One doesn¿t even imagine that some emigrants returned to their European home countries disillusioned and scarred by grief, after their sojourn in the United States. On the other hand, his father¿s brief but eventful period of employment as a silver miner in Leadville, Colorado where he lived with his wife, Jozef¿s mother, ended in disaster, when she perished under a train after throwing the young infant Jozef to safety. Shortly after this, Jozef¿s father decides to return to his life as a shepherd in the mountains of Slovakia near Hungary in the 1890¿s. Jozef develops rugged outdoor skills, as he becomes a topnotch rifleman. His father also reads to him in English from such texts as he brought back with him, e.g. Moby Dick, Thoreau, Ulysses Grant¿s autobiography, etc. His command of outdoor skills and marksmanship later set him up to become at a very early age a sharpshooter in the Austrian Imperial regiments. Krivak has managed to compress the horrors Jozef participates in as the struggle to save the Empire in the Balkans during World War I unfolds into an amazingly visualized telescopic panorama of the battlegrounds, filled with fox holes, snipers¿ nests, and reconnoiters in icy Alpine terrain in the Dolomites. Eventually captured while injured, then force marched south where he boards a freighter for a prison camp in Sardinia, Jozef returns to civilian life through burning cities and villages, walking past starving civilians, and abandoned farms where military deserters lurk.The young man¿s encounter with a young gipsy girl almost ready to give birth may mark a turn in his development toward adult responsibility. As a child, Jozef had adopted the peasants¿ distrust of the Rom. Now, in his search to find the child¿s grandparents he must break through their antipathy toward his folk. By the time he reaches his home village in Slovakia, Jozef is ready to return to the United States as an adult. Some problematic issues: Jozef¿s father, a Slovakian shepherd, has become sufficiently literate to read Thoreau in English. Just how he had gained such proficiency became a slight enigma, never clearly explained. He had obviously chosen to speak English before his marriage, and insisted that Jozef¿s mother speak it all the time during their brief stay in Leadville, Colorado despite her lack of tutelage and supportive friends to help her learn contexts in this difficult second language. Taking these classics back to the old country into the rural isolation from which he had emerged seems amazing. But then fiction is always stranger than truth, I find!As to the book¿s form: novel or novella? This saga could have become a hefty tome on the order of Tolstoi¿s War & Peace. The entire narrative encompasses or encapsulates a man¿s childhood, youth, and premature adulthood in less than two hundred pages. Nothing important has been omitted. Vinich¿s experiences of abuse f rom women from his very earliest days : To have been thrown from a railroad trestle as a train approached might superficially seem abusive. However his miraculous salvation from the fate that met his mother lifts
TerriBooks on LibraryThing 7 months ago
This is a short book, that kind of rambles around the young life of the protagonist as he grows up in the part of eastern Europe that later becomes Czechoslovakia, then with his experiences as a sharpshooter, then a prisoner, during WWI. Relationships, rather than plot, move the story along. Many things happen that cause him emotional and psychological wounds, yet, when healing is needed, a person appears that provides that healing. Although I kept waiting for a plot climax that never occurred, I enjoyed reading the book. Although I probably should have had a map beside me.
SusieBookworm on LibraryThing 7 months ago
As a result of a series of tragedies during the first years of his life, two-year-old Jozef Vinich and his father return from America to rural Austria-Hungary in 1901. There the elder Vinich takes up shepherding and, realizing that Jozef's stepmother does not treat her stepson well, takes Jozef with him. The duo are eventually joined by an orphaned relative known as Zlee. In 1916, Zlee and Jozef - now teenagers - sign up as sharpshooters with the Austrian army. Sent to the Italian front, Jozef's "sojourn" will take him to the trenches, the Alps, and a Sardinian POW camp before he begins to make his way home to his father after Austria's defeat in WWI.This book and others have begun to increase my understanding of what makes a particular type of fiction "literary." The writing, the tone, the general slowness of plot that still draws in readers and leaves time for them to think on what the author's saying - The Sojourn matches my characteristics of literary fiction. It's not the absolute best that I've read, but it's still a worthwhile read. The setting itself is interesting (Austria-Hungary and Italy in WWI) as are the characters' nationality (Slavic). And while at times I wished the novel had been more detailed instead of dealing more in generalities of conditions and events rather than specifics, the writing seems in keeping with the fact that when Jozef is recording his experiences in 1972, he is writing from his memories. For readers who enjoy literary fiction, well-written historical novels, and war literature, I recommend this book.
samfsmith on LibraryThing 7 months ago
No happy ending here. But then it¿s a war novel, the Austrian/Italian front in WWI. The hero is a young US citizen, whose father took him back to Hungary as a child. He grows up herding sheep with his father, enlists, becomes a sniper for the Austrians, and has some horrific adventures before the war ends. His troubles don¿t end there, since he has to get ¿home¿. But where is home?It¿s well written and captivating, if depressing. An interesting look at a forgotten front in a war that is fast receding from human memory.
DCBlack on LibraryThing 7 months ago
This short novel tells the story of Jozef, a young man who is raised as a shepherd in the mountains of Austria-Hungary just prior to World War I. His father instructs him in the use of a gun, both to hunt for food and to kill predators, such as mountain lions, that might threaten the flock. Together with his cousin Zlee, who is raised with him as a foster brother, Jozeph becomes a proficient marksman and hunter. As a teenager, he grows apart from his aging father, and his dissatisfaction and restlessness lead him to join the Austrian army along with his cousin. Their proficiency as marksmen result in them being trained and assigned as a sniper team. This assignment spares them to some extent from the horror of the trenches, as their main task is to sight and kill enemy officers and other high value targets from hidden locations away from the main body of their own force.The author utilizes first-person narration and a spare prose style that suit the story very well. However, the flow of the story is marred on occasion by convoluted, run-on sentences that required two or three readings to tease out the meaning. This was most noticeable in the middle portion of the book where Jozeph is serving in the war.
Booknik More than 1 year ago
Reads like good Russian lit.- the mood and approach to life's travails always seeming funereal. Equally-like much good Russian lit.- both melancholy and consuming at the same time.
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