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Vanessa Manko

The Invention of Exile

Vanessa Manko The Invention Of Exile
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Biographical note:

Vanessa Manko earned her MFA in creative writing from Hunter College. Manko has taught writing at NYU and SUNY Purchase. Originally from Brookfield, Connecticut, Manko now lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Main description:

Austin Voronkov is many things. He is an engineer, an inventor, an immigrant from Russia to Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1913, where he gets a job at a rifle factory. At the house where he rents a room, he falls in love with a woman named Julia, who becomes his wife and the mother to his two children. When Austin is wrongly accused of attending anarchist gatherings his limited grasp of English condemns him to his fate as a deportee; retreating with his family to his home in Russia, they become embroiled in the civil war and must flee once again, to Mexico.

While Julia and the children are eventually able to return to the United States, Austin becomes indefinitely stranded in Mexico City because of the black mark on his record. He keeps a daily correspondence with Julia as they each exchange their hopes and fears for the future and as they struggle to remain a family across a distance of two countries. Austin becomes convinced that his engineering designs will be awarded patents, thereby paving the way for the government to approve his return and award his long sought-after American citizenship. At the same time he becomes convinced that an FBI agent working for the House Committee for Un-American Activities is monitoring his every move, with the intent of blocking any possible return to the United States. 

Austin’s and Julia’s struggles build to crisis and heartrending resolution in this dazzling, sweeping debut. The novel is based in part on Vanessa Manko’s family history and a trove of hidden letters that serve as a kind of inheritance—letters from a grandfather she never knew. Manko uses this history as a jumping-off point for the novel, which deals with themes of exile and invention and explores how loss reshapes and transforms lives. It is a profoundly moving story of family, history, and the meaning of home.

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