Scribner, January 24, 2017.
The Signal Flame follows three generations of a European immigrant family as they carve out an existence in Pennsylvania’s Endless Mountains. First settled by Austrian Jozef Vinich, he lives out his life on his family farm in 1971, with his widowed daughter Hannah Konar and her remaining son, Bo. The Vinich-Konar family has experienced love and loss for years through the filter of three different wars, including the Vietnam war in which Bo’s brother Sam is currently missing in action.
Jozef survived the trenches of WWI as an Austro-Hungarian soldier, before emigrating to America and raising his daughter, Hannah. Although Hannah’s husband Bexhet was born in Hungary, he fought in WWII as an American soldier – and was imprisoned for desertion under mysterious circumstances. After surviving war overseas, Bexhet returns home only to be shot in a tragic hunting accident on his own land. And while Bo is Bexhet and Hannah’s firstborn son, it is his brother Sam who follows the family military tradition in Vietnam. Bo is grieving for his brother but also has hope for his return to the land they both love – and he soon finds out that Sam has his own family to return to, when Sam’s girlfriend reveals her pregnancy.
Krivak’s first novel followed Jozef’s life, but I wouldn’t call this novel a sequel. It has echoes of the war and memory that have haunted this family for generations, although it is also an exploration of old values versus new ways of coping with grief and loss. The prose is quiet and moves slowly, giving the reader a feeling of expectation – of a life on pause. Although the novel talks about several wars, it is actually the periods of peace in between that make this family what it is.
Because of Bexhet’s death, the Vinich-Konar family has been feuding with his killer’s family – the death was an accident, and the hunter was responsible for a poor family struggling to find sustenance, but Hannah still finds it impossible to forgive him. It is in the next generation that Sam and Bo find understanding and forgiveness, especially as they and the hunter’s family are joined in unexpected ways. This novel is filled with small, intimate moments that are rich in character and place. Their emotions feel truthful and real, although I often found it hard to see below the surface of their actions.
The Signal Flame is a contemplative story, even when major dramatic incidents are occurring. The novel is bleak and tragic, but sprinkled with moments of hope. In each new generation, there is a rebirth of the family and the possibility of a future lived in peace. After decades at war, the Konars have hope for a future in which Sam’s child can grow up in safety and peace, in the Endless Mountains that they love.
I received this book from Scribner and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.