cover image The House of Widows

The House of Widows

Askold Melnyczuk, . . Graywolf, $16 (255pp) ISBN 978-1-55597-491-6

Melnyczuk’s ambitious third novel is a soulful noir about the damaging effects of history on one man’s psyche. Cynical historian James Pak lives in Vienna and is still deeply affected by his father Andrew’s suicide 16 years ago, and his confessional narrative, told mostly in flashbacks, fills the reader in on why he’s still reeling. Just after Andrew’s death, James takes possession of three of his dead father’s belongings (a letter written in an unfamiliar language, a glass jar and military identification papers) and sets out to exhume his father’s past. His pilgrimage leads him from Boston to England, Austria and Ukraine, and entangles him with Andrew’s childhood friend, Marian, and her charge, Selena, a Palestinian woman with a twisted backstory. James encounters a branch of his father’s family he never knew existed, and as he discovers the significance of the jar and military papers and the contents of the letter, his family’s hidden past comes into sharp focus. James is a strikingly observant and literate guide to a world full of unsavory characters and nearly devoid of joy. Melnyczuk (What Is Told ; Ambassador of the Dead ) doesn’t let anyone—especially the reader—off easy. (Mar.)