cover image Famous Men Who Never Lived

Famous Men Who Never Lived

K Chess. Tin House, $24.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-947793-24-8

Musing on xenophobia, forced migration, and fear of the other, this debut from Chess too often goes off track. Hel and Vikram escaped from a parallel-universe version of Queens, N.Y., to the one we know, fleeing the explosions of sabotaged nuclear power plants. Only 156,000 universally displaced persons (UDPs) escaped before the gate letting them through closed forever. The refugees were only able to bring a few things with them, and they cherish these irreplaceable items, such as Vikram’s copy of The Pyronauts, a classic work from their world. When the book is stolen, Hel risks being arrested to get it back, as she worries that a crucial part of the history of her people—including the son she left behind—will be forgotten. Several different subplots and unnecessary excerpts from The Pyronauts are scattered throughout. Chess has constructed a good premise, and part of the story has a satisfactory conclusion; however, the narrative frequently loses momentum. This confused debut will leave readers with more questions than answers. Agent: Stacia Decker, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner. (Mar.)