“There comes a time in your life when the past decides to run you down,” Mark Slouka writes in this heartbreaking and soul-searching memoir about one man's attempt to reckon with the past.
Born in Czechoslovakia, Mark Slouka’s parents survived the Nazis only to have to escape the Communist purges after the war. Smuggled out of their own country, the newlyweds joined a tide of refugees moving from Innsbruck to Sydney to New York, dragging with them a history of blood and betrayal that their son would be born into.
From World War I to the present, Slouka pieces together a remarkable story of refugees and war, displacement and denial―admitting into evidence memories, dreams, stories, the lies we inherit, and the lies we tell―in an attempt to reach his mother, the enigmatic figure at the center of the labyrinth. Her story, the revelation of her life-long burden and the forty-year love affair that might have saved her, shows the way out of the maze.
Nobody's Son (2016)
"A beautifully written memoir which is as much about the wiles of memory as it is about Slouka’s family history. . . . With love and compassion, Slouka bravely excavates the pain and straightens the pictures on the walls of his chamber of memories."
― Washington Post
"‘Pinned like Ahab to his whale,’ Mark Slouka sets out to confront his own leviathan―a past of violent upheaval and existential terror, a childhood eclipsed by his mother’s madness. In his quiver: memories both sacred and flawed; hope, the thing without a GPS; resolve, the kind born of desperation; and love. The last will hit the mark. A brilliant memoir."
― Kathryn Harrison, author of The Kiss: A Memoir and Joan of Arc: A Life Transfigured
"At times brutally honest, at others sweetly mournful . . .With starkly vivid imagery and an elegiac, dreamlike cadence, Slouka conveys the precariousness of a childhood spent never knowing what aspect of his mother’s volatile personality he’d have to confront nor understanding what precipitated her mercurial rages. Slouka has admirably covered these themes in his novels, but, as always, fiction pales compared to reality."
― Carol Haggas, Booklist
"A remarkable story remarkably told.... I have never before read anything except Nabokov's Speak, Memory that so relentlessly and shrewdly exhausted the kindness and cruelty of recollections shaping devices."
— Geoffrey Wolff
"[Slouka’s] thoughtful and erudite reflections deepen the narrative and infuse it with compassion. . . . With the rich prose of a novel, [Nobody’s Son] is a story about escapes: Slouka’s parents escaping from Communist brutality, his father escaping from the oppression of marriage, his mother escaping from the conflict within and the author, seeking refuge the only way he knows how, escaping through words."
― New York Times Book Review
"Slouka’s previous writing has shown that he has both a hard skeptical brain and a huge questing heart. Nobody’s Son is the book of his life, in both senses: he sings it like Bach throwing his baton, a mature master engaged, enamored, enraged."
― Brian Hall
"This soul-searching study of memory and pain is . . . absolutely mesmerizing to read."
― Boston Globe, Pick of the Week
"This singular memoir reverberates with obstinate, refreshing candor. Mark Slouka demonstrates powerfully the ways that memory is a function of imagination."
― Phillip Lopate, author of Portrait Inside My Head
“The scope and intensity of this exploratory, at times excruciating, memoir are incredible. Here are entire lives, recollected and resurrected with amazing clarity. This title is bound to be a classic of the genre.”
—Library Journal, starred review
"A masterwork…astonishingly fierce yet powerfully lyric. The story moves beyond the search for a self into the tangled narratives of both private memory and the ravaged history of twentieth-century central Europe."
— Patricia Hampl, author of A Romantic Education