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Elegy on Kinderklavier, Arna Bontemps Hemenway


Winner of the 2015 PEN/Hemingway Award

Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers 2014 Pick, Third Place

The stories in Elegy on Kinderklavier explore the profound loss and intricate effects of war on lives that have been suddenly misaligned. A diplomat navigates a hostile political climate and an arranged marriage in an Israeli settlement on a newly discovered planet; a small town in Kansas shuns the army recruiter who signed up its boys as troops are deployed to Iraq, falling in helicopters and on grenades; a family dissolves around mental illness and a child's body overtaken by cancer. In the lead story, the moment a soldier steps on an explosive device is miraculously and painfully reproduced, nanosecond by nanosecond. We feel each click and trigger of the metal below his feet, the compression of his toes, and the fading of the sky around him. Arna Bontemps Hemenway's stories feel pulled out of time and place, and the suffering of his characters seem at once otherworldly and stunningly familiar. Elegy on Kinderklavier is a disquieting exploration of what it is to lose and be lost.

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Arna Bontemps Hemenway grew up in the Mount Vernon neighborhood of Lexington, Kentucky. His fiction has appeared in The Missouri Review, The Seattle Review, Meridian Literary Review, Bat City Review, and They Magazine. He received a BA from the University of Iowa and an MFA in Fiction from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He’s been the recipient of the Peter Taylor Scholarship for Fiction from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, as well as the Truman Capote Fellowship and John C. Schupes Fellowship for Fiction Writing while at Iowa, where he now teaches.


"In this impressive debut story collection, Hemenway shows a depth of emotion and intensity that carries the reader from start to finish. These haunting stories deserve a wide audience."
Library Journal, starred review

"Death is an imminent, lurking presence in this debut collection of seven stories, which explore the confluence of fate and circumstance that places men in situations of anguish and despair. . . In "The Half Moon Martyrs' Brigade of New Jerusalem, Kansas" and Army recruited is blamed for the mortality rate of his town's soldiers in Iraq. Hemenway's earnest desire to reflect historical forces that tragically impact individual lives is admirable."
Publishers Weekly

“A mother discovers, to her horror, that she cannot muster unconditional love for her 8-year-old son, disfigured out of all recognition by a terminal brain tumor, and disappears on a long trip, leaving the boy’s father by the hospital bedside. . . . shows Hemenway to be a true writer, bearing witness.”
Kirkus Review

“Story after story, this collection surprised me and set my mind ablaze, and is one of the most singular and impressive debuts I've read.”
—Alan Heathcock, author of Volt

“Elegy on Kinderklavier is unrelenting in its intelligence, its sorrow, its insistence on building dream cities, its insistence on colonizing the heart.”
—Rebecca Makkai

“The stories in Elegy on Kinderklavier travel around the world and to the moon, and along the way they tell you everything they know, from how it feels to regain your hearing after you've been deafened by a gunshot…. Arna Hemenway writes a fiction whose satisfactions are not merely narrative but musical, and it is a pleasure to listen to his stories as they rise into song.”
—Kevin Brockmeier

"Hemenway’s meticulously crafted first short story collection explores the recesses of past loss in contrast with the harsh realities of his characters’ current states. . . .  The seven tales span a variety of landscapes and even planets torn by conflict, and Hemenway’s rich narrative voices add depth to his characters’ struggles."
—Leah Strauss