The Lake on Fire, Rosellen Brown
The Lake on Fire, Rosellen Brown
Entertainment Weekly, "Fall preview: The 20 books you need to read this season"
Newsday, "What to read this week"
The National Book Review, "5 Hot Books”
The Lake on Fire is an epic narrative that begins among 19th century Jewish immigrants on a failing Wisconsin farm. Lured by the potential for new life, Chaya and her brilliant younger brother Asher flee to industrialized Chicago. Surrounded by the superficial extravagance of the Columbian Exposition, the pair depends on factory work and pickpocketing to scrape by. The Lake on Fire is a keen examination of social class, family, love, and revolution in a historical time marked by a tumultuous social landscape.
Rosellen Brown is the author of the novels Civil Wars, Half a Heart, Tender Mercies, Before and After, and six other books. Her stories have appeared frequently in O. Henry Prize Stories, Best American Short Stories and Best Short Stories of the Century. She now teaches in the MFA in Writing Program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and lives in Mr. Obama’s neighborhood, overlooking Lake Michigan.
PRAISE FOR THE LAKE ON FIRE:
"Often praised for her prose, in her long-awaited sixth novel Brown (Half a Heart, 2000, etc.) sings as euphoniously as ever, whether she is writing about the filth and stench of the city, about the magnificence of the Columbian Exposition of 1893, or about love. . . . A transporting drama of class and love, steeped in period feeling, written with beauty and conviction."
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"In her first historical novel, an exquisite, suspenseful, and character-driven tale of two cities, poet and deeply inquisitive fiction writer Brown (Before and After, 1992; Half a Heart, 2000) takes measure of the divide between rich and poor during Chicago’s resplendent World's Columbian Exposition of 1893. Narrating from Chaya's and Asher’s divergent perspectives, Brown describes with sensuous intensity the lavish lives of the elite and the desperation of the unemployed, the miasmas of sweatshops and the radiant fair, which decays into a mere facade. . . . In an astute and enrapturing variation on Edith Wharton’s foundational Gilded Age novel, The House of Mirth (1905), and, in accord with Dickens, Dreiser, and Doctorow, Brown imaginatively, compassionately, and spellbindingly dramatizes timeless questions of survival and social conscience."
—Booklist, starred review
"In Brown’s stellar, evocative novel, Jewish siblings Chaya and Asher Shaderowsky move with their family to America from Ukraine to work on a Wisconsin collective farm. . . .[Brown] transports the reader to Gilded Age Chicago and recreates the Jewish immigrant experience as incisively as Henry Roth in Call It Sleep."
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
"If you don’t know this name, get familiar: Brown is one of our best living fiction writers, spending much of a career well under-the-radar. Her new novel, remarkably her first in nearly 20 years, is an epic that questions the American dream in a 19th-century immigrant saga."
—Entertainment Weekly, “Fall preview: The 20 books you need to read this season"
"With her first book in nearly two decades, the author of Before and After and Half a Heart has written a big, ambitious social novel that registers growing inequality, with fully realized characters, a marvelous sense of place, and a profound heart."
—The National Book Review
"In response to her novel, The Lake on Fire, Rosellen Brown has been compared to both Jane Austen and Tillie Olsen. After reading it, I can see the disparate strands of each. In fact, it’s almost like Tillie Olsen got her hands on an early copy of Mansfield Park and said, 'Come now, Jane, you know this would never work in the real world.'. . . [The book's] dual narrative forces the reader to move between two modes of empathy: one of anxiety for Chaya’s strife, and the other, a nod to the more universal concerns we have for the poor, like workers who are treated unfairly, or large segments of the population living in filth. . . . In describing this suffering, Rosellen Brown’s prose shines. It is lucid, rhythmic and offers vivid descriptions of the city. . . [W]e see Brown’s ability to not only recreate late 19th century Chicago, but recreate it with beautiful sentences."
“Like Jane Austen, she digs deeper and deeper into the territory she has staked out, always coming up with brilliant new jewels. In her books, Brown explores intimate family relationships while engaging social issues.”
—Laurie Muchnick, Newsday
"It's been 18 years since we had a novel from the author of Civil Wars and Tender Mercies, but this tale of Jewish immigrant siblings in 19th-century Chicago was worth the wait. Chaya manufactures cigars in a sweatshop; Asher survives as a petty thief; Brown depicts their world with prose that soars."
—Tom Beer, Newsday
"In The Lake on Fire, Brown has reconstructed late-19th-century Chicago with astonishing skill. She has made the vanished World’s Columbian Exposition, with its vaudevillelike Midway and its mammoth Ferris wheel, acutely alive. She has stained our fingers with her cigar factory and bulged our pockets with stolen jewels. And yet, for all of its sensate qualities, Brown’s story is finally a love story, which is to say a timeless story about why and how and at what cost we take care of one another. . . . The Lake on Fire is her master class."
—Beth Kephart, Chicago Tribune
"Her first book in 18 years, The Lake on Fire is a fascinating look at the World’s Columbian Exposition from the perspective of young Jewish immigrants who flee their family farm in Wisconsin. "
—Adam Morgan, Chicago Magazine
"Justly revered local author Brown writes big novels about families and social issues that often end up on the big screen. Her latest begs for such treatment."
—Anne Moore, Crain's Chicago Business
"Rosellen Brown’s The Lake on Fire is a stunning work of historical fiction, filled with the sights and sounds of the Gilded Age in Chicago."
—The Arkansas International
"Rosellen Brown's astonishing new novel about 19th century Chicago reads as if it were written by one of the great 19th century novelists--Eliot, Tolstoy, Dickens all come to mind because of the breadth and depth of her insight into character and her understanding of social class, and the pure elegance of her writing. It's a Cinderella story that knows not to be a Cinderella story and it takes you into the heart of a Chicago teeming with poverty, crime, money, greed, do-gooding, and ambition--a long-lost Chicago that gave birth to what the city is today."
—Nina Barrett, Bookends and Beginnings, Evanston, Illinois
“What a pleasure to have a new novel from Rosellen Brown, an important voice in fiction; and what a particular pleasure to have this novel, which is not only a brilliant coming-of-age-in-the Gilded-Age story, as well as an engrossing sibling story, but is also a keen exploration of ideas around heroism, making one’s way in the world, and the tensions between material comforts and the persistent desire to be of use. Vivid and rich, Rosellen Brown’s book swept me in and held me there.”
“What a remarkable feat of imagination, recreation and literary craft is this superb novel set in turn-of-the-century Chicago. What really drives it, in the best tradition of Dreiser, Doctorow, Bellow, Tillie Olson, Anzia Yesierska and Henry Roth, is the deeply sympathetic involvement in moments of consciousness and action, by which a seemingly lost world is triumphantly retrieved.”
PAST PRAISE FOR BEFORE AND AFTER:
“Powerful…This novel, for all its philosophical provocation and literary merit, is also an unabashed, read-until-dawn page-turner.”
—Michael Dorris, New York Times Book Review
PAST PRAISE FOR TENDER MERCIES:
“…prose as masterful, and as moving, as any being written today.”
—Joyce Carol Oates, New York Times Book Review