Invitation to a Bonfire
by Celt, Adrienne

Sent to an elite all-girls New Jersey boarding school in the 1920s, Russian scholarship student Zoya Andropova endures bullying and prejudice before falling into the obsessive circles of a much-admired writer and his scheming wife.

Adrienne Celt's debut novel, The Daughters, won the PEN Southwest Book Award for Fiction and was an NPR Best Book of the Year and an NYPL Favorite Book of the Year. Her story "Temples" was included in The O. Henry Prize Stories 2016. Her work has appeared in Epoch, Zyzzyva, Prairie Schooner, Esquire, Electric Literature, The Rumpus, The Millions, and elsewhere. She has an MFA in fiction from Arizona State University, draws weekly comics at, and lives in Tucson.

Zoya Andropova's life is not easy. After the Russian Revolution costs her both parents, she ends up as a scholarship student at Donne School, an elite girls' academy in 1920s New Jersey. Fellow Russian Leo Orlov, an author whose work has always entranced Zoya, lands a teaching position at Donne. Their subsequent affair sparks a passion that has astounding effects. Celt's (The Daughters, 2015) literary novel, inspired by Vladimir Nabokov's relationship with his wife, Véra (Orlov's wife is also named Véra), has all the delicious tension of a psychological thriller, the mysteries dissected in prose as sharp and precise as a scalpel. Insights into the human mind combine with an assured story structure that explores themes of class, sex, and an outsider's perspective on the U.S. Véra's icy sophistication, the casual cruelty of "well-mannered" girls (reminiscent of Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye, 1988), and the dangerous self-absorption of an acclaimed author meld with obsession and a claustrophobic sense of place. The result is a novel that packs all the punch of the very best noir-only with more depth. Highly recommended. Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.

Trembling with atmosphere, Celt's (The Daughters, 2015) second novel follows a young Russian émigré as she becomes embroiled in a sinister love triangle with a brilliant novelist and his exceptional wife. Constructed as a "collection of papers" bequeathed by one Vera Orlov to the posh girls' boarding school where her husband taught before his untimely death, the book begins with the end. Leo "Lev" Orlov was murdered in 1931, according to the opening "note on the text"; the same year, a young Donne School employee, Zoe "Zoya" Andropov, "died under hotly debated circumstances." The story—primarily told through Zoya's supposed diary entries and Lev's letters—is about everything that happened before. The child of political dissidents, Zoya arrives in New Jersey on a ship of orphans and finds herself an out-of-place charity case at the Donne School, a dark outcast amid shiny American wealth. But while the other girls move on to college or marriage or secretar ial jobs after graduation, Zoya stays on, tending the school's greenhouse under the tutelage of the kindly gardener and obsessing, in her spare hours, over the otherworldly novels of the great Leo Orlov. And then, outside her greenhouse window in New Jersey, there he is: Lev Orlov. Encouraged by his beautiful, ice-cold wife—the engine of his career—he's teaching at the school. Immediately, he and Zoya, fellow Russians with upbringings on opposite sides of a vast cultural divide—she's a peasant, he's the son of White Russian wealth—fall into a passionate affair. But as Zoya becomes increasingly involved with the Orlovs, she begins to understand that their relationship is darker and more tangled than she'd bargained for, and she finds herself a half-witting pawn for them both. An ominous snowball of a novel (very) loosely based on the Nabokov marriage, with a slow-burning first half and a second half that hurtles toward inevitable catastrophe, it's a bo o k that requires some patience, but that patience—carefully calculated—pays off in spades. Rich and moody. Copyright Kirkus 2018 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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