Those Who Knew (Novey)

Those Who Knew 
Idra Novey, 2018
Penguin Publishing
256 pp.

A taut, timely novel about what a powerful politician thinks he can get away with and the group of misfits who finally bring him down.

On an unnamed island country ten years after the collapse of a U.S.-supported regime, Lena suspects the powerful senator she was involved with back in her student activist days is taking advantage of a young woman who's been introducing him at rallies.

When the young woman ends up dead, Lena revisits her own fraught history with the senator and the violent incident that ended their relationship.

Why didn't Lena speak up then, and will her family's support of the former regime still impact her credibility? What if her hunch about this young woman's death is wrong?

What follows is a riveting exploration of the cost of staying silent and the mixed rewards of speaking up in a profoundly divided country. Those Who Knew confirms Novey's place as an essential new voice in American fiction. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—ca. 1977-78
Raised—Johnstown, Pennsylvania, USA
Education—B.A., Barnard College; M.F.A., Columbia Univesity
Awards—(see below)
Currently—lives in Brooklyn, New York City

Idra Novey is an American novelist, poet, and translator (from Portuguese and Spanish). She grew up in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, with 3 siblings and now lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Novey is the author of the novels Those Who Knew (2018) and Ways to Disappear (2016). Her poetry books include Exit, Civilian (2011) and The Next Country (2008).

She is the translator of The Passion According to G.H. by Clarice Lispector, On Elegance While Sleeping by Viscount Lascano Tegui, Birds for a Demolition by Manoel de Barros, and The Clean Shirt of It.

Novey's fic­tion and poetry have been trans­lated into 10 lan­guages, and she has written for the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and New York Magazine. She has received awards from Poets & Writers, the Poetry Foundation, the Brooklyn Eagles Literary Prize, and the National Endowment of the Arts. (Adapted from Wikipedia and other online sources. Retrieved 11/12/2018.)

Book Reviews
Read this now, because everyone you know will be talking about it by early 2019.
Washington Post

Idra Novey's taut second novel takes on an ever-relevant subject: Those Who Knew is a fast-paced, hackles-raising story that focuses on silenced victims of assault and the remorse and shame that comes of not speaking up against abuses of power.

By turns brutal, funny, and tender.… During what are arguably our own Terrible Years, with truth and justice blurred nearly every day, Those Who Knew is as urgent as a ticking time bomb.
Oprah Magazine

There’s timely and then there’s timely. In this prescient novel, a powerful, corrupt senator may finally atone for his crimes when a woman close to him winds up dead. But who can bring him down?
Entertainment Weekly

This timely thriller examines the power influential men hold over women.

Utterly, painfully, of our time.… Novey reveals the extent of our connections to one another, and the true reach of a person's actions—how they can ripple out so much farther than they'd imagined.

The second novel by the poet-translator, whose debut, Ways to Disappear, put her on a short list of boundary-busting young mystery authors, works in a dash of dystopia, untangling the dark history of a progressive senator ten years after the fall of a dictatorship.
New York

Almost exactly a year after the Me Too floodgates opened, this novel takes a closer look at the fallout of a powerful figure’s abuse.
Huffington Post

Poet-turned-novelist Idra Novey's new book is set on an unnamed island country 10 years after the collapse of a U.S.-supported regime. Lena suspects that a powerful senator she used to be involved with is taking advantage of another young woman—and when that woman turns up dead, Lena must revisit her turbulent relationship with the senator.

[P]ropulsive.… [T]hough there are some unnecessary structural turns (scenes from a play…), the book nevertheless has a striking sense of momentum. [A]dd in a slight and intriguing sense of the supernatural, and the result is a provocative novel that has the feel of a thriller.
Publishers Weekly

The personal is political in this new novel from Novey.… By concentrating on the interconnected and very personal stories of each [character], Novey negotiates the surreal reality of an aging port city that is both victim and beneficiary of globalization.… Highly recommended.
Library Journal

Novey creates a landscape in which her characters may represent, or sometimes hide, their nation, class, or station in life. Yet her women overcome such barriers and join together, revealing what they know in order to effect change, a modern parable.

(Starred review) [A] woman suspects a prominent senator…  is guilty of his own private violence.… It's not a particularly subtle book… it unfurls more or less how you'd expect… but Novey's writing is so singularly vibrant it hardly matters. Dreamy and jarring and exceedingly topical.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use our LitLovers talking points to help start a discussion for THOSE WHO KNEW … and then take off on your own:

1. How would you describe Lena's character? Why, for instance, does she go to such lengths to cover up her family's wealth? Why is she hiding it …or hiding from it? How did Victor use her privileged class position to manipulate her?

2. Why does Lena believe it is her responsibility to speak out about her suspicions surrounding Victor's role in Maria's death? Is it her responsibility? Consider Lena's own experience with Victor's rage and her years of silence.

3. When an unfamiliar black sweater and bra keep turning up among her belongings, Lena comes to believe she is receiving signals from an afterlife—which means that she is ordained to avenge Maria. How do you view these and other strange occurrences—are they spiritual visitations, her imagination, or symptoms of trauma or guilt?

4. Talk about the reasons that Olga cautions Lena against standing up to the "wrath of a sociopath." If you were in Olga's position—and given her own tragic history—do you find her warning understandable? What would you advise Lena?

5. Victor? Talk about his character—and how, for example, he represents "politics as usual." (Pigs, anyone?)

6. The novel's big question is this: to what degree is remaining silent in the face of sexual violence a matter of complicity and a moral failing?

7. Power is also a major subject in Those Who Knew. Consider the ways in which various characters wield power over others—sexual, political, or socio/economic. For instance, Victor can turn his sexuality against Cristina, but she can leverage her family's political connections against him. Who else leverages power against others?

8. Talk about previous U.S. involvement in the country's history and how American tourists show no interest in learning of America's role in that dark past.

9. Consider Freddy's play and the way it implicates his brother Victor without publicly defaming him. Does the play-within-a-novel device work as a plot device?

10. Follow-up to Question 9: Why might the author have divided the novel into three acts, as if it were a stage play?

11. Novey also uses extraneous media—news bulletins, sales entries, and commentary from Freddy's play. What do these snippets add to the reading experience?
(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online and off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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