The Incendiaries
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The Incendiaries

3.23 (21,368 ratings by Goodreads)
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'R. O. Kwon is the real deal' LAUREN GROFF



'Absolutely electric . . . Everyone should read this book' GARTH GREENWELL



'Every explosive requires a fuse. That's R. O. Kwon's novel, a straight, slow-burning fuse' VIET THANH NGUYEN



'In dazzlingly acrobatic prose, R. O. Kwon explores the lines between faith and fanaticism, passion and violence, the rational and the unknowable' CELESTE NG



'A sharp, little novel as hard to ignore as a splinter in your eye' WASHINGTON POST



'Raw and finely wrought' NEW YORK TIMES



'The Incendiaries packs a disruptive charge, and introduces R. O. Kwon as a major talent' FINANCIAL TIMES

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A powerful, darkly glittering novel about violence, love, faith and loss, as a young Korean American woman at an elite American university is drawn into acts of domestic terrorism by a cult tied to North Korea.



Phoebe Lin and Will Kendall meet their first month at prestigious Edwards University. Phoebe is a glamorous girl who doesn't tell anyone she blames herself for her mother's recent death. Will is a misfit scholarship boy who transfers to Edwards from Bible college, waiting tables to get by. What he knows for sure is that he loves Phoebe.



Grieving and guilt-ridden, Phoebe is increasingly drawn into a religious group--a secretive extremist cult--founded by a charismatic former student, John Leal. He has an enigmatic past that involves North Korea and Phoebe's Korean American family. Meanwhile, Will struggles to confront the fundamentalism he's tried to escape, and the obsession consuming the one he loves. When the group bombs several buildings in the name of faith, killing five people, Phoebe disappears. Will devotes himself to finding her, tilting into obsession himself, seeking answers to what happened to Phoebe and if she could have been responsible for this violent act.



THE INCENDIARIES is a fractured love story and a brilliant examination of the minds of extremist terrorists, and of what can happen to people who lose what they love most.

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'A stunning debut . . . discomforting yet thoroughly engrossing' MARIE CLARE



'A combustive tale about the human compulsion to latch onto something bigger than ourselves, no matter the cost' VOGUE



'Religion, politics and love collide in this slim but powerful novel reminiscent of Donna Tart's THE SECRET HISTORY, with menace and mystery lurking in
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Product details

  • Hardback | 224 pages
  • 144 x 221 x 22mm | 370g
  • Virago Press Ltd
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 0349011877
  • 9780349011875
  • 107,515

Review Text

The debut novel from the Korean-American writer RO Kwon starts with a bomb attack carried out by an
extremist Christian cult. Will Kendall knows his former girlfriend, Phoebe Lin, was one of the perpetrators; what plays out in this short, sharp tale is the story of why . . . When Phoebe is approached by John Leal, a barefoot preacher who claims to have been a prisoner in a North Korean gulag, she believes he offers the purpose and discipline she has lost. But Will, struggling to come to terms with the loss of his Christian faith, sees through Leal. This triumvirate of flawed characters share the narrative focus as events spiral towards their bloody denouement -
and Kwon's spare, scalpel-like writing makes Phoebe's tumble into Leal's crazed vision utterly convincing
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Review quote

Fairy-tale quality reminiscent of Donna Tartt's The Secret History - New Yorker

The Incendiaries is a book of careful feints - the emphases in the story never fall where you expect, but Kwon is always in total control . . . a startlingly assured book by an important new writer - Guardian, Book of the Day

A pulsating, hypnotic debut novel . . . Kwon's subject is not so much love and betrayal - though both forces are

presented as elementally destructive - as the power of religion, and the grieving that engulfs those

who lose faith. She understands what a believer will do to retain her sense of belonging, to never be

lonely again . . . The Incendiaries packs a disruptive charge, and introduces RO Kwon as a major talent - Financial Times

What an intriguing novel. Told in spare, revealing prose from the three central characters' points of view, it makes the reader look again at faith, fanaticism and identity - Daily Mail

The debut novel from the Korean-American writer RO Kwon starts with a bomb attack carried out by an

extremist Christian cult. Will Kendall knows his former girlfriend, Phoebe Lin, was one of the perpetrators; what plays out in this short, sharp tale is the story of why . . . When Phoebe is approached by John Leal, a barefoot preacher who claims to have been a prisoner in a North Korean gulag, she believes he offers the purpose and discipline she has lost. But Will, struggling to come to terms with the loss of his Christian faith, sees through Leal. This triumvirate of flawed characters share the narrative focus as events spiral towards their bloody denouement -

and Kwon's spare, scalpel-like writing makes Phoebe's tumble into Leal's crazed vision utterly convincing - The Times

R. O. Kwon's characters leave you unsure of where reality stands in a narrative that is beautifully disorienting. As each retreats further into their own mind, the language becomes more jarring, and the logic harder to follow, in a way that mimics the real-life terror of obsession - Literary Hub

A swift, sensual novel about the unraveling of a collegiate relationship and its aftermath. Kwon writes gracefully about the spiritual insecurities of millennials

An impressive, assured debut about the hope for personal and political revolution and all the unexpected ways it flickers out. Kwon has vital things to say about the fraught times we live in
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About R. O. Kwon

R. O. Kwon is a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellow. Her writing has appeared in The Guardian, Time, Vice, BuzzFeed, the San Francisco Chronicle, Playboy, Noon, Electric Literature, and elsewhere. She has received awards from Yaddo, MacDowell, the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, the Sewanee Writers' Conference, Omi International, the Steinbeck Center, and the Norman Mailer Writers Colony. Born in South Korea, Kwon has lived most of her life in the United States.
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Rating details

21,368 ratings
3.23 out of 5 stars
5 9% (2,005)
4 29% (6,257)
3 40% (8,582)
2 17% (3,693)
1 4% (831)
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