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Quartet for the End of Time

A Novel

Johanna Skibsrud (Author)


A “cinematic . . . page-turner and a compassionate analysis of faith, memory, responsibility, and consequence.”—Molly Antopol, Fiction Writers Review

Inspired by and structured around the chamber piece of the same title by the French composer Olivier Messiaen, Quartet for the End of Time is a mesmerizing story of four lives irrevocably linked in a single act of betrayal. The novel takes us on an unforgettable journey beginning during the 1930s Bonus Army riots, when World War I veteran Arthur Sinclair is falsely accused of conspiracy and then disappears. His absence will haunt his son, Douglas, as well as Alden and Sutton Kelly, the children of a powerful U.S. congressman, as they experience—each in different ways—the dynamic political social changes that took place leading up to and during World War II.

From the New Deal projects through which Douglas, newly fatherless, makes his living to Sutton’s work as a journalist, to Alden’s life as a code breaker and a spy, each character is haunted by the past and is searching for love, hope, and redemption in a world torn apart by chaos and war. Through the lives of these characters, as well as those of their lovers, friends, and enemies, the novel transports us from the Siberian Expedition of World War I to the underground world of a Soviet spy in the 1920s and 1930s, to the occultist circle of P. D. Ouspensky and London during the Blitz, to the German prison camp where Messiaen originally composed and performed his famous Quartet for the End of Time.

At every turn, this rich and ambitious novel tells some of the less well-known stories of twentieth-century history with epic scope and astonishing power, revealing at every turn the ways in which history and memory tend to follow us, and in which absence has a palpable presence.

Book Details

  • Paperback
  • November 2015
  • ISBN 978-0-393-35182-8
  • 5.5 × 8.1 in / 480 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide, excluding Canada, the British Commonwealth and the European Union.

Endorsements & Reviews

Quartet for the End of Time is a brilliant work of art, and it is brilliant in so many ways—its dense, rich, and immaculate prose; its vivid evocation of a watershed period in American history; its high-stakes political and personal drama; and, above all, its intimate and completely compelling portraits of human beings struggling to do the right thing under ambiguous moral circumstances. This wholly realized book has everything I crave in a work of fiction.” — Tim O’Brien

“An ambitious, tough-minded story…By avoiding narrative cliches, Skibsrud is able to reinvigorate the history her novel rests on.” — Joanna Scutts, Washington Post

“Mysterious, richly detailed, and wholly original, this symphonic fiction makes emotion palpable, weaving the consequences of acts and emotions into its very structure.” — Andrea Barrett, author of Ship Fever

“This is a wonderfully original novel. Scenes of extraordinary high drama take place in a realm drawn with great historical accuracy—in prose that marks this fiction with its own unexpected ethereal tint. Skibsrud has talent to burn.” — Joan Silber, author of Fools

Quartet for the End of Time is a searingly beautiful book, at once a sweeping historical epic and an intimate mediation on faith and memory. Johanna Skibsrud’s newest novel is so intelligent, so compassionate, so moving—and above all so gorgeously written—that it’s impossible to put down. She is an astonishingly good writer.” — Molly Antopol, author of The UnAmericans

“Intricate [and] ambitious… a haunting meditation on responsibility with vivid glimpses of history, and a distinctive and nuanced voice.” — Publishers Weekly

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