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Phantoms
Cover of Phantoms
Phantoms
A Novel
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One of the Millions' "Most Anticipated" Books of 2019
Torn apart by war and bigotry, two families confront long-buried secrets in this haunting American novel of World War II and Vietnam.

In the panoramic tradition of Charles Frazier's fiction, Phantoms is a fierce saga of American culpability. A Vietnam vet still reeling from war, John Frazier finds himself an unwitting witness to a confrontation, decades in the making, between two steely matriarchs: his aunt, Evelyn Wilson, and her former neighbor, Kimiko Takahashi. John comes to learn that in the onslaught of World War II, the Takahashis had been displaced as once-beloved tenants of the Wilson orchard and sent to an internment camp. One question has always plagued both families: What happened to the Takahashi son, Ray, when he returned from service and found that Placer County was no longer home—that nowhere was home for a Japanese American? As layers of family secrets unravel, the harrowing truth forces John to examine his own guilt.

In prose recalling Thomas Wolfe, Phantoms is a stunning exploration of the ghosts of American exceptionalism that haunt us today.

One of the Millions' "Most Anticipated" Books of 2019
Torn apart by war and bigotry, two families confront long-buried secrets in this haunting American novel of World War II and Vietnam.

In the panoramic tradition of Charles Frazier's fiction, Phantoms is a fierce saga of American culpability. A Vietnam vet still reeling from war, John Frazier finds himself an unwitting witness to a confrontation, decades in the making, between two steely matriarchs: his aunt, Evelyn Wilson, and her former neighbor, Kimiko Takahashi. John comes to learn that in the onslaught of World War II, the Takahashis had been displaced as once-beloved tenants of the Wilson orchard and sent to an internment camp. One question has always plagued both families: What happened to the Takahashi son, Ray, when he returned from service and found that Placer County was no longer home—that nowhere was home for a Japanese American? As layers of family secrets unravel, the harrowing truth forces John to examine his own guilt.

In prose recalling Thomas Wolfe, Phantoms is a stunning exploration of the ghosts of American exceptionalism that haunt us today.

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About the Author-
  • Christian Kiefer has a PhD in American literature from the University of California–Davis and directs the low-residency MFA at Ashland University. The author of The Animals and The Infinite Tides, he lives with his family in Placer County, California.
Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    February 1, 2019
    Two families seek to make peace with their past as a young novelist attempts to overcome his war-tossed demons.Kiefer (The Animals, 2015, etc.) begins his novel by introducing us to the achingly beautiful memory of Ray Takahashi, a young Japanese-American soldier returned from fighting for a country that had forced his family to abandon their home for an internment camp. He returns to the orchards of California, looking for his childhood sweetheart, Helen Wilson. Following this opening scene, we learn that the novel is, in fact, narrated by a different character, John Frazier, who, upon his return from a devastating tour in Vietnam in 1969, helps his aunt, Evelyn Wilson, and their former neighbor, Kimiko Takahashi, try to uncover, or keep covered, various sins and mysteries of the 1940s. To add another layer, Frazier, a novelist, is actually reflecting on the story in 1983, when he finally learns the truth about Ray's life. It's a complex narrative structure, but this allows Kiefer to constantly overlay past and present and to recognize, through John, the cycles in which his character, and in fact the country, remains trapped--cycles of racism, cycles of war, and cycles of young men who return home guilty of crimes, the full ramifications of which they couldn't possibly understand. Yet for all this, the novel--certainly anti-war, certainly condemning our country's dark past--is full of quavering beauty, unbreakable love, and fragile, relentless hope. "Sweet life," Kiefer-as-John writes to end these interlocking, deeply tragic stories. "Have you not been with me all the while?" In the hands of a writer as skilled and gifted as Kiefer, the answer can only be yes, for sweet life spills from every perfect word.It will break your heart, and in the breaking, fill you with bittersweet but luminous joy.

    COPYRIGHT(2019) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    February 25, 2019
    Kiefer’s sweeping novel (after One Day Soon Time Will Have No Place to Hide) examines the ways war shapes the lives of ordinary people. Upon returning to Placer County, Calif., after serving in Vietnam, John Frazier is at loose ends: 21 and gripped by recollections of violence and a drug habit he’s trying to kick, he’s unable to imagine his future. But when he runs into his long-lost aunt Evelyn Wilson, John is improbably sucked into the mystery of what happened to Ray Takahashi, Evelyn’s Japanese-American former neighbor, who disappeared soon after returning from WWII. With John in tow, Evelyn meets with Ray’s mother to reveal a secret she’s kept for 26 years—that, unbeknownst to Ray, Evelyn’s daughter, Helen, gave birth to his baby after he came back from the war. At Evelyn’s insistence, Helen gave up the infant to an orphanage partly due to the “disgrace” of a mixed-race child. As John grapples with his own ghosts, he investigates Ray’s life: his idyllic childhood growing up with the Wilson children, his romance with Helen, the Takahashi family’s transfer to an internment camp and the prejudice they encountered. After Evelyn exposes her secret, the sinister forces underlying Ray’s disappearance begin rising closer to the surface. Kiefer’s story sheds light on the prejudice violence ignites and on the Japanese-American experience during a fraught period of American history, and makes for engaging and memorable novel.

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