The Sojourn is Andrew Krivak’s first novel. It follows the early life of Jozef Vinich. Born in the United States, his father and him emigrant back to Austria-Hungary after a series of unfortunate events. Here Jozef learns how to herd sheep, shoot a rifle, hunt, and live off the land. In March 1916, Jozef and his cousin Zlee join the army. As a result of their expertise they are selected to become sharpshooters.
Jozef and Zlee begin their military career in western Slovenia, along the Soca River (Isonzo) Valley. In May 1917, the Italians attack initiating the Tenth Battle of the Isonzo. As sharpshooters the pair are given the opportunity to drift along the lines in search of suitable targets. After his first kill Jozef reflects; “I never once wondered who those men might be…. They were the enemy, and they would stand and fight and try to kill as many men as I might pass in the night to or from the trenches that separated us not just in battle but by the will of God, and I killed as I had been instructed and believed that death and death alone would save me.”
The importance of earth, a common theme in World War One novels, is reiterated in The Sojourn. Following an Italian salvo Jozef notes, “the earth is a soldier’s mother when the shells begin to fall, and she is, at first, your instinct not to run, but to dig and hold and hug as much of that earth as you possibly can, down, down, down into the dirt, with your fingertips, hands, arms, chest, thighs, and feet, until you are like a child clinging with his entire body to comfort after a nightmare.”
In November 1917, a team of sharpshooters trek northwest towards the Piave River. Hungry and exhausted while marching through snow and mud Jozef experiences feeling of despair and anguish. “I longed only to turn back…and begin life all over again in a place where I might find the peace I’d once known in mountains of another time and another place.”
Within this novel are several other recurring themes; purpose, family, coming of age, peace, and ethnic relations. Initially, I was divided on this book, however the more I analyze it the more I like it. This book is written from the perspective of the enemy on the Austrian-Italian front lines, a theatre of World War One not often explored.