Review: Johanna Skibsrud’s ‘A Quartet for the End of Time’

January 11, 2015 12:00 PM

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Review: Johanna Skibsrud’s ‘A Quartet for the End of Time’

Johanna Skibsrud’s novel is an ambitious, tough-minded story that reaches across two war-torn decades and beyond. In its temporal sweep, the novel recalls Ian McEwan’s Atonement, another war story that begins in the 1930s with an original sin and a case of mistaken identity that reverberates through the years. But unlike that book — a novel about the dishonesty of novelists in the face of war — Quartet for the End of Time entertains none of the usual comforts of war fiction. Here, war inspires neither heroism nor romance — just a series of difficult and lonely compromises.

When the novel opens, in the summer of 1932, Washington is besieged by the self-proclaimed Bonus Army. Tens of thousands of unemployed World War I veterans, along with their wives and children, have gathered to demand the payment of their service benefit, a lump sum that the government has promised ...

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