Those Who Knew isn’t the kind of story you’d call sweeping, but it is. In a taut novel, Idra Novey creates the broad gaze of a brutal history, both political & personal, shifting between perspectives & characters, genres & times. You open the book on an unnamed island with characters who have inherited much from a brutal regime: Lena, the granddaughter of juice manufacturers & upper-class supporters of Cato (the now deposed brutal ruler); Olga, the former political prisoner mourning the loss of her beloved S. and now running a bookstore slash weed business; Victor, a former student protestor become senator, with a history & a tendency for violence; Freddy, his brother, a playwright recollecting & interrogating the role of his family in the suffering of the country.
Novey moves between Freddy’s scripts (all thinly veiled political criticism against his brother), Olga’s transaction log (all lovesick attempts to keep S. alive in her heart), and a more traditional narration. The novel moves forward in two big shifts—the now of Part I, resolving in 9/11; Part II, six years later when some figures have had children; and Part III, where several characters must confront choices & realities that have merely weighed on them up until now. There are business fortunes & romantic fortunes, political campaigns & public relations catastrophes, as well as moral dead ends & restorative second chances. It’s a lot, but it never feels like a heavy or difficult novel.
The resolution is a kind of baptism & escape, one in which bad things happen to bad people and we know why, good things happen to good people and we know why. It’s a really satisfying and rich read. You can read about other stuff I’ve read here.