Named a Most Anticipated Book of 2018 by the New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, Elle, Time, Parade, Vanity Fair, Cosmopolitan, Esquire, PBS, Vulture, Buzzfeed, BookRiot, PopSugar, Refinery29, Bustle, The Rumpus, Paste, BBC.
A shocking novel of violence, love, faith, and loss, as a young woman at an elite American university is drawn into acts of domestic terrorism by a cult tied to North Korea.
Phoebe Lin and Will Kendall meet their first month at prestigious Edwards University. Phoebe is a glamorous girl who doesn't tell anyone she blames herself for her mother's recent death. Will is a misfit scholarship boy who transfers to Edwards from Bible college, waiting tables to get by. What he knows for sure is that he loves Phoebe.
Grieving and guilt-ridden, Phoebe is increasingly drawn into a religious group–a secretive extremist cult–founded by a charismatic former student, John Leal. He has an enigmatic past that involves North Korea and Phoebe's Korean American family. Meanwhile, Will struggles to confront the fundamentalism he’s tried to escape, and the obsession consuming the one he loves. When the group bombs several buildings in the name of faith, killing five people, Phoebe disappears. Will devotes himself to finding her, tilting into obsession himself, seeking answers to what happened to Phoebe and if she could have been responsible for this violent act.
The Incendiaries is a fractured love story and a brilliant examination of the minds of extremist terrorists, and of what can happen to people who lose what they love most.
R. O. Kwon is a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellow. Her writing is published or forthcoming in The Guardian, Vice, Buzzfeed, Time, Noon, Electric Literature, Playboy, and elsewhere. She has received awards from Yaddo, MacDowell, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Omi International, the Steinbeck Center, and the Norman Mailer Writers’ Colony. Born in South Korea, she has lived most of her life in the United States.
Oscar Villalon is the Managing Editor of Zyzzyva Magazine. He is is the former book editor at the San Francisco Chronicle and a board member of the National Book Critics Circle. His reviews have appeared on NPR.org and KQED’s "The California Report."
What has been said about the work of R.O. Kwon:
Remarkable… Every page blooms with sensuous language and the book’s mood is otherworldly, even if its setting, a wealthy college in the Northeast, isn’t… These are characters in quiet crisis, burning, above all, to know themselves, and Kwon leads them, confidently, to an enthralling end." —Paris Review
"If you only read one book this summer, make it this complex and searing debut novel by R.O. Kwon." —Southern Living
"One of those slim novels that contains multitudes, R.O. Kwon’s debut novel shows how unreliable we are as narrators when we’re trying to invent — and reinvent — ourselves.” —Vulture
“Kwon’s prose is artfully crafted. It is spare and accessible, then, delightfully explosive in its literary tendencies, the music and the flourish. Kwon has a knack for setting stunning scenes that immerse us in a world familiar yet fractured: a watery memory that we want to stay and explore, understand. This is fantastic fiction, dripping with detail and nostalgia—experience translated poignantly, accessibly—scenes in this book are a dead-on dream… Images come alive, light burns through silver halide, and what we see on screen, on the page, in our minds, is as tangible and fleeting as a film frame…. Written with sparsity and flourish, a well-constructed narrative fractured and woven into cinematic scenes, populated with complex characters that demand our attention in exchange for access, The Incendiaries is at times reminiscent of a Haruki Murakami novel. Alongside Kwon’s persistent, driven prose is a narrative of personal and interpersonal unraveling. Kwon cultivates a palpable emptiness, a space to feel the growing sense of loss that progressively saturates these pages.” —The Rumpus
“This lyrical, haunting novel is a remarkable debut from Kwon, in which she shows with real lucidity the tangled ways in which passion slips into fanaticism, love into desperation, and faith into folly.”—Nylon
“R.O. Kwon’s brilliant debut novel dives into the world of domestic terrorism, and the results prove that she’s a writer to watch.” —Paste Magazine
“Deeply engrossing.” —PBS Books
“R.O. Kwon’s debut novel is the rare marriage of sparkling, poetic prose and propulsive narrative…. Big ideas of God and faith are explored, but it’s all grounded in the story of the relationship between two people, and how loss and vulnerability can be exploited by a persuasive religion.” —Jezebel
“If there is a novel that goes to unexpected places, it’s The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon… Phenomenal.” —Mashable
“The Incendiaries will make you dizzy with its powerful prose… its heartbreaking and gut-wrenching meditations on the extremes human beings will push themselves to when they lose the thing they love most will stick with you long after you finish.” —PopSugar
“A powerful, darkly glittering novel… The Incendiaries is a fractured love story and a brilliant examination of the minds of extremist terrorists, and of what can happen to people who lose what they love most.” —The Rumpus
“The Incendiaries is a God-haunted, willful, strange book written with a kind of savage elegance. I’ve said it before, but now I’ll shout it from the rooftops: R. O. Kwon is the real deal.”
—Lauren Groff, author of Fates and Furies and Florida
“Every explosive requires a fuse. That’s R. O. Kwon’s novel, a straight, slow-burning fuse. To read her novel is to follow an inexorable flame coming closer and closer to the object it will detonate—the characters, the crime, the story, and, ultimately, the reader.”
—Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of The Sympathizer and The Refugees
“The Incendiaries probes the seductive and dangerous places to which we drift when loss unmoors us. In dazzlingly acrobatic prose, R. O. Kwon explores the lines between faith and fanaticism, passion and violence, the rational and the unknowable.”
—Celeste Ng, author of Little Fires Everywhere and Everything I Never Told You
“A swift, sensual novel about the unraveling of a collegiate relationship and its aftermath. Kwon writes gracefully about the spiritual insecurities of millennials.”
—Karan Mahajan, author of The Association of Small Bombs
“This debut novel is absolutely electric, something new in the firmament. Everyone should read this book.”
—Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You
“A classic love triangle between two tormented college students and God. The Incendiaries brings us, page by page, from quiet reckonings with shame and intimacy to a violent, grand tragedy. In a conflagration of lyrical prose, R. O. Kwon skillfully evokes the inherent extremism of young love.”
—Tony Tulathimutte, author of Private Citizens
“An impressive, assured debut about the hope for personal and political revolution and all the unexpected ways it flickers out. Kwon has vital things to say about the fraught times we live in.”
—Jenny Offill, author of Dept. of Speculation
“A profound, intricate exploration of how grief and lost faith and the vulnerable storm of youth can drive people to irrevocable extremes, told with a taut intensity that kept me up all night. R.O. Kwon is a thrilling writer, and her splendid debut is unsettled, irresistible company.”
—Laura van den Berg, author of The Isle of Youth and Find Me
“Written in dazzling, spare prose… Kwon’s novel expertly addresses questions of faith and identity while managing to be formally inventive in its construction… In this intriguing cult story, Kwon thoroughly explores her characters’ motivations, making for an urgent and disarming debut.” —Publishers Weekly
“Kwon successfully defines her characters’ depth while maintaining an air of intrigue and suspense. Throughout, she looks at the imperfections in all our lives and how our interactions may lead us down paths unbeknownst to ourselves. With a breezy yet intense style, newcomer Kwon is a writer to watch.” —Library Journal