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Cover for War of the Encyclopaedists

War of the Encyclopaedists

A Novel

Christopher Robinson, Gavin Kovite


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In a superb, rare literary collaboration, two major new talents join their voices to tell the story of a generation at a crossroads, and a friendship that stretches over continents and crises—from the liberal arena of Boston academia to the military occupation of Iraq—in this ambitious and electrifying debut novel.

On a summer night, in the arty enclave of Capitol Hill, Seattle, best friends Mickey Montauk and Halifax Corderoy throw one last blowout party before their lives part ways. At twenty-three, they had planned to move together to Boston for graduate school, but global events have intervened: Montauk has just learned that his National Guard unit will deploy to Baghdad at the end of the summer. In the confusion of this altered future, Corderoy is faced with a moral dilemma: his girlfriend Mani has just been evicted and he must decide whether or not to abandon her when she needs him most. He turns to Montauk for help. His decision that night, and its harrowing outcome, sets in motion a year that will transform all three of them.

Months later, Corderoy and Montauk grapple with their new identities as each deals with his own muted disappointment. In Boston, Corderoy finds himself unable to play the game of intellectual one-upmanship with the ease and grace of his new roommate Tricia, a Harvard graduate student and budding human rights activist. Half a world away, in Baghdad, Montauk struggles to lead his platoon safely through an increasingly violent and irrational war. As their lives move further away from their shared dream, Corderoy and Montauk keep in touch with one another by editing a Wikipedia article about themselves: smart and funny updates that morph and deepen throughout the year, culminating in a document that is both devastatingly tragic and profoundly poetic.

Fast-moving and compulsively readable, War of the Encyclopaedists beats with the energetic pulse of idealistic youth on the threshold of adult reality. "A wise and wise-assed first novel...with sweep and heart and humor" (Mary Karr, author of Liar's Club and Lit) it is the vital, urgent, and utterly absorbing lament of a new generation searching for meaning and hope in a fractured world.

Praise For War of the Encyclopaedists: A Novel

"Mr. Robinson and Mr. Kovite have…written a captivating coming-of-age novel that is, by turns, funny and sad and elegiac — a novel that leaves us with some revealing snapshots of America, both at war and in denial, and some telling portraits of a couple of millennials trying to grope their way toward adulthood."

— Michiko Kakutani

“One of the most revealing novels yet about the millennial generation…Recent war fiction—like Kevin Powers’s The Yellow Birds, Phil Klay’s Redeployment, and Ben Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk—has accounted for the battleground overseas and at home, but none has focused so incisively on the choice between serving and shopping. Getting drunk at brunch and releasing your gun’s safety. Montauk and Corderoy keep in touch by editing a Wikipedia entry about themselves. What starts off as a fun, absurd exercise grows more poetic and deadly serious…The millennials have gotten a bad reputation for a bewildering sense of self-regard and privilege, their dreams encouraged by their protective parents and discouraged by the recession. And this might be their defining novel—what feels like a human encyclopedia, its opposing entries revealing characters and a country in a confused state of revision following a nonsensical war.”

— Benjamin Percy

“The book is a love story, a war story and also a generational one, about coming of age in the time of Wikipedia and YouTube… darkly funny and absurd and terrifying at the same time.”

"Only a poet and a soldier—like these collaborating authors—are mad enough or ambitious enough to conceive of this smart, wise and wise-assed first novel. Seattle hipsterville to Baghdad, Cambridge theory nerds and Army grunts, this book has sweep and heart and humor. It captures coming of age during foreign wars and domestic malaise, and it does so with electrifying insight."
— Mary Karr

“The 429-page novel races, thanks to its accessible emotional depth. The distorted Wikipedia page tracks Montauk and Corderoy’s peaks and valleys with a poetic eye that warrants a deeper, careful reading that Corderoy and Montauk themselves might mock (or laud) depending on their mood.”

“As bizarre, hilarious and devastating as the past decade, War of the Encyclopaedists offers a brilliant portrait of America in the early years of the Iraq War. A startling, original accomplishment, Christopher Robinson and Gavin Kovite's novel is simultaneously a coming-of-age story, a war story, and a story of the disaffected millennial generation for whom the war hardly happened at all.”
— Phil Klay

“[A] likable, highly readable, double-bylined coming-of-age first novel…Chapters alternate between Corderoy's ill-prepared and humorous immersion in lit-crit seminars and his friend's hard-edged life amid the threats and slaughter of insurgency. Both areas have fun with the lingo…There are many nice touches in the writing…Smart and entertaining.”

“[Robinson and Kovite] have taken their individual histories and attitudes and invested them in their two main characters, who are deftly portrayed and a perfect fit for each other. Their story unfolds rapidly, humorously, and convincingly from page one.”

“Kovite and Robinson perfectly capture the mistakes, confusion and vulnerability of early adulthood, as well as the bravado used to mask them...Bittersweet but ultimately redemptive, the Encyclopaedists' adventures in growing up, romantic failures and gaining perspective may remind readers of the pains and possibilities that are encountered when one makes a way in the world.”

"An epic for the 9/11 generation, War of the Encyclopaedists chronicles the churning uncertainties of new adults, when everything represents possibility or peril."

“A gripping, thoughtful read…Moving and memorable.”

“A breath of fresh air. War of the Encyclopaedists is the extraordinary product of a collaboration between two writers… more entertaining than your standard important-yet-dreary war novel… By placing Mickey and Halifax in separate locations, enduring distinct experiences, their voices can do something amazing: have a completely unpedantic intra-generational conversation.”

Scribner, 9781476775425, 448pp.

Publication Date: May 19, 2015

About the Author

Christopher Robinson, a Boston University and Hunter College MFA graduate, is a MacDowell Colony fellow and a Yale Younger Poets Prize finalist. His writing has appeared in many publications, including The Kenyon Review and McSweeney’s.

Gavin Kovite was an infantry platoon leader in Baghdad from 2004-2005. He attended NYU Law and served as an Army prosecutor. His writing has appeared in literary magazines and in Fire and Forget, an anthology of war fiction.  He lives in Seattle.