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Burning Down the House
Cover of Burning Down the House
Burning Down the House
A Novel
Borrow Borrow
"It begins with a child . . ." So opens Jane Mendelsohn's powerful, riveting new novel. A classic family tale colliding with the twenty-first century, Burning Down the House tells the story of two girls. Neva, from the mountains of Russia, was sold into the sex trade at the age of ten; Poppy is the adopted daughter of Steve, the patriarch of a successful New York real estate clan, the Zanes. She is his sister's orphaned child. One of these young women will unwittingly help bring down this grand household with the inexorability of Greek tragedy, and the other will summon everything she's learned and all her strength to try to save its members from themselves.
In cinematic, dazzlingly described scenes, we enter the lavish universe of the Zane family, from a wedding in an English manor house to the trans-global world of luxury hotels and restaurants—from New York to Rome, Istanbul to Laos. As we meet them all—Steve's second wife, his children from his first marriage, the twins from the second, their friends and household staff—we enter with visceral immediacy an emotional world filled with a dynamic family's loves, jealousies, and yearnings. In lush, exact prose, Mendelsohn transforms their private stories into a panoramic drama about a family's struggles to face the challenges of internal rivalry, a tragic love, and a shifting empire. Set against the backdrop of financial crisis, globalization, and human trafficking, the novel finds inextricable connections between the personal and the political.
Dramatic, compassionate, and psychologically complex, Burning Down the House is both wrenching and unputdownable, an unforgettable portrayal of a single family caught up in the earthquake that is our contemporary world.
From the Hardcover edition.
"It begins with a child . . ." So opens Jane Mendelsohn's powerful, riveting new novel. A classic family tale colliding with the twenty-first century, Burning Down the House tells the story of two girls. Neva, from the mountains of Russia, was sold into the sex trade at the age of ten; Poppy is the adopted daughter of Steve, the patriarch of a successful New York real estate clan, the Zanes. She is his sister's orphaned child. One of these young women will unwittingly help bring down this grand household with the inexorability of Greek tragedy, and the other will summon everything she's learned and all her strength to try to save its members from themselves.
In cinematic, dazzlingly described scenes, we enter the lavish universe of the Zane family, from a wedding in an English manor house to the trans-global world of luxury hotels and restaurants—from New York to Rome, Istanbul to Laos. As we meet them all—Steve's second wife, his children from his first marriage, the twins from the second, their friends and household staff—we enter with visceral immediacy an emotional world filled with a dynamic family's loves, jealousies, and yearnings. In lush, exact prose, Mendelsohn transforms their private stories into a panoramic drama about a family's struggles to face the challenges of internal rivalry, a tragic love, and a shifting empire. Set against the backdrop of financial crisis, globalization, and human trafficking, the novel finds inextricable connections between the personal and the political.
Dramatic, compassionate, and psychologically complex, Burning Down the House is both wrenching and unputdownable, an unforgettable portrayal of a single family caught up in the earthquake that is our contemporary world.
From the Hardcover edition.
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  • From the cover 1

    They always celebrated important family events out of town, usually in another country. Here they were in a black car as it sped along the highway, now turning onto a side road, disappearing and emerging from under trees like a blinking light on a Global Positioning System screen moving across a continent. The tinted windows flickering with shadows and reflections, sparks dancing against the glass. From the outside, the family riding in the car was difficult to understand, the way the movements of a fire, even when viewed within the safe confines of a fireplace, seem random and uncontrolled. However, inside, from amid the licking flames of its interlocking relationships, the Zane family made its own fantastical sense. All families are complicated, but because their connections constitute the primary reality that its members know, some families create a world that to them is more comprehensible than the world itself.

    From the point of view of the fire in the fireplace, the living room appears extraordinary, disorienting, and obscure. And the unexpected lashings of the blaze feel comfortable, ordinary, and known.



    This time Jonathan had flown his driver over, so Vlad was taking Jonathan, Miranda, and Alix from the airstrip to the house in the same car. It was awkward for Alix because she had been conscious of the tension between her brother and his fiancée ever since they had begun their journey and they had been journeying for a long time: from New York to London, and then from London on a smaller plane, and now in this sedan, here, on a road in the British countryside lined with ancient trees whose branches and leaves so loose and careless reminded Alix of one of Jonathan's silk ties, flung casually over his shoulder as it was at this very moment. She sat next to Miranda, while Jonathan had opted to sit up front with Vlad. Alix and Jonathan had two much-­younger half brothers, nine-­year-­old twins, and Miranda had recently discovered that Jonathan was sleeping with their nanny. Miranda had threatened to call off the wedding, was still threatening, convincingly, to leave tomorrow and head to Sardinia where some friends had a place, but Jonathan had talked her into coming this far and now here she was sitting in the backseat being driven to the manor house which Jonathan's family had rented for the occasion. Her eyes were red, but she was in possession of her usual perfect haircut and amused expression. Alix had no idea what Miranda was thinking, but she knew that Miranda was capable of impulsivity—­and in this case maybe bolting was the rational thing to do—­in spite of her preternaturally still surface. Miranda was like a big cat. Composed, she looked out the window at an angle which almost touched her disembodied yet vivid reflection and which made it appear to Alix as though her brother's betrayed fiancée were in the middle of having a quiet conversation with herself.



    Alix thinks that it is too late. Too late for her to have any kind of life other than this life dictated by her family circumstances, defined by these people trapped inside their pain. She does not believe as she rides in the car on the way to her brother's wedding that anything can grow other than these old green trees which line the road. She is waiting for Ian, for the friend who knows her, who represents a time when she believed that things might grow. She sits in the car and waits for Ian.

    Vlad, said Jonathan, could you pull over for a minute?

    Thanks.

    The rush of green coming at Alix made her eyes blur. So much beauty outside, so much misery in the car.

    Thanks, said Jonathan. And now that...
About the Author-
  • JANE MENDELSOHN is a graduate of Yale University. She is the author of three previous novels, including I Was Amelia Earhart, a New York Times best seller and a finalist for the Orange Prize; Innocence; and American Music. She lives in New York City with her husband and children.
    www.janemendelsohn.com
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    January 25, 2016
    Mendelsohn’s (I Was Amelia Earhart) latest begins with a prologue featuring the bitter horror of a Russian girl sold as a sex slave, who eventually becomes the stalwart nanny of the moneyed Zane family. But unfortunately, this glimpse of humanity and strife can’t offset the flat main characters of the novel. Steven, the patriarch, remains one-dimensional, always taking meetings in hotel suites, sounding aggressive on the phone, and reading the Wall Street Journal; he’s exactly like any businessman from any soap opera, whose power sets plot points into motion like dominoes but never comes to life as a particularly complex person. Poppy is his niece, whom he adopted when his sister, her mother, died. After Poppy begins an affair with a close family friend, Steven intervenes in unforeseen dark places of the family empire, for incredibly unlikely reasons. All the while, the Russian nanny is steely and calm, a caricature of resilience. As the Zanes’ world crumbles, the details are well-wrought in Mendelsohn’s articulate voice, but the whole package never departs from the melodramatic.

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Burning Down the House
Burning Down the House
A Novel
Jane Mendelsohn
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