Winner of the Housatonic Book Award
A New York Times Editors' Choice!
One of Booklist’s “Top 10 Historical Fiction Novels of 2022”
One of the Los Angeles Times's “10 Books to Add to Your Reading List”
One of Book Culture's Most Anticipated Reads
“A bighearted, widescreen American tale.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Masterpiece . . . The quintessential great American novel.”—Booklist (starred review)
“A vivid mosaic.”—BookPage (starred review)
Jonathan Evison’s Small World is an epic novel for now. Set against such iconic backdrops as the California gold rush, the development of the transcontinental railroad, and a speeding train of modern-day strangers forced together by fate, it is a grand entertainment that asks big questions.
The characters of Small World connect in the most intriguing and meaningful ways, winning, breaking, and winning our hearts again. In exploring the passengers’ lives and those of their ancestors more than a century before, Small World chronicles 170 years of American nation-building from numerous points of view across place and time. And it does it with a fullhearted, full-throttle pace that asks on the most human, intimate scale whether it is truly possible to meet, and survive, the choices posed—and forced—by the age.
The result is a historical epic with a Dickensian flair, a grand entertainment that asks whether our nation has made good on its promises. It dazzles as its characters come to connect with one another through time. And it hits home as it probes at our country’s injustices, big and small, straight through to its deeply satisfying final words.
Evison's ambitious if overlong latest (after Legends of the North Cascades) tells the stories of a train's passengers and their ancestors after a disastrous crash. In 2019, veteran conductor Walter Bergen embarks from Portland, Ore., to Seattle, his final journey on the Amtrak payroll. Estranged from his family for decades, Bergen is a simple train-loving man who adores his wife Annie, and is also, as shown in one of the novel's many descriptive passages set in the mid-19th century, a descendant of Chicago Irish twin orphans. Malik, a passenger and a young basketball star heading toward a prized invitational, is a descendent of an enslaved person. After the train crashes, Malik pleads with Walter to help his injured mother. There's also Jenny, a corporate consultant and descendent of Chinese immigrant entrepreneurs; and Laila, a Native American, who is fleeing an abusive husband. While some of the historical details and the characters' relationships to one another feel a bit scattered, Evison's depiction of the characters' family histories builds significance as contemporary racial inequalities and class disparities are brought into relief against those of the 1850s. "America was a rigged competition," one character remarks, firmly setting the tone and cadence of Evison's expansive saga. It's baggy, but still thick with insights.