The Recent East: A Novel (Paperback)
Finalist for the 2022 Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction • Longlisted for the PEN/Hemmingway Award for Debut Novel • A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice • A Most Anticipated Book of 2021 at O, The Oprah Magazine, Refinery29, and The Millions • One of Goodreads’ 75 Debut Novels to Discover in 2021 • One of The Advocate’s 22 LGBTQ+ Books You Absolutely Need to Read This Year
“A wonderful, immersive debut novel . . . In Grattan’s hands, life’s joys are magnetic.” —Patrick Nathan, The New York Times Book Review
An extraordinary family saga following a mother and two teens as they navigate a new life in East Germany.
Shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Beate Haas, who defected from East Germany as a child, is notified that her parents’ abandoned mansion is available for her to reclaim. Newly divorced and eager to escape her bleak life in upstate New York, where she has lived as an adult, she arrives with her two teenagers to discover a city that has become an unrecognizable ghost town. The move fractures the siblings’ close relationship, as Michael, free to be gay, takes to looting empty houses and partying with wannabe anarchists, while Adela, fascinated with the horrors of the Holocaust, buries herself in books and finds companionship in a previously unknown cousin. Over time, the town itself changes, too—from dismantled city to refugee haven and neo-Nazi hotbed, and eventually to a desirable seaside resort town. In the midst of that change, two episodes of devastating, fateful violence come to define the family forever.
Moving seamlessly through decades and between the thoughts and lives of several unforgettable characters, Thomas Grattan’s spellbinding novel The Recent East is a multigenerational epic that illuminates what it means to leave home, and what it means to return. Masterfully crafted with humor, gorgeous prose, and a powerful understanding of history and heritage, The Recent East is the profoundly affecting story of a family upended by displacement and loss, and the extraordinary debut of an empathetic and ambitious storyteller.
About the Author
Thomas Grattan is the author of the novel The Recent East, which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction, longlisted for the 2021 PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel, and named a New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice. His writing has appeared in several publications, including The New York Times Book Review, One Story, Slice, and The Colorado Review, and was listed as a notable story in Best American Short Stories. He has an MFA in Fiction Writing from Brooklyn College and has taught middle school English for more than a decade. He lives in upstate New York.
"A wonderful, immersive debut novel . . . Our lives are time spent, and it’s a deep, expansive pleasure to spend a little of ours as these characters spend their own. Most extraordinarily, Grattan gives us not only life, but a good life, the rarity of which in fiction (and increasingly, reality) is a shame." --Patrick Nathan, The New York Times Book Review
"A sharply accomplished first novel . . . Grattan’s rarer achievement is to have written a historical novel whose when and where, however well established, are not really determinative, and whose people remain individual riddles instead of political integers . . . Fiction, as always, will have to play catch-up, which is what Thomas Grattan’s career now seems splendidly to be doing." --Thomas Mallon, The New Yorker
"A narrative description alone fails to convey the dazzling, deeply loving, obscenely clever prose at the heart of Grattan’s novel. The Recent East is filled with many little landmines of sentences buried in each paragraph that nearly makes you stop and gasp. It’s all the small details tossing around this continent-tossed family that makes this novel such a joy." --Christopher Bollen, Interview
"Thomas Grattan's debut novel is an epic in every sense of the word — in narrative scope, of course, but also in the way it's breaking new ground for the genre . . . It's a lofty project for a debut writer, but Grattan pulls it off seamlessly. " --Selja Rankin, Entertainment Weekly
"Thomas Grattan’s debut novel takes the 'decades-spanning family saga' genre to new queer heights." --Keely Weiss, Harper's Bazaar
"Moving fluidly through time and space, Thomas Grattan's The Recent East offers an intimate, intergenerational portrait of a family . . . With prose that feels like life, Grattan captures the whirls of excitement and letdown that accompany a queer person's [coming-of-age]." --Meredith Talusan, them.
"A sprawling, captivating story of identity, displacement, family, and belonging, Thomas Grattan's debut novel is at turns heart-breaking and life-affirming, a necessary reminder of the different ways we can find, or create, a home for ourselves . . . The novel goes back and forth in time, offering a fascinating, clear-eyed view of the quickly changing landscape of Germany in the late 20th century, but what it does best of all is show the ways in which we are all of us, always, searching to better understand who we are, and how we fit into an ever-changing world." --Kristen Iversen, Refinery29
"An arresting and resplendent family saga." --O, the Oprah Magazine
"Thomas Grattan's written one of my favorite debuts of the year. It's a queer coming-of-age (and beyond) story that manages to avoid all of the usual cliches typically associated with the genre . . . The Recent East is one of those books that I couldn't put down." --Jeffrey Masters, The Advocate
"Grattan is a masterful writer when it comes to finding the odd and alien struggles of our present-day predicament. He is deft at exposing our longing, especially in being queer, to dispel and discard old myths and crushing ideals, to defect and cross borders in imagining a stranger, freer and more diverse home." --Walter Holland, Lambda Literary
"A nuanced fabric in which a vision of everyday doings seem to be the larger point. This intelligent, quirky family, moving through time and change, remains strongly connected, devoted to one another throughout. Grattan, a New Yorker with German roots, has an observant eye and a way with dialogue." --Drew Hart, ArtsFuse
"[A] striking and surprising debut . . . At turns funny and frightening, this is a moving, memorable portrait of a family and town in turmoil." --Publishers Weekly
"Grattan is a graceful writer and keen observer of family dynamics; the domestic themes, realist style, and emphasis on German culture can’t help but recall Jonathan Franzen . . . An ambitious, artful, and winding tale of a family in search of its moorings." --Kirkus
"I fell in love with The Recent East, which is absolutely spellbinding. Thomas Grattan’s writing on family, displacement, and queerness is so well wrought, intimate, and mesmerizing. This is an exquisite and profound novel. I will be pushing it in the hands of everyone I know." --Etaf Rum, author of A Woman is No Man
"Between life and death, as The Recent East would have it, we move 'from place to memory.' This remarkably humane first novel manages the quantum feat of restoring Cold War-era Germany to both categories at once. Its powerful intelligence and crystalline observations revive a set of memories - the late '60s, the early '90s - touched with a bygone world's Ostalgie. Yet in his enormous sensitivity, his feel for character, and his wry humor, Thomas Grattan also pins down precisely our own contentious place in history - our own riven and intimate selves. All in all: Ein Wunder!" --Garth Risk Hallberg, author of City on Fire
"Thomas Grattan explores the complex forces at work within families, forces that can both impede and facilitate the formation of individual identity. In this multi-generational, multi-continent journey, the threads of a family fray and interweave against the backdrop of immigration and political change, yielding moments of profound isolation and profound intimacy. Grattan has an enthralling voice and a deep understanding of the subtleties of human relationships. The Recent East is a bold and tender debut." --Helen Phillips, author of The Need
"An epic that blossoms more than sprawls, The Recent East is capacious in its scope and generously, exquisitely controlled in its pacing and language. This is not a novel that falls through on its promises; every sentence renews the possibility of entering the world of this book, every page offers a new seduction." --Jordy Rosenberg, author of Confessions of the Fox