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The Survivors
Cover of The Survivors
The Survivors
A Novel
Borrow Borrow
INTERNATIONAL BEST SELLER • A gripping tour de force in which three estranged brothers return to the Swedish lakeside cottage where, more than two decades before, an unspeakable accident forever altered their family and changed the course of their lives.

"Takes you deep into an emotional labyrinth [where] you'll cry for these brothers. For the men they became, for the boys they were, for the innocence they lost. Brilliant, haunting and unforgettable." —Fredrik Backman, author of A Man Called Ove
There is Nils, the oldest, who couldn't escape his suffocating home soon enough, and Pierre, the youngest, easily bullied and quick to lash out. And then there is Benjamin, always the family's nerve center, perpetually on the lookout for triggers and trap doors in a volatile home where the children were left to fend for themselves, competing for their father's favor and their mother's elusive love.
But as the years have unfolded, Benjamin has grown increasingly untethered from reality, frozen in place while life carries on around him. And among the brothers a dangerous current now vibrates. What really happened that summer day when everything was blown to pieces?
In a thrillingly fast-paced narrative, The Survivors mixes the emotional acuity of Edward St. Aubyn, the literary verve of Ian McEwan, and the heart of Shuggie Bain. By brilliantly dissecting a mind unravelling in the wake of tragedy, Alex Schulman reveals the ways in which our deepest loyalties leave us open to the greatest betrayals.
INTERNATIONAL BEST SELLER • A gripping tour de force in which three estranged brothers return to the Swedish lakeside cottage where, more than two decades before, an unspeakable accident forever altered their family and changed the course of their lives.

"Takes you deep into an emotional labyrinth [where] you'll cry for these brothers. For the men they became, for the boys they were, for the innocence they lost. Brilliant, haunting and unforgettable." —Fredrik Backman, author of A Man Called Ove
There is Nils, the oldest, who couldn't escape his suffocating home soon enough, and Pierre, the youngest, easily bullied and quick to lash out. And then there is Benjamin, always the family's nerve center, perpetually on the lookout for triggers and trap doors in a volatile home where the children were left to fend for themselves, competing for their father's favor and their mother's elusive love.
But as the years have unfolded, Benjamin has grown increasingly untethered from reality, frozen in place while life carries on around him. And among the brothers a dangerous current now vibrates. What really happened that summer day when everything was blown to pieces?
In a thrillingly fast-paced narrative, The Survivors mixes the emotional acuity of Edward St. Aubyn, the literary verve of Ian McEwan, and the heart of Shuggie Bain. By brilliantly dissecting a mind unravelling in the wake of tragedy, Alex Schulman reveals the ways in which our deepest loyalties leave us open to the greatest betrayals.
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Excerpts-
  • From the book | 1 |

    11:59 p.m.

    A police car slowly plows through the blue foliage, down the narrow tractor path that leads to the property. There is the cottage, lonely on the point of land, in the June night that will never be entirely dark. It’s a simple red wooden house, its proportions odd, a little taller than it should be. The white trim is flaking, and the siding on the south-­facing wall has faded in the sun. The roofing tiles have grown together, the roof like the skin of a prehistoric creature. The air is still and it’s a little chilly now; fog is collecting near the bottoms of the windowpanes. A single bright yellow light glows from one of the upstairs windows.

    Down the slope is the lake, still and gleaming, edged with birches right down to the shore. And the sauna where the boys sat with their father on summer nights, staggering into the water afterward on the sharp rocks, walking in a line, balancing with their arms extended as if they had been crucified. “The water’s nice!” their father shouted once he had thrown himself in, and his cry sang out across the lake, and the silence that followed existed nowhere but here, a place so far from everything else, a silence that sometimes frightened Benjamin but sometimes made him feel that everything was listening.

    Farther along the shore is a boathouse; its lumber is decaying and the whole structure has started to lean toward the water. And above that is the barn, beams drilled with millions of termite holes and traces of seventy-­year-­old animal dung on the cement floor. Between the barn and the house is the small lawn where the boys used to play soccer. The ground slopes there; whoever plays with his back to the lake has an uphill battle.

    This is the stage, this is how it looks, a few small buildings on a patch of grass with the forest behind it and the water in front. An inaccessible place, as lonely now as it was in years past. If you were to stand at the far end of the point and gaze out, you wouldn’t see a hint of human life anywhere. Every rare once in a while they could hear a car passing on the gravel road across the lake, the distant sound of an engine in low gear; on dry summer days they could see the cloud of dust that rose from the forest soon after. But they never saw anyone; they were alone in this place they never left and where no one ever visited. Once they saw a hunter. The boys were playing in the forest and suddenly, there he was. A green-­clad man with white hair, twenty yards away, slipping silently through the fir trees. As he passed, he looked blankly at the boys and brought his index finger to his lips and then he kept walking in among the trees until he was gone. There was never any explanation—­he was like a mysterious meteor that passed close by but crossed the sky without making contact. The boys never talked about it afterward, and Benjamin sometimes wondered if it really happened.

    It’s two hours past dusk. The police car comes tentatively down the tractor path. The driver’s anxious gaze is fixed just ahead of the hood, trying to see what sorts of things he’s running down as he descends the hill, and even when he leans across the wheel and looks up he can’t see the treetops. The evergreens that tower over the house are incredible. They were enormous even when the boys were small, but now they stretch a hundred to even a hundred and fifty feet into the air. The children’s father was always proud of the fertile ground here, as if it were his doing. He stuck radish sprouts in the earth in early June and after just a few weeks he dragged the children to the...
About the Author-
  • ALEX SCHULMAN is a bestselling author and journalist and the co-host of Sweden's most popular podcast. The Survivors, which has sold in over 30 countries, is his fifth novel and marks his international debut. He lives in Sweden with his wife and their three children.
     
    RACHEL WILLSON-BROYLES majored in Scandinavian Studies at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota, and received her BA there in 2002. She started translating while a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she received a Ph.D. in Scandinavian Studies in 2013. She has translated books such as Helios Disaster by Lina Boström Knausgård, which was a finalist for the National Book Award; Quicksand by Malin Persson Giolito; A Nearly Normal Family by Mattias Edvardsson; and Montecore and Everything I Don’t Remember by Jonas Hassen Khemiri. Rachel lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
     
Reviews-
  • Library Journal

    May 1, 2021

    After their mother's death, three brothers retreat to a lakeside cottage at Midsommar, though they find no comfort: two decades previously, a tragic accident occurred there that has forever altered their lives. The eldest brother, Nils, fled the family when he could; the youngest, Pierre, copes with having been bullied; and in-the-middle Benjamin, ever watchful amid the competition for parental love, now seems stuck in the past. There's a fuse here that's about to be lit. Best-selling author Schulman, co-host of Sweden's most popular podcast, makes his international debut with a book already sold to 30 countries.

    Copyright 2021 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Kirkus

    August 15, 2021
    Three sons of alcoholic parents return to an idyllic setting of long-ago trauma. Fluidly translated from the Swedish by Willson-Broyles, this is Schulman's first U.S. publication. In a frame story anchoring the narrative, three brothers have convened, after a long absence, at their family cabin on a lake to scatter their mother's ashes. In the mind of protagonist Benjamin, the middle brother, events and memories spiral and circle in flashback upon flashback--it's a take-no-prisoners kind of nonlinearity. During childhood summers at the lake, Benjamin, his aloof older brother, Nils, and irascible younger brother, Pierre, get into various scrapes. "Mom and Dad," as they're always called, exercise minimal supervision between frequent "siestas" and extended cocktail hours, leaving the children to disappear for hours in the woods and nearly drown in the lake. Their parents' volatility and inconsistent care have fostered an awkward semi-estrangement among the adult siblings, which, at the water's edge, erupts into a brawl, with their mother's urn weaponized. Shocks escalate, from the boys' unthinking cruelty toward a fish to a disastrous family outing on Midsummer Eve to the heist of Mom's ashes from a crematory. All this may seem over-the-top, but Benjamin's meditative perspective lends gravitas to the proceedings. His memories hover over one incident he recoils from confronting, even questioning his own sanity to avoid it. A pivotal figure in the novel is the family dog, Molly, a bellwether of unease; she is anxious and seems to only trust Benjamin and Mom. The behavior of Mom in particular is portrayed as classic alcoholic personality disorder; but it slowly dawns on the reader that there is far more to it than that. A final truth emerges, forcing the reader to reevaluate all that has gone before. A novel of family dysfunction that veers into startling and original territory.

    COPYRIGHT(2021) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    August 23, 2021
    Author and TV journalist Schulman’s searing if simplistic English-language debut follows three adult brothers as they wrestle with the legacy of a tragedy that upended their childhoods over 20 years earlier. After their mother’s death from stomach cancer, Benjamin, Nils, and Pierre reunite to take her ashes to a cabin in rural Sweden where they often stayed as children. It is an emotionally fraught place for the boys: while their adventures there drew them close, it’s laden with memories of their parents’ fickle moods—their father, at turns doting and wrathful; their mother, loving and cruel. Benjamin, calm and observant, narrates, and attempts to hold together the mercurial and aloof Nils. Schulman teases out the story’s central mystery slowly, alternating chapters between Benjamin’s memories and the brothers’ haphazard reunion. Schulman writes in an understated prose and has an intuitive feel for the subtleties of gesture and memory. While the conclusion’s revelation of the incident that sundered the family feels a bit too clean, the author’s skills with character development are undeniable. Schulman shows he has plenty of talent to burn. Agent: Astri von Arbin Ahlander, Ahlander Agency.

  • Booklist

    September 15, 2021
    Swedish brothers Nils, Benjamin, and Pierre convene to scatter their mother's ashes at the family's summer cabin, bringing back a flood of memories for Benjamin, Schulman's central character. Despite moments of closeness and comfort, the boys' parents were often cruel and neglectful. Sometimes, the parents' failings drew the boys closer, but one day Benjamin had an accident. A wall of shock and grief descended, after which the boys could no longer knit themselves together as a unit or lean on their parents. As adults, the brothers are disconnected, with Benjamin living a ghostlike existence. Already an international bestseller, Schulman's novel is extraordinary in its structure, covering the 24 hours leading up to the ash-scattering, with the timeline unfolding backwards in two-hour increments. Past and present collide as Benjamin's childhood memories, most of which relate painful events that reveal the parents' inattention or the brothers' growing distance from one another, break through. The day of the accident figures ever more prominently as incidents in the ""count-back"" coalesce into another terrible event. An entrancing, gripping read.

    COPYRIGHT(2021) Booklist, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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