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Fiction General

Quartet for the End of Time

by (author) Johanna Skibsrud

Penguin Group Canada
Initial publish date
Sep 2014
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2014
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Jun 2015
    List Price

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The year is 1932, and America is roiling with unrest. Angry WWI veterans, embittered by the ruinous poverty inflicted by the Great Depression, join forces and, calling themselves the Bonus Army, march on Washington to demand payment of the wartime bonus promised them for their service during the war.



Arthur and Douglas Sinclair, an impoverished veteran and his son, make the arduous journey from Kansas to join the march. Alden and Sutton Kelly, the rebellious children of a powerful Washington judge, become involved with the veterans’ struggle, causing an irreparable rift in the Kelly family. When the Bonus march explodes in a violent clash between government and veteran forces, Arthur is falsely accused of conspiracy and disappears. The lives of Douglas, Alden, and Sutton are forever changed—linked inextricably by the absence of Arthur Sinclair.


 As these three lives unfold in the wake of the Bonus riots, we are taken to unexpected places—from the underground world of a Soviet spy to Hemingway’s Florida and the hard labour camps of Roosevelt’s New Deal Projects in the Keys; from occultist circles in London to occupied Paris and the eventual fall of Berlin; and finally, to the German prison camp where French composer Olivier Messiaen originally wrote and performed his famous Quartet for the End of Time. Taking us on an unforgettable journey through individual experience and memory against the backdrop of seismic historical events, Quartet for the End of Time is both a profound meditation on human nature and an astonishing literary accomplishment from one of Canada’s most original voices.

About the author

Johanna Skibsrud is a novelist, poet and Assistant Professor of English at the University of Arizona. Her debut novel, The Sentimentalists, was awarded the 2010 Scotiabank Giller Prize, making her the youngest writer to win Canada's most prestigious literary prize. The book was subsequently shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book Award and is currently translated into five languages. The New York Times Book Review describes her most recent novel, Quartet for the End of Time (Norton 2014) as a "haunting" exploration of "the complexity of human relationships and the myriad ways in which identity can be malleable." "It is exhilarating", writes the Washington Post, "to join a novelist working at these bracing heights." Johanna is also the author of two collections of short fiction: This Will Be Difficult to Explain (2011; shortlisted for the Danuta Gleed Award) and Tiger, Tiger (2018), a children's book, and three books of poetry. Her latest poetry collection, The Description of the World (2016), was the recipient of the 2017 Canadian Author's Association for Poetry and the 2017 Fred Cogswell Award. Johanna's poems and stories have been published in Zoetrope, Ecotone, and Glimmertrain Magazine, among numerous other journals. Her scholarly essays have appeared in, among other places, The Luminary, Excursions, Mosaic, TIES, and The Brock Review. A critical monograph titled The Poetic Imperative: A Speculative Aesthetics is forthcoming. A novel, Island, will also be published by Hamish Hamilton Canada in fall 2019.

Johanna Skibsrud's profile page

Editorial Reviews

“At once a sweeping tale and a deeply layered meditation on the nature of time, justice and agency. . . [Skibsrud] has embedded meaning in terrific turns of plot. And her rendering of the smallest details can be crystalline.” – Macleans - Macleans
Quartet for the End of Time is a brilliant work of art, and it is brilliant in so many ways—its dense, rich, and immaculate prose, its vivid evocation of a watershed period in American history, its high-stakes political and personal drama, and, above all, its intimate and completely compelling portraits of human beings struggling to do the right thing under ambiguous moral circumstances. This wholly realized book has everything I crave in a work of fiction.” - Tim O’Brien, author of The Things They Carried
“A strange, deeply compassionate, and beautiful work.” - Globe and Mail
"Skibsrud reminds us how family members treat each other during political upheaval - and how war is an extension of domestic policy by other means." - Michael Winter, author of Minister Without Portfolio
"This is that rare novel which brilliantly weaves together a stunning sweep of historical events, with an intimate exploration of human bonds, betrayals, and quiet subterfuges. Working with a deep and intricate attention to the convolutions both of the individual heart and those of World War I and it's aftermath, Skibsrub delivers a tale that is as powerful as it is satisfying." - Vincent Lam, Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning author of Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures
“Mysterious, richly detailed, and wholly original, this symphonic fiction makes emotion palpable, weaving the consequences of acts and emotions into its very structure.” - Andrea Barrett, author of Ship Fever

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