Advance Praise from Alice Sebold
Alexander Maksik’s You Deserve Nothing had me at its title. From there it was a combined experience of falling under the spells of the characters and the strange and tragic sense of fated consequence that permeates the pages of this fine novel.
I was predisposed to love You Deserve Nothing as anyone must be who grew up loving the writing of Camus and nurturing the understanding, which felt quite palpable to me in suburban America, that we were all doomed to be human, and that accepting this doom was what comprised the challenge of our days.
You Deserve Nothing is a serious, intelligent, simply and beautifully written novel of three characters: two students and a teacher at an International school in Paris. Set against the streets of Paris during the political protests against military engagement in Iraq, the novel depicts how character reveals itself as one thing within the classroom and as another outside in the real world. It is a triumph of Maksik’s that his deeply flawed teacher, who engages in a relationship with a young student is, in the end, if not thoroughly sympathetic to the average reader, thoroughly understood as the non-monstrous man he is. Is he a testament to the world of passion, or to the limits of the intellect when applied to daily life? It is these more subtle questions that the novel provokes, that make these pages sing for me. In the end, all of us deserve nothing and perhaps everything.
There is much to love here. Having taught in New York City for a decade at a college where students came from various countries across the globe, I found myself thoroughly entranced by Maksik’s ability to carry off a classroom scene with many disparate voices and characters all working toward that unique intimacy which is the shared understanding of a text. These scenes will recall the best moments as a student – perhaps even the dreamed of moments that never came – and Maksik’s use of great literature and thinkers within his own pages is never less than doubly revelatory, illuminating both the original and his own characters in their response and engagement to this literature.
This novel is a reader’s novel in the best sense. The prose is direct and undeniable, one might say deceptively simple, and the story is both ages old and one that never fails to make us ask unsettling questions whose answers say as much about ourselves as they do Maksik’s characters.
You Deserve Nothing is a beautiful puzzle that comes apart in your hands. I love this book and feel honored I’ve helped in bringing it forward to a wider audience. This is the beginning of a wonderful career for Alexander Maksik and I hope you’ll join me in my enthusiasm as you read these pages.
Acquiring Editor for Tonga Books, a new imprint of Europa Editions and author of The Lovely Bones