Extraordinary Renditions

three novellas // Coffee House Press

Music, war, and imperial ambition touch three lives in this intricately woven story. 

World-renowned composer and Holocaust survivor Lajos Harkályi has returned to Hungary to debut his final opera and share his mother’s parting gift, the melody from a lullaby she sang as he was forced to leave his Hungarian home for the infamous Czech concentration camp Terezín. Private First Class Jonathan “Brutus” Gibson is being blackmailed by his commanding officer at the US Army base in Hungary, one of the infamous black-sites of the global War on Terror, and he must decide between going AWOL or risking his life to make an illegal firearms deal in Budapest. Aspiring musician Melanie Scholes is preparing for the most important performance of her career as a violinist in Harkályi’s opera, but before she takes the stage she must extricate herself from a failing relationship and the inertia that threatens to consume her future. As this book reaches a crescendo, their three stories achieve an alchemical harmony, reminding us that each individual has the spirit to contend with tyranny, apathy, and the brutal circularity of history.

“Andrew Ervin writes with an empathetic passion, near poetic words, daring politics, and a sensitive and mature grasp of his characters. This is a strong debut.”
— Chris Abani


“I can’t decide what amazes me most about this book: the confident, muscular beauty of Andrew Ervin’s writing; the breadth of his imagination; or the depth and diversity of his profoundly engaging characters. Again and again, though the force of the narrative drove me relentlessly onward, I would stop simply to marvel. Extraordinary Renditions is an extraordinary debut.”
—Julia Glass


“Through the eyes of three outsiders, Extraordinary Renditions takes the reader deep into the heart of Budapest, both its past and present. The whole city is here, the banks of the Danube brimming with history, intrigue, art, food, drink, and most important of all, music. His characters may be lost—even the one native is a foreigner—but Andrew Ervin is a sharp-eyed, sure-handed guide.”
— Stewart O’Nan


“The variety of viewpoints and the author’s evident intimacy with an ancient foreign capital [Budapest] are promising, and Ervin makes it plain that he is taking on weighty themes.”
The New York Times Book Review

Available Here:

  • sellers-powells
  • sellers-bn

Publisher’s Weekly – Best Books of 2010

Publisher’s Weekly – Pick of the Week 10/19/10

Best Books of 2010 – NPR’s WOSU Public Media

13 Most Underrated Books of 2010 – The Millions


Andrew Ervin’s Extraordinary Renditions is as good a book as any published this year. […] One of the year’s most memorable books of fiction.”
— The Huffington Post


“Darkly evocative … the book has a prismlike quality; each story makes us see the city from a different but overlapping perspective.”
— Philadelphia Inquirer


“It’s difficult not to read this book as a critique of survival in the era of globalization. The presence of the foreign military and the corruption that thrives under the guise of international security, the farce of nationhood while racism and anti-semitism (deep-seeded poisons from earlier eras) continue to target and endanger specific communities, the illusion of harmony (that word again) for the camera while internal and external conflicts threaten a country’s civility – wow, it sounds like the U.S. – but it’s not the U.S. it’s Hungary.”
— Rigoberto González, Critical Mass (National Book Critics Circle blog)


“This tautly plotted, richly detailed trio of linked stories documents, with devastating and blackly comic ardor, the impossibility of simple morality in the rapidly aging era of terror. With Philadelphia and Budapest as his unlikely anchors, Andrew Ervin gives us crooked military men, postmodern artists, marauding skinheads and concert musicians, all rendered in nimble prose that never fails to shock and delight. An awesome debut.”
— J. Robert Lennon


“There is a striking moral clarity—a certainty even to the questions the work poses—evidenced as these narratives ponder the long-form’s grand themes. Being. Music. War. Love. Extraordinary Renditions’ clear tenor hearkens the ancient masters of the novel in the most sublime way, even as it points toward that which is post-mastery.”
— Bayo Ojikutu


“Ervin keeps his emotionally and politically fraught setting animated, thanks largely to his skill at inhabiting each of his characters. … [Extraordinary Rendition’s] ending makes a poignant case for the power of art in an age of war.”
— Mark Athitakis, Minneapolis Star Tribune


The Hungary Ervin depicts – as a former expatriate himself – is tawdry, corrupt and ideologically bereft, uncomfortably on its way from former Soviet satellite to current American satellite. The Holocaust, America’s war on terror and European cultural nationalism coalesce in these tales for a convincing picture of the social disorder at the start of the 21st century. Ervin adheres strictly to Henry James’ ideal of the limited third-person point of view. This technique works well because Extraordinary Renditions is about fragile states of mind, operating in a haze of incomprehension and propaganda.”
— Anis Shivani, Charlotte Observer


“Ervin has written a powerful and sophisticated meditation on identity, nationalism and personal responsibility. Memorable characters and icons: composer, soldier, and musician they are a glimpse into the darkest of human capabilities and the possibility of redemption, however remote. Ervin a very promising young writer–a uniquely, American writer.”
— Jacket 2


“Set in a madly grasping modern Budapest, literary critic Ervin’s debut mines very different ways of achieving personal and artistic freedom in three neatly polished, interlocking tales. … With dexterous sensibility and fluid prose, Ervin’s protagonists find liberation from the onerous strictures of Budapest’s Nazi and Communist past.”
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)


A thought-provoking exploration of tyranny, freedom, and the power of music.”
— Booklist


“Andrew Ervin skillfully converges three lives in three stories that make up his new book. He intertwines beautiful, minor details that bring separations into an exquisite whole. His impressive debut is so masterfully composed, it moves the reader not with intrigue or romance, rather with gorgeous simplicity.”
— Kassie Rose, NPR’s WOSU Public Media


“Andrew Ervin’s Extraordinary Renditions, a slyly structured first novel set in Budapest, shows a febrile intelligence and considerable ambition … Music not only structures Extraordinary Renditions, it is also the source of its resolution. Just as in music, it is the cumulative effect of the notes and ‘the space between the notes’ that gives this novel its power.”
— The Collagist


“There is a lyrical muscularity in Ervin’s writing that, at times, leaves the reader breathless. Extraordinary Renditions is tightly plotted and brilliantly composed. A very good book and, one hopes, a taste of things to come.”
— January Magazine


“Andrew Ervin works literary magic in his novel Extraordinary Renditions. Vividly exploring Budapest’s past and present in three linked novellas, Ervin’s true mastery of the language becomes apparent as the stories converge.”
— David Gutowski, Largehearted Boy


“It’s funny, alarming, evocative, and, very often with its internal description, defies its apparent historical setting. It echoes political texts while presenting political folly (and youthful folly). Said folly even extends to the naivete of a celebrated composer of some years, who shuffles the Budapest streets like a young man.”
— The Millions


“Ervin’s delivery of each of the three distinct voices is, by itself, worth reading for. The fact that the novellas themselves are beautiful glimpses into Hungarian culture, classical music, American military installations, and homesickness is pure icing.”
— Alexander Lumans, American Short Fiction


Extraordinary Renditions shows Ervin’s great talent at acknowledging the sad spectacle of our long past and more recent mistakes, and then lacing that story with enough beauty and music that a reader can feel sorrow without being overwhelmed by it.
— Short Curator


“Flowing and surprisingly bold/powerful trio of interlinked novellas set in Budapest. Not at all a novelistic travelogue. Author does a remarkable job transposing his ex-pat perceptions into the lives of characters unlike each other or the author, each brought to life thanks to forward-flowing stories.”
— Lee Klein, Eyeshot


“[A] thoughtful reflection on art and creativity, on pasts and futures.”
— PeteLit