A Shout in the Ruins


By Kevin Powers

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Set in Virginia during the Civil War and a century beyond, this novel by the award-winning author of The Yellow Birds explores the brutal legacy of violence and exploitation in American society.

Spanning over one hundred years, from the antebellum era to the 1980’s, A Shout in the Ruins examines the fates of the inhabitants of Beauvais Plantation outside of Richmond, Virginia. When war arrives, the master of Beauvais, Anthony Levallios, foresees that dominion in a new America will be measured not in acres of tobacco under cultivation by his slaves, but in industry and capital.

A grievously wounded Confederate veteran loses his grip on a world he no longer understands, and his daughter finds herself married to Levallois, an arrangement that feels little better than imprisonment. And two people enslaved at Beauvais plantation, Nurse and Rawls, overcome impossible odds to be together, only to find that the promise of coming freedom may not be something they will live to see.

Seamlessly interwoven is the story of George Seldom, a man orphaned by the storm of the Civil War, looking back from the 1950s on the void where his childhood ought to have been. Watching the government destroy his neighborhood to build a stretch of interstate highway through Richmond, he travels south in an attempt to recover his true origins. With the help of a young woman named Lottie, he goes in search of the place he once called home, all the while reckoning with the more than 90 years he lived as witness to so much that changed during the 20th century, and so much that didn’t.

As we then watch Lottie grapple with life’s disappointments and joys in the 1980’s, now in her own middle-age, the questions remain: How do we live in a world built on the suffering of others? And can love exist in a place where for 400 years violence has been the strongest form of intimacy? Written with the same emotional intensity, harrowing realism, and poetic precision that made The Yellow Birds one of the most celebrated novels of the past decade, A Shout in the Ruins cements Powers’ place in the forefront of American letters and demands that we reckon with the moral weight of our troubling history.


One of the most pathetic aspects of human history is that every civilization expresses itself most pretentiously, compounds its partial and universal values most convincingly, and claims immortality for its finite existence at the very moment when the decay which leads to death has already begun.

—Reinhold Niebuhr,
Beyond Tragedy



I will mourn for what fails here.

—Roger Reeves, “On Visiting the Site of a Slave Massacre in Opelousas”


BY 1870, NOT even four full years after the clerk of Chesterfield County, Virginia, officially recorded Emily Reid Levallois’s death, rumors of her survival and true whereabouts abounded. It was said by some that you could see her flitting among the Maroons of Great Dismal on their mesic islands, a white face among the black, as straight and slim a figure as the swamp’s ageless cypresses. Or that she was now a washerwoman at a boardinghouse in Baltimore. Still others hypothesized that she had escaped a lynch mob and had wound up passing through the two-bit cow towns along the western coast of Florida, until she spent her remaining days leaving tracks along the white sands where the Manatee River meets the blue-green stillness of the gulf. It is not so hard to imagine. The young Emily becomes older. Our certainty diminishes. Every day the same mismatched rows of least and royal terns look out toward a coming storm as small waves roll in and crash against the shore like the inevitable collapse of a trillion minor hills.

Most of these notions never advanced much further than a passing thought. When said out loud they rarely took the form of proposition, almost always of response. But the rumor that stuck was said with a confidence so unquestioned as to almost certainly be wrong: That she had fled south and west toward the hollows of the Blue Ridge while the fire still burned through the embers of the house at Beauvais Plantation. That you could have found her in the highlands there, up above the meadows in the fog, where the spruce and firs grew through the wreckage of the deadfall of the past.

It’s easy enough to understand why she tried to disappear. And if the places she was rumored to have gone were merely substitutes for the idea of flight in the scorched minds of those whom she’d abandoned, no matter. Error begets error. That much is clear.

It may well be that the balance of her life, once the flames had turned that old Adam-style house to ash, was lived only in the stories people told about her. And though there is little need to wonder how she eventually ended up, one might ask if, for her, it was a punishment or pardon. Either way, there’s no great tragedy for Emily anymore. If tragedy is what she meant to leave behind, she did so as surely as if it had been written in her will, in the delicate cursive her mother taught her, in an ink of blood and ash.

Her father often told her that she was lucky to have been born at all, considering she was conceived in illness as autumn began in ’46. The come-and-go heat signaling the end of another Virginia summer had left his wife feeling used up. By the time her mother was sure she was pregnant, the fever had flushed her face a mottled red and her joints felt like linens twisted up and wrung out to dry. Lying in her sickbed, attended by her girl, Aurelia, Lucy Reid passed three nights cursing her throat, the pain in her bones, and the itch. October rained on their tin roof and it shook the first still-green leaves from the sycamore outside her window. For her husband in the adjoining room, it became hard to separate the conditions that caused his beloved wife’s discomfort. And though he would always tell his daughter that he loved her, he often wondered whether those three long evenings had been imprinted in his mind and heart and left him with a permanent deficit in his capacity to show her real, meaningful affection.

When she was born the following summer, Aurelia’s hands, the palms of which were rough and pink, were the first to hold the newborn child. Bob stayed with Lucy in the bedroom, holding her hand and using his other to cradle his wife’s clammy face. The birth had not been as rough on Lucy as they had feared, yet they knew the danger for any child born to a mother who had been ill during the carriage.

Aurelia took a pair of shears she’d boiled in water and cut the cord. She held the baby up for the two of them to see. “Girl child,” she said.

Lucy smiled. Bob took a washcloth and wiped his wife’s forehead. “A girl,” he said, as though he wasn’t sure if she had been listening. To Aurelia he said, “Give her a look over and bring her back to us.”

Aurelia took the child to the basin on the porch. Night came in. She washed the film and blood from the infant’s body. She swaddled the child and held her up to look her over. The child, not yet named, had neither gasped nor cried but with a smack began to breathe. The baby’s skin had a pinkish-gray cast about it, but she was quiet and blinked with drowsy contentment in the darkness of Aurelia’s arms. The warm midsummer air surrounded them both. Aurelia’s young son, Rawls, stood watching his mother rock the child from the yard as marbled moonlight fell through the expanse of the sycamore tree’s darkening crown. Aurelia saw that the child’s eyes were cloudy with cataracts. The pupils a swirl of the lightest gray at the center of dark, gold-flecked irises. She was sure the child was blind, and at that moment she began to tell the girl in a voice, one that sounded very much like singing, that it would be a hard life, that tomorrow would be a hard day, as would the day after and the day after that. But as she cradled her she saw the girl’s strange eyes moving toward points of light; the lamp burning with a quiet hiss, lightning bugs flickering in the yard, and what stars that could be seen from Chesterfield County assembled in the heavens.

The first years of her life, or the times from those years that held their shapes firmly enough to be recalled in later ones, were simple. Her father’s mule skinning made enough money to give them a comfortable life. Their home on the road between the coalfields and the river was modest but respectable. Aurelia attended to her dutifully. Emily became accustomed to Rawls’s presence even though she thought him peculiar. One summer he wove himself a hat out of green tobacco leaves and she told him he was silly for not wearing a proper hat. Sometimes she’d watch him brush the mules’ coats to such a sleekness that they seemed carved from polished stone. At dusk he’d often take a homemade cane pole and cast it toward the heavens until bats whooshed down like rain from the blue-black sky. She did not know how old he was except that he was leaving boyhood. When she asked him he said, “I’m old enough, Miss Emily,” and slinked away.

When she was five years old her father had let her keep a runt bird-dog whelp she’d found in a ditch. She named her Champion. Rawls did not care for the dog. He thought she was unruly and spoiled, though Master Reid had taught her some basic commands. Rawls’s meekness toward Champion gave Emily fits of laughter. By the time she was eight she’d invented a game for the three of them to play. She’d tie the birder to the sycamore and tease her mercilessly, pulling the bitch’s ears and rapping her snout with a folded fan until she yelped and spun herself into a knot. When the dog finally quivered submissively she’d unravel the rope and bark out a command she’d learned while watching her father train the dog. And Rawls would run as best he could to get away, sometimes climbing up a near tree or onto the roof of the mule pen or, when he was truly stricken by fear, toward the big house, calling for his mother all the way. One afternoon Bob returned home early and saw Emily at this game, the teenage Rawls balancing in terror on a tall fence post, and he beat her savagely with his belt right out in the yard. He kicked the dog away from its pacing under the fence and helped Rawls down. “Gosh dang it, Emily,” he said, “you’re gonna make this boy a runner again. Now leave him be so he can get about my business!”

Bob went in the house and slammed the door behind him. Emily wept a puddle under the tree. Rawls turned to see the dog looking at him with her brown head curiously cocked to one side. The frightened yellow eyes told him she had been running away, not toward, the whole time. Rawls looked over at the girl sprawled out and wailing in the grass and envied her. Her pain in that moment was real pain, no different in expression from his own. He knew the way one’s chest got bound up, how a strange heat came to the cheeks and boiled over into tears of rage and frustration. The difference, though, was in source and scope. While hers came from a rare remonstration by her father, his was inscrutable and vast. She would weep in the yard for an hour at most, then skulk back to her father’s forgiving kisses. His was forever married to all the memories he had and joined again to every new memory he made. Tomorrow she would leave the house, and pain would be as incomprehensible to the girl’s mind as the map of a foreign country in a schoolbook. He had found no boundary to his own.

When the girl recovered she straightened out her skirts and dusted them off. She looked at Rawls and wiped the tears from her cheeks with the backs of her hands. “It’s only a game,” she said. She turned toward a field waving golden in the white sun beyond the mule pen. He watched her go, silently. And he determined in that moment to find something that would not be subject to the strange laws of the borderless world in which he lived. Something he could claim that they could not. Anything they could not take from him. And he began to run in the nights again, as in his childhood, in search of it.


Several winters passed without incident for Rawls. Some snowless, others so bleak he could not distinguish between the earth and sky for all the snow that seemed to fall between the two. He ventured out at night and was not caught. He had no destination other than the one he circled unconsciously: a notion of being engaged in a desperate search. He had no respect for white folks anymore, and very rarely fear, but he sometimes pitied them, allowing himself pity only because he had once heard a traveling preacher say that pity was the cruelest feeling one could have toward another.

By 1860 he was in charge of most of the freight Bob Reid’s mules pulled down the narrow-gauge tracks toward Richmond. He might oversee the shipment of tons of bituminous coal out of the Midlothian mines, or great hogsheads of tobacco cropped from endless fields late in the summer, and he was trusted throughout the county to make sure every single cured leaf and every fat black lump of coal got to market in as good a state as when they were put onto his carts.

On account of his high standing in the community as both a reliable and efficient part of the local economy, Bob gave Rawls a pass, dawn to dusk, that was essentially without any other restrictions. When there was no harvest, and as that hard coal out of Pennsylvania slowly dropped the value of the dull local brittle, Rawls could be seen at leisure on one of Bob’s ponies, always the same one, a brindle named Dorothea, with a big cedar-handled tobacco knife tucked into his britches, and a dirty fur felt hat on his head tipped back to near upright.

He’d pass by people at Levallois Crossing, or farmers on the ferry road, and reach high up toward the crown of his hat, saying “Afternoon” to whomever he’d come across. A gentle ribbing would then ensue. A kind of inside joke that nobody got left out of. “You best be carrying that pass, Rawls,” they’d smilingly chide. And he’d pat his left breast and answer back, “Course you know I do.” And Rawls would then touch his hat again, spur on his pony, and check sometimes three and four times that the pass was truly there.

Near evening, when circumstances provided, he’d almost always end up near the ferry landing. The bateau man was a surly old dark-skinned hillbilly named Spanish Jim, and being equally ambivalent toward all, he never minded if Rawls stripped off his clothes and dove from the big bluestem grass into water as brown and still as a medicinal bottle. At that hour, with the sun going down in the break in the trees above the curling river, and the grasshopper sparrows’ trill song darting through the meadow, Rawls managed to fall into a state resembling contentment.

As the water ran over his body, he’d often recall his first trip down to the river as a boy. He’d been about six years old, not quite two years before he stood in the dooryard and watched his mother rock the strange girl who would so influence the rest of his life. At that time, they had just been sold to Bob Reid; his mother to tend to the ailing Lucy Reid, Rawls to become a muleteer, though he did not know what that was when he was told it was the thing he was going to become.

His previous owner had taken them on a long trip southwest down a road choked with dust and then across the river on the bateau. The ferryman looked at Rawls blankly as he pushed the long straight pole and shook his head ever so slightly. Rawls stared back, wondering if he was a black man or a white man. “No man steps into the same river twice, boy,” said Spanish Jim, surprising Rawls. “You think on that awhile. That’s old wisdom.” When they arrived at the far shore Rawls remembered standing sheepishly and unsteadily on his barely healed feet during the transaction. His first owner saying, “Dammit, Bob. You’re getting a hell of a deal here. Woman’s good in the house. Good with children. But the young one’s just all around impertinent. Too sharp for his own good.”

“He’s a runner, you say?”

“Was. Won’t be no more. Had to dock his toes. Boy couldn’t get out of sight in a day now. But between his bellyaching and Aurelia’s wailing over top, don’t neither of ’em get shit done. Almost feel bad making you pay.”

“But not that bad.”

“No. I reckon not. But if you can get ’em right you’re getting a hell of a deal.”


The years between then and now had pressed forward dully and relentlessly like a river downstream from a terrible storm. But Rawls’s nighttime wanderings were beginning to fill him with a curious joy despite their inherent danger. He did not know if he would find the thing that could not be taken from him, but he felt that it was close. He sat waiting in their small cabin back in the woods behind the mule pen. Aurelia slept soundly in a bed he’d made for her out of rope and straw and pieces of driftwood for the posts. He stuck his head out the window. The moon waned to its last quarter. Rawls put on his moccasins and waited for his mother to begin snoring. He hoped that night to see a girl named Nurse again. She lived an hour’s walk west on a thousand-acre soybean farm that skirted the river just across the Chesterfield line into eastern Powhatan County. A week before, he had taken the mules to the soybean farm to retrieve a load of cargo bound for the river. The voices in the fields all sang “Steal Away to Jesus,” and the eyes in the field all looked toward a ribbon of loblolly pine that stood at the boundary between three plantations.

He found those same voices at their prayer meeting that night, gathered in a glade they’d cut into the dense pinewoods. Rawls never had much use for God, and as they sang he sat silently and his mind wandered. He thought of lightning he’d seen flashing in a recent storm. How little danger there was unless you were right out under it. And yet, like the mules under the stable roof that brayed at the thunderclaps, it caused everyone to tremble. Why fear that which would come or not regardless of your fear? he wondered. The brim of his hat tilted over his face like a veil, and in the deepest shadow of the night he closed his eyes. Like a blind man, he reconstructed the world as he imagined it could be. And it occurred to him that there were few things he was truly afraid of anymore.

He noticed the girl that night among the pines. She was about his age, he’d guessed, lingering motionless at the edge of the firelight. She wore a calico wrap fixed atop her head in an impossibly complex arrangement. Small orange petals spread across a field of the darkest blue one might find in the evening sky, which seemed to Rawls to put all the true colors of the world to shame. She was calm in her solitude but not withdrawn, as if her mere presence was equally participatory to the human sound and motion that swirled around her. He smiled at her. Put up his hand in a still wave of greeting.

He saw her again the night he left Aurelia sleeping under the last quarter of the moon and on many nights after they would meet in that patch of pines, sitting off on their own a little apart from the prayer meeting. Some nights they would have the woods to themselves and it would seem the whole world had shrunk down to a few acres of loblolly beneath the breezy midnight stars. He learned they called her Nurse on account of her wet-nursing her master’s babies, all nine of which would go on to reach adulthood. “You don’t want to get a proper name?” he asked her. To which she replied that she had her letters and had come to read about other women with her name and that it suited her just fine. “And, Rawls,” she said, “where’d you get that name?”

“Don’t know.”

Along with her letters she had learned a fair bit of doctoring. Not just midwifery, in which she was peerless even at that age, but also the mending of bones and cuts and the treatment of all manner of interior afflictions which she’d gathered by tending to her owner’s mules and horses. One night they took a walk together and before they’d gone far she pulled at Rawls’s elbow to stop him. “Why do you have a gait like a hobbled dog?”

They were near a clearing then, and the clearing was dotted with cedar as it sloped toward a pond and creek that fed the river. They sat down in a spot of low grass and he took off his hand-me-down moccasins. Nurse looked down at his feet. The moon was out, but clouds passed beneath it, turning the gold grass white and the cedars into thin shadows. Rawls was missing the big toe on both of his feet. The soles were rough and calloused and reached up toward the uneven scarring where the toes had been. “Runner,” he said.

“Who done this to you?”

“Old man who owned us before.”

“Does it still pain you?”

Rawls whistled and smiled. “Not like it once did. I get sore a bit from walking hinky. The old man did it hisself. He caught me sneaking past the big house and knocked me on my backside. Dragged me to a snake fence, tied my feet to the top rail, stood on my shoulders, and gave ’em a whack with a hatchet.”

Nurse sighed and shook her head. “What were you running for?”

“You got to ask? I was running to get gone.”

They had been still and quiet long enough that the common noises of the night returned. The nightjar’s solemn whistle. A fox scream in the distance. The world painted in shades of gray and lit solely by reflection.

“It hurt like hell at the time,” said Rawls. “I was such a little feller he had to lift me off the ground partways to get my feet tied to the rail. Left me hanging upside down till the next day.”

Nurse reached out and touched his ankle. Massaged up toward his calf and down again. “But you had your momma with you.”

“Don’t preach.”

“And now?” Nurse asked. “You ain’t never worried she’ll catch what’s meant for you?”

“Not likely. Master Bob don’t have the stomach for it. He puts on like he does sometimes, just for show. But I see these white folks coming. They never see me, but I can figure ’em pretty good now. ’Sides, my momma knows my nature. And she knows any one of us might catch what’s meant for another.”

“You wouldn’t miss her if something happened?” Nurse asked.

“Course I would.” He paused, searching for what seemed like an impossible arrangement of words. He said, “I been with her my whole life and I already miss her. I missed her that whole time. I’m missing her right at this moment.”

“I never had my momma with me that I recall. Don’t know her name. Don’t know if I favor her.”

“I ain’t saying it’s the same, but I missed your momma before I heard you say that. Missed her like my own. Missed her like I’m missing you right now.”

He lay out in the grass and propped himself up on his elbows. He heard the creek go by and followed it in his mind. Down into the James. Past the fall line. Past the docks and beyond the place of sighs at Lumpkin’s slave jail. Out into wide water. Brackish and flat and a mile across. Out into the bay until its blue chop became the ocean, where it left behind the cypresses and cattails, and the land remained only as a misremembered dream.

“I understand, Rawls. I do. And I miss you, too.”

Nurse kissed him. Pushed his body deep into the grass. The woods grew quiet again on their behalf. Rawls decided he loved Nurse. And that perhaps his love for her was the thing that could not be taken from him. But he would not see her again for a good long while.


In the days and nights that followed his last meeting with Nurse, he waited for her in the loblolly stand. He waited every night for a month, but she did not come. He’d heard the prayer meetings were outlawed by Nurse’s master, that some incident at the soybean plantation caused the man to go mad. Talk that he had shut off his little kingdom from the rest of the world abounded. Rawls did not dare cross its border at first. Instead he spent his days working tirelessly for Mr. Bob, chopping at wood, mending far fences, only to again sneak out of his mother’s cabin at night. He fell into a fevered state. He moved through nights so dark he’d have sworn he’d been struck blind. On others he ran as best he could between degrees of deeper shadow cast by the bright moon. His mind trembled with exhaustion. Nurse filled his thoughts until the boundaries between dream and wakefulness dissolved. The noise of his strange gait through the understory became a regularity in the dark woods.

He held out hope that she’d been sold nearby. He was rushed out of slave quarters on plantations from the river damn near down to Amelia County in his search for her, the whispers thrown behind him saying, “Get back where you belong before you get somebody dead!” And still he searched. He searched until he wondered if he himself might not be dead, if he had not fallen under some curse or conjuration through which Nurse had been but a spirit devised to torture him with her abandonment. He returned to places he had been before, now covered in snow, and again in spring as the dead nettle pushed its purple flowers out into the cool morning air.

At last he broke. He gathered his strength against rumor and uncertainty and finally made his way west toward whatever might await him beyond the patch of pines. He snuck up on an old man curled in his blanket on the floor of a cabin just within the boundary of the soybean plantation. Torches bobbed at the edges of the wide fields. Rawls stuck his head through the unglazed window and saw white hair and a white beard and heard the steady breath of sleep. He went through the front door and knelt in the hard-packed dirt next to the old man. With one hand Rawls gently covered the old man’s mouth. The breath was warm and it filled his cupped palm. The old man’s hands were tucked up under his beard where they held the patchwork blanket beneath his chin. Rawls clasped his other hand around the old man’s knuckles and began to gently wake him, whispering, “Granddad. Old Granddad.”

The old man woke with a start. He opened his rheumy eyes and rubbed at them, saying, “Who is this here? What do you want? My time come?” The old man sat up and looked Rawls over. “You ain’t no apparition. What are you doing in my cabin?”

“I’ve been searching after Nurse, Granddad. You know her? Prettiest girl you ever seen. Most times wore a kind of blue calico wrap over her hair.”

“I hardly know pretty these days, son,” he said. Granddad leaned over to a small cedar box, pulled out a tallow candle and a match, and lit it. “What you hunting her for anyhow?”

Rawls could see up and down the old man’s arms. They were lined with mark after mark of whip and brine, a topography of the passage of time and pain one on top of the other, a map in miniature of ridgeline and ravine going up into his shirtsleeves in an uninterrupted pattern.

“I need her,” Rawls said.

“You aim to do her harm?”

“Naw, Granddad,” he said. “I love her.”

The old man looked disappointed. “No place for love in this world, son.”

“I’ll make a place. Don’t you worry. Where is she?”

“This world’s gonna break your damn heart, boy.”

“It’s been broke already.”

The old man sighed. “I seen her sent off ’cross the river. I heard she gone to Lumpkin’s Jail. Gone straight to the Devil’s Half Acre.”

The thought of the place knocked him back. “It ain’t true,” Rawls said angrily. He felt his pulse throbbing under his eyes, wanted to grab out for something to steady him, but there was just the old man’s shoulder, which flagged and trembled under his weight. “It ain’t true,” he said again.


  • "A Shout in the Ruins is confirmation, if it were needed, that Kevin Powers is a writer of rare talent."—Financial Times
  • "Much as in The March E.L. Doctorow's epic civil war novel, Mr. Powers gives a strong sense of a vast body of humanity caught up in a tumult that still reverberates today... Above all this troubling, stirring book is informed by Mr. Powers's deep understanding of war's complexities, and of how people are broken and shaped by it."—The Economist
  • "The characters in Powers' bleak, stunning novel are subject to indignities too countless and cruel to name. Like his debut, The Yellow Birds, it's a searing look at the ravages of war, and how violence can shape a nation in ways that may never be fully recoverable.... It won't surprise anyone who's read The Yellow Birds that Powers is a hell of a writer. His use of language in A Shout in the Ruins - inspired, perhaps, by William Faulkner - is nothing short of brilliant, and he connects with his characters in a very real way; he explores their psyches with an uncommon sensitivity."—Michael Schaub, NPR
  • "Powers brings to Virginia battle scenes the same searing immediacy he brought to his stories of carnage in The Yellow Birds."—Ron Charles, Washington Post
  • "With a complex structure reminiscent of Faulkner, Powers adroitly weaves his narrative threads together with subtle connections that reinforce his themes of longing for coherence and the continuing effect of the past on the present. An impressive novel of slavery, destruction, and the arduous difficulties of love."—Kirkus, Starred Review
  • "Some passages in Powers' second novel, following his awarding-winning The Yellow Birds (2012), unfold with a fable's tragic inevitability, while specificity of setting and character, both strikingly described and original, will brand them into the reader's consciousness . . . Beautifully formed sentences express unsettling truths about humanity, yet tendrils of hope emerge, showing how love and kindness can take root in seemingly barren earth."—Booklist
  • "A masterly meditation on our unbreakable connection to a world predicated on cyclical violence."—Library Journal
  • "With a complex structure reminiscent of Faulkner, Powers adroitly weaves his narrative threads together with subtle connections that reinforce his themes of longing for coherence and the continuing effect of the past on the present. An impressive novel of slavery, destruction, and the arduous difficulties of love."—Kirkus, starred review
  • "Guided by a homing instinct for human truths, A Shout in the Ruins is a daring voyage into and out of the darkest era in American history"—Observer
  • "Suitably unvarnished, but not without moments of beauty or deep emotion. A Shout in the Ruins brushes aside myth and romanticism for a clear-eyed look at American heritage."—Shelf Awareness
  • "A masterpiece. Powers has written a novel that includes all the ferocity, complexity, and racial violence of the American South, from its fall to its eventual rebirth."—Philipp Meyer
  • "Kevin Powers has seamlessly woven nineteenth and twentieth century lives to create a novel that resonates out of the past to address the most timely issues of America in our own century. The same striking language and contemplation of war and its aftermath that made The Yellow Birds such a lauded debut is on full display in A Shout in the Ruins. What an impressive novel."—Ron Rash
  • "A harrowing and lyrical epic in miniature, Powers has written a novel excavated from another time, but which speaks profoundly to this one."
    Elliot Ackerman, author of Dark at the Crossing
  • Praise for The Yellow Birds:
  • "A remarkable first novel...The Yellow Birds is brilliantly observed and deeply affecting: at once a freshly imagined bildungsroman about a soldier's coming of age, a harrowing story about the friendship of two young men trying to stay alive on the battlefield in Iraq, and a philosophical parable about the loss of innocence and the uses of memory...Extraordinary."—Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
  • "The Yellow Birds might just be the first American literary masterpiece produced by the Iraq war."—Los Angeles Times
  • "An elegiac, sober, and haunting coming-of-age war story."—TIME
  • "The first great Iraq War novel."—Darren Reidy, Rolling Stone
  • "A first novel as compact and powerful as a footlocker full of ammo....Kevin Powers has something to say, something deeply moving about the frailty of man and the brutality of war, and we should all lean closer and listen."—Benjamin Percy, New York Times Book Review
  • "An exquisite excavation of the war's moral and psychological wreckage. Powers evokes the peculiar smell and feel of the war better than any journalist."—The New Yorker
  • "Darkly beautiful....How to tell a true war story if you're more a poet than a novelist? Tell it as a poet would. Tell it as Kevin Powers does."—Alan Cheuse, NPR's All Things Considered
  • "A novel of grit, grace, and blood by an Iraq war veteran....Kevin Powers moves gracefully between spare, factual description of the soldiers' work to simple, hard-won reflections on the meaning of war."—Ron Charles, Washington Post
  • "An unusually spare and lyrical war story....The characters are sketched with as much heart as economy...Like the Iraq heat, which 'had the surprising effect of reducing one to tears in an instant,' The Yellow Birds skulks along, detached and undemanding, until all of a sudden you turn a page and find yourself weeping."—GQ

On Sale
May 7, 2019
Page Count
272 pages
Back Bay Books

Kevin Powers

About the Author

Kevin Powers is the author of The Yellow Birds, which won the PEN/Hemingway Award, the Guardian First Book Award, and was a National Book Award Finalist. He was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University, and holds an MFA from the University of Texas at Austin, where he was a Michener Fellow in Poetry. He served in the US Army in 2004 and 2005 in Iraq, where he was deployed as a machine gunner in Mosul and Tal Afar. Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting is his first collection of poetry.

Learn more about this author