Saturday, 16 May 2020

January River by Bernard Jan

January River by Bernard Jan
First published in Croatian by Epifanija in Croatia in 2007. English language translation by Dragan Tomasevski and Bernard Jan published by Bernard Jan on the 3rd April 2020.

A More Than One Challenge read and a Book With Vegetarian Characters. Included in my Vegan Bookshop

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the author

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Five friends. One dog. One river carrying a secret.

When one of their friends goes missing, everything comes crashing down for the small group of childhood friends in the small town of Greenfield. Ethan takes it hard. Then he loses his dog, his only consolation.

Hoping to start anew, Ethan leaves Greenfield and moves to New York City. Far from the ghosts of his childhood and the river that gives and takes life. There he finds his one true love and builds a career as a bestselling author.

But how long will Ethan’s happiness last as doubts creep back into him and shatter his reality? And will his reconciliation with the past come at too great a price?

All rivers carry their secrets, but not every river keeps its secret forever.

January River is Bernard Jan's beautiful response to the Great American Novel, a story of boys growing to adulthood in the seemingly idyllic rural setting of a small town named Greenfield. I was reminded strongly of Kent Haruf's Plainsong trilogy and feel readers who enjoyed those novels, as I did, could also appreciate January River. Jan takes his time to tell this story well and I appreciated the gentle pace. It allows the narrative to drift and meander in much the same way as I imagined the physical river of the title. The natural world surrounding the boys is as deftly portrayed a character as that of any of the humans we meet, particularly in its role of shaping the men that Ethan, and his brother William, become. Perhaps some of the dialogue did feel a little stilted or overly formal, but this is a minor point to criticise.

I liked how Jan incorporates name-dropping songs playing on the radio or then-current movies at the cinema to illustrate the flow of time as January River progresses. Greenfield is very much a community turned in to itself so I felt a timeless sense to the town with world-changing events rippling at its edges, but not creating the same social impact as they did elsewhere in America. This provides a big contrast for Ethan on his arrival in New York City!

January River is a wonderfully introverted novel that would be ideal for reading, I think, particularly on long hot summer days. I enjoyed spending time with the McCoy family and their friends and found myself left with a wistfully nostalgic view of their lives (despite their misfortunes) at the end. This novel isn't one for action fans, but readers who like character-driven recent history novels should give January River a try.

Etsy Find!
by Beadazzle Designs in
Leeds, England

Click pic to visit Etsy Shop

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Bernard Jan / Coming Of Age fiction / Books from Croatia


  1. It sounds like the setting of the novel is the main focus of this one and I am always hesitant with books like that. But I am glad you could adore this one so much and appreciate the way the town changes over time.

    1. Yes, I'm not sure how well you would get on with January River. There is a strong coming of age storyline which I think you would appreciate, but the overall pace might be too slow for your taste