Salvation City

a novel, Riverhead Books

After losing both parents to a flu pandemic that seriously threatens his own life as well, thirteen-year-old Cole Vining is sent to live with an evangelical pastor and his wife in Salvation City, a small town in southern Indiana. There, Cole feels sheltered and loved but never as if he truly belongs. Everything about his new home is vastly different from the secular world in which he was raised. As he tries to adjust, he struggles also with memories of the past, a struggle made more difficult by the fact that he had lost his parents at a time when family relations were at their most fraught and unhappy. How is he to remember them now? Are they still his parents if they are no longer there? Must he accept what those around him believe, that because his parents did not know Jesus they are condemned to hell? During this time, Cole finds solace in drawing comics, for which he has a remarkable gift, and in fantasies about being a superhero.

Salvation City is a story of love, betrayal, and forgiveness. It is about spiritual and moral growth, and the consolation of art. It is about belief—belief in God and belief in self. As others around him grow increasingly fixed on the hope of salvation and a new life to come through an imminent rapture, Cole imagines a different future, one in which his own dreams of happiness and heroism begin to seem within reach.

Praise for Salvation City

“Sigrid Nunez has long been one of my favorite authors because she writes with the deepest intelligence, the truest heart, and the most surprising sense of humor. Salvation City is a tale of an American near-apocalypse that brings out the best of all these qualities. It reads beautifully, at time joyously, and it makes one reconsider the ordering of our world.” — Gary Shteyngart, author of Absurdistan and Super Sad True Love Story

“Nunez tells a fine tale, avoiding clichés and providing powerful insights. [A] satisfying, provocative and very plausible novel.” — Abraham Verghese, New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice

“Adept at matching psychological intricacy with edge-of-your-seat plots, the versatile Nunez gracefully entwines a classic coming-of-age story with a terrifying medical catastrophe and a profound battle between secular and religious viewpoints…. Nunez brilliantly contrasts epic social failure and tragedy with the unfurling of one promising life, reminding us that even in the worst of times, we seek coherence, discovery, and connection.” — Donna Seaman, Booklist

“Intellectually rigorous … prophetic …. The great success of Nunez’s book is that the end of the world is filtered through Cole’s imperfect perspective, so that the collapse of society is no more devastating than first love, and deeply felt conflict rages as a young man tries to find something worth preserving in a place determined to obliterate the past.” —Publishers Weekly

“Given the recent H1N1 outbreak and the tragic escalation in the culture wars, Salvation City is not only timely and thought-provoking but also generous in its understanding of human nature. When the apocalypse comes, I want Nunez in my lifeboat.”— Vanity Fair

“[A] wise and richly humane coming-of-age novel.” — O Magazine

“Atheists, a flu pandemic and a coming-of-age story collide in Nunez’s sixth—and perhaps best—novel.” —Time Out New York

[I]mpressive…. Nunez’s feat is an amazing one, an effort none of the other ‘apocalypse now’ books even attempts: getting into the heads of the ‘bad guys’ and proving them well-meaning humans. Nunez’s adamant refusal to revert to satire, fearmongering, or sentimentality lets the reader understand the denizens of Salvation City and their fervent belief in The Rapture.” —

Salvation City is a wonderful, great-hearted novel that finds love and hope in the unlikeliest of circumstances. Cole Vining is a latter-day Huck Finn, and we grieve and cheer for him as he makes his journey, both physical and spiritual, through a devastated world.” — Ron Rash, author of Serena

“Nunez’s writing is gorgeously spare, and she gets the life and the lingo of a teenage boy just right…. [A] gorgeously strange novel.” — Boston Globe

“Class … is Nunez’s preoccupation, and she handles it with fine-tuned irony and no small measure of profundity.” — Kirkus Reviews

“Nunez has a deft hand with her narrator’s simple prose … and exposes profound questions. A good choice for all contemporary fiction readers. Fans of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road will find similar themes…” — Library Journal

“The beauty of the story rests in Nunez’s empathy for all—Pastor Wyatt, for instance gets treated right by his creator. Nunez is more interested in the conflict of faith and reason than a postapocalyptic society, and pandemics and adolescence turn out to be qualified crucibles.” — Time Out Chicago

What It’s Really About: Society, family, faith, religion, how fucked-up the U.S. would be if there was a flu pandemic. Should You Read It or Just Pretend You Did: Did you like The Road? This is almost like that, but instead of macho violent bullshit, quiet explorations of the nature of faith.” — What to Read This Fall

“Brilliant.” 4 Stars  People

“[A] searing and sensitive novel…. Rapture-ready pastor and sceptical teenager, faith and reason, ideological surety and human uncertainty engage one another with uncommon dignity in Sigrid Nunez’s generous imagining.” — Barnes & Noble Review

“Psychologically provocative, energetically gripping, and existentially haunting.” — Flavorpill’s Fall Book Preview