The Stone World

From the son of acclaimed author James Agee, a haunting novel depicting an American boy’s childhood in Mexico, ensconced in a world comprised of communist European exiles, local union activists, street children, and avant-garde artists like Frida Kahlo.

Joel Agee’s hallucinatory first novel begins in a house with a large garden in an unnamed Mexican town in the late 1940s, where six-and-a-half-year-old Peter reads, dreams, and plays with his friends. He is a nascent explorer, artist, philosopher, mystic, and scientist. His world is still new, not yet papered over with received knowledge.

And the actual world around him is a unique one in history: a community of leftist emigrés who have found refuge in Mexico from the Nazi and fascist regimes of Europe, rubbing shoulders with Mexican labor activists and leftists such as Frida Kahlo.

But the emigrés long for home — including Peter’s step-father, who wants to return to his native Germany. Going back to Europe may not be safe for any of them yet, however, which gives rise to anguished arguments among Peter’s parents’s and their tight group of friends.

And slowly, Peter begins to comprehend that his world may be turned upside down – that he might be forced to take leave of everyone he knows: his best friend, Arón; his father’s friend Sándor, who talks about revolution and performs magic tricks; and Zita, the family’s live-in-maid, who has taught him the consoling mysteries of prayer . . .

Steeped in the magic and myths of childhood — yet haunted by a harsh adult world bedeviled by instability and political turmoil — Joel Agee’s The Stone World is an unforgettable portrait of a family that will inevitably invite comparison with another classic family story, that of his father James Agee’s A Death in the Family.

Joel Agee is a writer and translator. He has been awarded a Gugenheim fellowship and numerous prizes for his translation work, including the Berlin Prize of the American Academy in Berlin in 2008; the Helen and Kurt Wolff Prize for his translation of Heinrich von Kleist’s verse play Penthesilea; and the ALTA National Translation Award for his translation of Selected Writings of Friedrich Dürrenmatt. He is the author of two memoirs—Twelve Years: An American Boyhood in East Germany and, more recently, In the House of My Fear. His translation of Prometheus Bound was produced at the Getty Villa in 2013. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

”Joel Agee’s lyrical first novel … skillfully imbues a timeless evocation of diminishing childhood innocence with the sights and sounds of a very particular time and place.” —The New York Times

“Joel Agee’s astonishing new novel is one of the purest, most penetrating explorations of childhood I have ever read. Driven by a prose almost transparent in its clarity, the book takes us so deep into the inner life of its six-year-old protagonist that the customary boundaries between writer and reader, reader and text, text and truth dissolve. We are inside the inside and therefore outside ourselves—at one with the book. The Stone World is more than a great literary achievement, it is a remarkable human achievement as well.” — Paul Auster

“In The Stone World, a child’s particular experiences are rendered with such radiant lucidity, exquisite nuance, and honest feeling they become universal. It is childhood itself that Joel Agee returns to his reader. We all were short people once, puzzling out the strange ways and often opaque language of the grownups, as well as our own fears, loves, pains, and wonders, but the specificity of these realities recedes with time. In this brilliant novel, the lost world of childhood is resurrected with a force and clarity that is nothing less than astounding.” — Siri Hustvedt

“I love how the language in The Stone World captures the wonder and the courage of its young protagonist as he navigates his changing world with a trust that never falters. This is an extraordinary, incandescent novel, stirring with deep inner movement yet timelessly still like the sea.” — Fae Myenne Ng, author of Bone,  Steer Toward Rock, and the forthcoming Orphan Bachelors

“This is one of those delicious novels that shimmers with its own intense reality, a tang of the actual. I felt I was there, in Mexico in the forties, with Peter and his friends, with this émigré family and their passionate and gifted friends.” — Jay Parini, author of The Last Station
“Young Pira, Joel Agee’s deep boy hero, asks the meaning of words, and the answers lead us to reflect on our own thinking and loving, on the ways in which friendship can be betrayed and repaired, on the history we are living, on the power of the imagination to go where thinking stops.”  Lore Segal, author of The Journal I Did Not Keep