Monday, February 4, 2008


Karl Iagnemma's remarkable debut novel The Expeditions is a book of journeys both real and metaphorical. In 1844, Massachusetts runaway Elisha Stone makes it to the frontier town of Detroit, Michigan and signs on to an exploratory expedition to the uncharted territory of the Upper Peninsula. Before he embarks, he sends a letter back home to his mother, his first communication in three years. Unbeknownst to Elisha, his mother has died and the letter inspires his father, the Reverend William Edward Stone, to set forth on his own expedition in an attempt to reconnect with his son.

The novel is at heart Elisha's coming-of-age story, but the mid-nineteenth century was a tumultuous period in our nation's history and Iagnemma offers a rich portrait of the time, with its growing confrontation between science and religion, the rise of sectarian division and spiritualism in the American religious tradition, and continuing racial and ethnic conflict as the nation grew in diversity and pushed westward.

Karl Iagnemma is a bit of an oddity in the world of fiction: his day job is with the mechanical engineering department at MIT where he specializes in robotics research. Most robotics engineers do not write fiction and this scientific and technical background brings an interesting perspective to his writing. Iagnemma is a native of Michigan and is fascinated with both the history of science and of the Great Lakes. Prior to this novel, he published a prize-winning collection of short stories: On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction. Those who have enjoyed the works of Andrea Barrett should definitely check out Karl Iagnemma.

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