Book Review: Jen Silverman’s Gripping Second Novel Explores the Long Afterlife of Political Violence

Earlier this year a former member of the far-left Baader-Meinhof gang who spent decades in hiding was arrested by German police in connection with a string of crimes. It was just another example of the long afterlife of the anti-war movement of the late 1960s, which Jen Silverman explores in a brilliant, beautifully written new novel, “There’s Going to Be Trouble.”

Titling it after a line from an Allen Ginsberg poem — “My mind is made up there’s going to be trouble” — Silverman constructs an intricate, clever plot that braids together two separate stories connected by the main characters.

One takes place in 1968 when Keen, an apolitical grad student at Harvard, gets drawn into the takeover of a campus building because of his desperate love for Olya, one of the organizers. When the demonstration goes awry, he must live with the disastrous results for the rest of his lonely life as a chemistry professor and single dad. His one consolation is the daughter Olya bore him before going on the run. Everyone calls her Minnow, though she will grow up to embody the fierceness of her namesake Minerva, the Roman goddess of war.

The second storyline unfolds in 2018 during the yellow vest protests in France, where Minnow, now a 38-year-old teacher, has fled after being engulfed in a scandal in the U.S. whipped up by the religious right for helping an underage girl at her school obtain an abortion. In Paris, she gets caught up with a group of activists who, like their counterparts a half century earlier, are willing to go to virtually any length to challenge what they see as the inequities of French society.

Once again, love plays a decisive role. Just as her father fell head over heels for Olya, Minnow becomes enamored with Charles, the 23-year-old scion of a powerful French family whose father is a confidant of French President Emmanuel Macron. Though she has serious qualms about the 15-year age difference, she can’t keep her hands off him — and the feeling is mutual. Meanwhile, another brazen action is being planned that will also have deadly consequences.

Though the novel is a little slow to get off the ground and might have benefited from being 50 pages shorter, eventually it gathers unstoppable force as it moves toward a dramatic denouement that offers no easy conclusions. The questions Silverman poses about the ends and means of political violence are as relevant today as they were in the ’60s — or, for that matter, any era.

By ANN LEVIN Associated Press


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