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A FINALIST FOR THE 2022 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR FICTION
A PUBLISHER'S WEEKLY "BEST BOOK OF 2022"
ONE OF THE MOST ANTICIPATED BOOKS OF 2022 – BuzzFeed, LitHub, Electric Literature, LGBTQ Reads, Latinx in Publishing
*Recommended by The New York Times*
"Haunting, sublime, solemn, and true." —Robert Jones Jr., author of The Prophets
"[An] intense, astute meditation on race, family, class, love, and friendship." —Deesha Philyaw, author of The Secret Lives of Church Ladies
In this contemporary debut novel—an intimate portrait of queer, racial, and class identity —Andrés, a gay Latinx professor, returns to his suburban hometown in the wake of his husband’s infidelity. There he finds himself with no excuse not to attend his twenty-year high school reunion, and hesitantly begins to reconnect with people he used to call friends.
Over the next few weeks, while caring for his aging parents and navigating the neighborhood where he grew up, Andrés falls into old habits with friends he thought he’d left behind. Before long, he unexpectedly becomes entangled with his first love and is forced to tend to past wounds.
Captivating and poignant; a modern coming-of-age story about the essential nature of community, The Town of Babylon is a page-turning novel about young love and a close examination of our social systems and the toll they take when they fail us.
About the Author
Alejandro Varela (he/him) is a writer based in New York. His writing has appeared in the Point Magazine, Boston Review, Harper's, Split Lip, the Georgia Review, the Rumpus, the Brooklyn Rail, the Offing, and the New Republic, among other publications. He is a 2019 Jerome Fellow in Literature. He was a resident in the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s 2017–2018 Workspace program and a 2017 NYSCA/NYFA Artist Fellow in Nonfiction. Alejandro is an editor-at-large of Apogee Journal. His graduate studies were in public health. His first book, The Town of Babylon, was published by Astra House in 2022. His second book, The People Who Report More Stress, is forthcoming (Astra House, 2023). Varela believes strongly in reparations, land back, a national health service, and a thirty dollar minimum wage pegged to inflation as interventions essential for the collective liberation of our society. Access his work at alejandrovarela.work. You can also find him on Twitter and IG: @drovarela.
“Unsparing yet big-hearted, The Town of Babylon will delight anyone who’s ever dreaded a school reunion—or believed they’d outgrown a community. Varela throws open the closet of queer suburban adolescence with verve, empathy, and insight. A deeply moving debut.”
—Julian Lucas, staff writer, The New Yorker
"In portraying Babylon, the diverse working-class Long Island town where he grew up, Varela paid attention to the heart disease, drug abuse, and dwindling economic opportunities that add up to a kind of communal stress and desperation. But the book, set over a week following a 20th high school reunion, also features sex and longing, love for family and friends, and an overarching wry affection."
—Kate Tuttle, The Boston Globe
"A richly textured portrait of ordinary queer life."
"The Town of Babylon is a grown up and realistic story that thoughtfully depicts the struggle to find out how to deal with the past when all you want is to move forward."
—David Vogel, BuzzFeed
"The Town of Babylon foregrounds the way social differences play out between white and non-white, non-white and non-white, white and white. Despite what some of the United States population would like to believe, differences of race, gender, class, sexuality, religion cannot be elided, cannot go unseen. Varela’s keen attentiveness to the everyday unraveling of such relations indicates his sensitivity to the conditions of life as we know it."
—Marcos Gonsalez, Protean Magazine
"[Varela's] precise pacing of [the] pivotal moments make for storytelling both riveting and poignant... [the novel's] distinct and intertwining narrative voices justify the rich and pointed cultural critique of the American suburb."
—Benedict Nguyễn, INTO
"A dynamic and resonant debut . . . Hopefully there will be more books to come from the talented Varela."
—Bay Area Reporter
"Line for vivid line, Alejandro Varela’s The Town of Babylon is a deep breath of fresh air, while idea for incisive idea it is a howl of righteous rage. Rage at the suburbs, at the past, at a country whose promises are glibly made and rarely kept, at all the great and small ways we betray each other and ourselves. But it’s also a novel about love. Love’s power, limits, and impossible persistence in the first and last places we think to look for it. The Town of Babylon is a remarkable debut from a tremendous new voice."
—Justin Taylor, author of Riding with the Ghost
"In The Town of Babylon, Alejandro Varela, whose educational background is in public health, combines a social scientist’s powers of observation and analysis with a master writer’s ability to delineate character in rich, absorbing prose. This is a challenging, fascinating portrait of contemporary America."
—John Clum, New York Journal of Books
"New York-based Latino writer Alejandro Varela weaves together histories of immigration, economic unease, and the health complications of racism in America."
—Marcela Rodés, Al Día
"A gay Latinx man reckons with his past when he returns home for his 20th high school class reunion in Varela’s dazzling debut . . . an incandescent bildungsroman"
—Starred review, Publisher's Weekly
"Varela’s debut novel shimmers with tension, navigating the personal and political with practiced ease. Treading the waters of adolescence and adulthood, The Town of Babylon navigates the complexities of home, queerness, and messy histories with measure and empathy. Weaving together histories of immigration, economic unease, and the health complications of racism in America, Varela troubles ideas of community and shared experience amidst a polarizing landscape."
—Kaitlynn Cassady, Seminary Co-op Bookstores
"The novel’s achievement lies in its simultaneous depth and expansiveness—its huge ensemble of characters, the precision with which the landscape and culture of Andres’ hometown are rendered."
"Alejandro Varela's The Town of Babylon takes the tedium and heartbreak of life and renders it in extraordinary ways. I am astonished by the way Varela captures that difficult liminality: where love, under certain circumstances, slights as much as it heals. He gets to the core of all the human pressures of living in a country where everything—everything—has a price. The Town of Babylon is haunting, sublime, solemn, and true."
—Robert Jones Jr., author of The New York Times bestselling The Prophets, finalist for the 2021 National Book Award for Fiction
"Alejandro Varela's debut dazzles, astonishes, and grabs hold of your heart through the very last page. Heartbreak and secrets abound in this intense, astute meditation on race, family, class, love, and friendship. Varela's wry humor is the icing on the cake of this brilliant novel."
—Deesha Philyaw, author of The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, finalist for the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction
"In Alejandro Varela’s assured debut, a man’s reluctant return to his hometown reveals that the past is not as distant as we sometimes tell ourselves it is. The Town of Babylon is funny and sexy as well as thoughtful, even heartbreaking. It’s an incisive taxonomy of the American suburb, looking beyond the white picket fence to tell a different story—what it is to be queer, the child of immigrants, and a person of color in this country."
—Rumaan Alam, author of Leave the World Behind, finalist for the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction
"The Town of Babylon is epic, intimate, hilarious, and heartrending: an unqualified achievement of the highest degree. Alejandro Varela captures suburbia's gridlocked travails alongside the infinitude of the heart, excavating and illuminating questions of home, family, debt, and happiness. It's as much a love story as it is a story about love in the world, broaching the impossible question of whether we can ever really go home again—but Varela clears it with ease. This book is a queer masterpiece and Varela's prose is masterful. I didn't want it to end."
—Bryan Washington, award-winning author of Memorial and Lot
"A thoughtful deep dive into a gay Latino man's return to his working-class town, where his alienation lies in wait. Alejandro Varela's promising debut is filled with insight about the past that produced our wounds, and how, despite having answers to lifelong questions, it holds no redemption. Intimate and jarring."
—Sarah Schulman, author of After Delores and Let the Record Show
"Alejandro Varela dissects the disease of suburban life in The Town of Babylon, a finely-crafted literary scalpel with two edges, one that cuts through the layers of a dying body politic and another that clears arteries blocking the way to the heart of personal and political health: community."
—Roberto Lovato, author of Unforgetting
"The Town of Babylon marks the debut of a major talent. Alejandro Varela puts a new twist on the American contemporary novel dealing with immigration, identity, race and gender. His scope is wide, encompassing, and his vision of the 'melting pot' includes a generous portion of the various kinds of Americans that comprise the United States . . . The Town of Babylon made me consider pertinent questions that much contemporary fiction is too timid to delve into in a compassionate, piercing and unsentimental way. Varela's marvelous achievement reminds me of the world of John Updike's Rabbit Run and of the deeply troubled America in Philip Roth's American Pastoral."
—Jaime Manrique, author of Latin Moon In Manhattan