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A Marker to Measure Drift
Cover of A Marker to Measure Drift
A Marker to Measure Drift
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A New York Times Notable Book
A hypnotic, spellbinding novel set in Greece and Africa, where a young Liberian woman reckons with a haunted past.
On a remote island in the Aegean, Jacqueline is living alone in a cave accessible only at low tide. With nothing to protect her from the elements, and with the fabric between herself and the world around her increasingly frayed, she is permeated by sensory experiences of remarkable intensity: the need for shade in the relentless heat of the sun-baked island; hunger and the occasional bliss of release from it; the exquisite pleasure of diving into the sea. The pressing physical realities of the moment provide a deeper relief: the euphoric obliteration of memory and, with it, the unspeakable violence she has seen and from which she has miraculously escaped.
Slowly, irrepressibly, images from a life before this violence begin to resurface: the view across lush gardens to a different sea; a gold Rolex glinting on her father's wrist; a glass of gin in her mother's best crystal; an adoring younger sister; a family, in the moment before their fortunes were irrevocably changed. Jacqueline must find the strength to contend with what she has survived or tip forward into full-blown madness.
Visceral and gripping, extraordinary in its depiction of physical and spiritual hungers, Alexander Maksik's A Marker to Measure Drift is a novel about ruin and faith, barbarism and love, and the devastating memories that contain the power both to destroy us and to redeem us.


From the Hardcover edition.

A New York Times Notable Book
A hypnotic, spellbinding novel set in Greece and Africa, where a young Liberian woman reckons with a haunted past.
On a remote island in the Aegean, Jacqueline is living alone in a cave accessible only at low tide. With nothing to protect her from the elements, and with the fabric between herself and the world around her increasingly frayed, she is permeated by sensory experiences of remarkable intensity: the need for shade in the relentless heat of the sun-baked island; hunger and the occasional bliss of release from it; the exquisite pleasure of diving into the sea. The pressing physical realities of the moment provide a deeper relief: the euphoric obliteration of memory and, with it, the unspeakable violence she has seen and from which she has miraculously escaped.
Slowly, irrepressibly, images from a life before this violence begin to resurface: the view across lush gardens to a different sea; a gold Rolex glinting on her father's wrist; a glass of gin in her mother's best crystal; an adoring younger sister; a family, in the moment before their fortunes were irrevocably changed. Jacqueline must find the strength to contend with what she has survived or tip forward into full-blown madness.
Visceral and gripping, extraordinary in its depiction of physical and spiritual hungers, Alexander Maksik's A Marker to Measure Drift is a novel about ruin and faith, barbarism and love, and the devastating memories that contain the power both to destroy us and to redeem us.


From the Hardcover edition.
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  • From the book

    Now it was night.

    Jacqueline hadn't eaten since the flattened chocolate bar she'd found on the step outside the pharmacy.

    God's will, her mother said.

    The fortune of finding food just when it was most needed, just when she didn't think she could stay upright any longer, here was food.

    God's will, her mother had said for the fortune of the airplane. She'd said it for the man with the truck. And the fruit pickers in Murcia. And the woman who had the brother who drove another truck. And the Senegalese girl in Alicante who helped her up when she rolled off the park bench in her sleep. Who took her home to her family, who fed her rice and chickpeas and gave her water. The grace of God, her mother had said. For the woman who found her unconscious in the sand on a beach outside of Valencia, who walked her to the sea and wiped Jacqueline's face with a dishrag that smelled of glass cleaner, who bought her coffee with milk and sugar and two sweet magdalenas. God for the Moroccan men who were arrested while Jacqueline walked undisturbed onto the ferry in Valencia. For the cove in Palma, where she found cardboard boxes and a dirty blue blanket folded on a flat stone.

    On and on her fortune went.

    And for the man who'd beaten her on the beach in Málaga?

    For the diarrhea?

    For the absence of food?

    For the bearded man and his immaculate teeth? We pay for our sins, for the sins of others, her mother said. Anyway, we can't understand.



    She knew she could not stay in that town. Not with all the people streaming off the ferries. She sat upright on a bench. She watched them eat French fries stuffed into the tops of their gyros. From the bench she watched them being made in a small shop advertising the best in the world. She watched the man slicing meat from a giant turning pile, could see him painting the bread with oil and tossing it onto the grill, could see him squirt a white sauce from a bottle onto the hot bread. There were tomatoes and onions. She watched him roll them and wrap them with white wax paper, and hand them across the counter along with cold cans of Coca-Cola. The smell of the meat and its fat, the smell of thyme and the grilling bread all blew towards her. She watched the tourists waiting in line. She watched bits of the meat falling to the ground, the sandwiches thrown away, half-eaten.

    What it took for her not to stand up and cross the square and dig for food.

    But she was not beyond pride so instead she ate the chocolate bar and tried to appear happy and bored. This was, she'd decided, the appropriate attitude. You must not be desperate.

    She watched the policemen walk past and tried to appear cheerful as she ate her candy bar. She ate as if she might throw it away at any moment, as if eating were an entertainment, as if it were something to do. She thought, Perhaps when it's dark I'll go to the trash, but she saw that the square would never go dark.

    A band was setting up. The tourists kept coming, the lights came on. There were more and more police. She stood and stretched her legs. She felt as if she might lose consciousness and sat back down. She waited until the blood returned to her head, until the feeling of nausea had eased. She stood up again and left the square, turning onto one of the small streets, thinking she might find a trash bin in a darkened corner. But every street was burning with white light. The stores sold gold and t-shirts and alcohol and food. Everywhere was food. And the tourists pushed against one other and plodded along, as bored as the shopkeepers,...
About the Author-
  • Alexander Maksik is the author of the novel You Deserve Nothing. A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, his writing has appeared in Harper's, Tin House, Harvard Review, The New York Times Magazine, Salon, and Narrative Magazine, among others, and has been translated into more than a dozen languages.

Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine The difficulty of portraying stark violence and its aftermath for those who survive it is one of the most challenging tasks for any narrator. Angelle Gullett rises to the task in this novel set in war-torn Africa. After Jacqueline endures horrific violence, her survivor's guilt has her shifting wildly between sanity and madness. Living alone on a remote island in the Aegean, she relives the days before the nation of Monrovia fell to a band of teenage thugs whose brutality, in a way, was worse than death. Despite Jacqueline's fragile state of mind, Gullett's tone reflects her struggle to accept what happened and the sparks of hope she begins to generate toward her own future. R.O. (c) AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine
  • Publisher's Weekly

    April 29, 2013
    Set amid the surf and hillside villages of a small Greek island, Maksik’s second novel (after You Deserve Nothing) follows new arrival Jacqueline, a Liberian woman near 20 years of age with a veiled, mysterious past. Homeless, starving, and trapped within the serene beauty of her new surroundings, she searches for shelter, taking refuge in a cave and offering massages to sunbathers for spare Euros. She is troubled by hallucinations of her mother and government employee father, but has sweet memories of her former lover, Bernard, and her younger sister, Saifa. Throughout, Jacqueline finds it difficult “to distinguish between what was happening and what had happened.” Paranoia makes her resistant to building personal connections and she moves from one location to the next on a journey that is deliberately paced and repetitive. Jacqueline’s psychological state is marked by emptiness and conflict; acceptance of charity sparks guilt, rare indulgences turn into painful stomachaches, and a series of unfinished spaces become briefly inhabited homes. Though the drawn-out mystery of this unanchored woman’s past may frustrate those in need of a more dynamic narrative, patient readers will be rewarded by Maksik’s gorgeous and evocative prose. Agent: Eric Simonoff, WME Entertainment.

  • The New York Times "Bold . . . Undaunted . . . Maksik writes, credibly, across the boundaries of gender and race . . . A study of scarred consciousness struggling to come to terms with the violence done to it in a moment of cataclysmic horror . . . The sustained representation of Jacqueline's search for release, for haven, has moments of bleak poetry . . . Maksik has illuminated for us, with force and art, an all too common species of suffering--grievous, ugly, and, unfortunately, a perennial."
  • The Boston Globe "Immensely powerful . . . Beautifully written . . . Jacqueline is a mesmerizing heroine . . . She is alive on the page from the outset, and with each paragraph she deepens, grows more complicated. Clearer and yet more mysterious . . . Maksik brings Jacqueline's tale to a devastating finale . . . giving her quest an awful and moving dignity."
  • The San Francisco Chronicle
    "It will leave you breathless and speechless; it will send you reeling."
  • The Buenos Aires Review "A masterpiece . . . Maksik manages to accomplish in Marker something next to no one has managed to do, namely, to strip the world down to naked life, life in all its glory and all its agony and terror, and death . . . Maksik's prose floats weightlessly and then falls like a fist on the table."
  • Guernica
    "Assured, intent . . . Through a catalogue of sensations, Maksik charts the cruelty and the hope of Jacqueline's new life, while slowly approaching the horrors of her past . . . Maksik's world is reaching out to touch. The task he's set for himself is to record the impression of that touch, be it caress or jab."
  • The Atlantic
    "The starving body, as it turns to its own fat and tissue for energy, enters a state called ketosis; Maksik's lean, affecting prose burns this way--stripped of any excess, entirely attuned to the prospect of survival, beautifying the simple things that sustain life."
  • Harper's "Haunting and sensual, Maksik's prose deftly intertwines the tenderness and torment of memory with the hard reality of searching for sustenance and shelter."
  • The Millions "Stark and essential . . . With A Marker to Measure Drift, Alexander Maksik's deep belief proves warranted: he has succeeded."
  • The Coffin Factory
    "A deeply invested character exploration of a young woman who is undergoing a transition to a life of alienation, whose memories are just beginning to operate with a newly installed consciousness of past events . . . Glimmers with reflection and lyricism."
  • Portland Mercury "Beautifully written . . . Through an impressionistic stream of consciousness, Maksik slowly reveals Jacqueline's ordeal . . . A novel that measures the ripple effect of trauma and violence."
    --The Daily Beast, "Hot Reads"

    "Small events--a coffee, a gyro--take on monumental significance, and Maksik is deft and patient as he teases out Jacqueline's recovery . . . In creating a well-drawn character so far removed from his own life, Maksik has written a novel that stands solidly on its own merits."
  • Kirkus "Remarkable . . . Conjures the horror of war almost entirely without describing its events . . . As the novel unspools it becomes clear that the truth is far more complicated and heartbreaking than it first appears . . . Deeply compelling."
  • Chicago Center for Literature and Photography "Maksik has wonderful instincts for delivering just enough insight into Jacqueline's character to keep us turning the pages. He manages to raise the stakes to the highest possible level without blinking . . . Marker is a book where the 'big questions' are stripped to their essential core: What is necessary to sustain life? The answers Maksik leads us to are touching, and the book ends on a hopeful note. Rating: 9/10"
  • Idaho Mountain Express "A story about a woman coping--a woman reconciling her newly manufactured life with her reality . . . Resonates on many levels: the impermanence of life, the perils of solitude, the futility of running from the past . . . Explores where memory and madness collide."
  • Winnipeg Free Press "Luminous . . . Maksik is both deft and lyrical, a master of tense--his shifts from past to present and back again are nearly invisible, so appropriate do they fee
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