The Incendiaries

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Published: July 31, 2018

“Radiant…A dark, absorbing story of how first love can be as intoxicating and dangerous as religious fundamentalism.”New York Times Book Review

“Religion, politics, and love collide in this slim but powerful novel reminiscent of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, with menace and mystery lurking in every corner.”—People Magazine

“The most buzzed-about debut of the summer, as it should be…unusual and enticing…The Incendiaries arrives at precisely the right moment.”—The Washington Post

About The Incendiaries

A powerful, darkly glittering novel about violence, love, faith, and loss, as a young Korean American woman at an elite American university is drawn into acts of domestic terrorism by a cult tied to North Korea.

Phoebe Lin and Will Kendall meet their first month at prestigious Edwards University. Phoebe is a glamorous girl who doesn’t tell anyone she blames herself for her mother’s recent death. Will is a misfit scholarship boy who transfers to Edwards from Bible college, waiting tables to get by. What he knows for sure is that he loves Phoebe.

Grieving and guilt-ridden, Phoebe is increasingly drawn into a religious group—a secretive extremist cult—founded by a charismatic former student, John Leal. He has an enigmatic past that involves North Korea and Phoebe’s Korean American family. Meanwhile, Will struggles to confront the fundamentalism he’s tried to escape, and the obsession consuming the one he loves. When the group bombs several buildings in the name of faith, killing five people, Phoebe disappears. Will devotes himself to finding her, tilting into obsession himself, seeking answers to what happened to Phoebe and if she could have been responsible for this violent act.

The Incendiaries is a fractured love story and a brilliant examination of the minds of extremist terrorists, and of what can happen to people who lose what they love most.


“Kwon is a writer of many talents, and The Incendiaries is a debut of dark, startling beauty.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“Disarmingly propulsive.”Vogue

“A singular version of the campus novel…a story about spiritual uncertainty and about the fierce and undisciplined desire of [Kwon’s] young characters to find something luminous to light their way through their lives.”—NPR’s “Fresh Air”

“If you only read one book this summer, make it this complex and searing debut novel by R.O. Kwon.”—Southern Living

“[With] a fairy-tale quality reminiscent of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History…[The Incendiaries is] the rare depiction of belief that doesn’t kill the thing it aspires to by trying too hard. It makes a space, and then steps away to let the mystery in.”—The New Yorker

“A juicy look at campus mores…Kwon delivers a poignant and powerful look into the millenial mindset.”—NPR Books

“One of those slim novels that contains multitudes, R.O. Kwon’s debut novel shows how unreliable we are as narrators when we’re trying to invent—and reinvent—ourselves.”—Vulture

“In R.O. Kwon’s terrific new novel The Incendiaries, a cultist looks for meaning in tragedy. Kwon’s debut is a shiningly ambitious look at how human beings try to fill the holes in their lives.”Vox

“If you haven’t had a chance to pick up one of the buzziest novels of summer, take Emma Roberts’s—and my—word for it: you can’t miss The Incendiaries.Bustle

“Kwon’s lush imaginative project…[is to expose] the reactionary impulses that run through American life…[creating] an impression of the mysterious social forces and private agonies that might drive a person to extremes.”The New Republic

“The main attraction and reward of this book is Kwon’s prose. Spiky, restless, and nervously perceptive, it exhales spiritual unease.”Wall Street Journal

“Kwon’s multi-faceted narrative portrays America’s dark, radical strain, exploring the lure of fundamentalism, our ability to be manipulated, and what can happen when we’re willing to do anything for a cause.” —The Atlantic

“Deeply engrossing.”—PBS Books

“Remarkable…Every page blooms with sensuous language and the book’s mood is otherworldly, even if its setting, a wealthy college in the Northeast, isn’t…These are characters in quiet crisis, burning, above all, to know themselves, and Kwon leads them, confidently, to an enthralling end.”Paris Review

The Incendiaries is a God-haunted, willful, strange book written with a kind of savage elegance. I’ve said it before, but now I’ll shout it from the rooftops: R.O. Kwon is the real deal.”—Lauren Groff, New York Times-bestselling author of Fates and Furies and Florida

“Every explosive requires a fuse. That’s R.O. Kwon’s novel, a straight, slow-burning fuse. To read her novel is to follow an inexorable flame coming closer and closer to the object it will detonate—the characters, the crime, the story, and, ultimately, the reader.”—Viet Thanh Nguyen, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sympathizer and The Refugees

The Incendiaries probes the seductive and dangerous places to which we drift when loss unmoors us. In dazzlingly acrobatic prose, R.O. Kwon explores the lines between faith and fanaticism, passion and violence, the rational and the unknowable.”Celeste Ng, New York Times-bestselling author of Little Fires Everywhere and Everything I Never Told You

"This debut novel is absolutely electric, something new in the firmament. Everyone should read this book."—Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You

“A classic love triangle between two tormented college students and God. The Incendiaries brings us, page by page, from quiet reckonings with shame and intimacy to a violent, grand tragedy. In a conflagration of lyrical prose, R.O. Kwon skillfully evokes the inherent extremism of young love.”Tony Tulathimutte, author of Private Citizens

“An impressive, assured debut about the hope for personal and political revolution and all the unexpected ways it flickers out. Kwon has vital things to say about the fraught times we live in.”—Jenny Offill, author of Dept. of Speculation

"A swift, sensual love about the unraveling of a collegiate relationship and its aftermath. Kwon writes gracefully about the spiritual insecurities of millennials."—Karan Mahajan, author of The Association of Small Bombs

“A profound, intricate exploration of how grief and lost faith and the vulnerable storm of youth can drive people to irrevocable extremes, told with a taut intensity that kept me up all night. R.O. Kwon is a thrilling writer, and her splendid debut is unsettled, irresistible company.”—Laura van den Berg, author of The Third Hotel and Find Me

Named a Most Anticipated Book of 2018 by the New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, Elle, Time, Parade, Vanity Fair, Cosmopolitan, Esquire, PBS, Vulture, BuzzFeed, BookRiot, PopSugar, Refinery29, Bustle, Millions, Rumpus, Paste, and BBC.