Burning Down The House

Knopf 2015


“It begins with a child…” So opens Jane Mendelsohn’s powerful, riveting new novel. A classic family tale colliding with the twenty-first century, Burning Down the House tells the story of two girls. Neva, from the mountains of Russia, was sold into the sex trade at the age of ten; Poppy is the adopted daughter of Steve, the patriarch of a successful New York real estate clan, the Zanes. She is his sister’s orphaned child. One of these young women will unwittingly help bring down this grand household with the inexorability of Greek tragedy, and the other will summon everything she’s learned and all her strength to try to save its members from themselves.In cinematic, dazzlingly described scenes, we enter the lavish universe of the Zane family—from a wedding in an English manor house to the transglobal world of luxury hotel and restaurants that stretches from New York to Rome, Istanbul to Laos. As we meet them all—Steve’s second wife, his children from the first marriage, the twins from the second, their friends and household staff–we enter with visceral immediacy their emotional world filled with a dynamic family’s loves, jealousies, and yearnings. In lush, exact prose, Mendelsohn transforms their private stories into a panoramic drama about a family’s struggles to face the challenges of internal rivalry, a tragic love, and a shifting empire. Set against a background of financial crisis, globalization, and human trafficking, the novel finds inextricable connections between the personal and the political.

Dramatic, compassionate, and psychologically complex, Burning Down the House is both wrenching and unputdownable, an unforgettable portrayal of a single family caught up in the earthquake that is our contemporary world.


“The author of the 1990s bestseller I Was Amelia Earhart here focuses on a wealthy New York family beset by internal rivalries and an involvement, perhaps unwitting, in a dark underworld of international crime. Mendelsohn’s novel hopscotches the globe from Manhattan to London, Rome, Laos, and Turkey, trailing intrigue and ill-spent fortunes.”
—The Millions, “Most Anticipated: The Great 2016 Book Preview”

“With gorgeous, feverishly imaginative descriptions of her tormented characters’ psyches, and settings ranging from Manhattan to Istanbul to Laos, Mendelsohn, oracular, dazzling, and shocking, creates a maelstrom of tragic failings and crimes, exposing the global reach of the violent sex-trafficking underworld, and excoriating those among the “planetary elite” who allow it to metastasize.”
—Donna Seaman, Booklist, starred review

“With her devastating eye for the telling detail, her always penetrating insight, and her quiet wit, Jane Mendelsohn has written a book for the ages, an extraordinary investigation of human vanity and vulnerability, of power and disenfranchisement, of luxury and sorrow. Her writing is both taut and lush, her wounded characters both extravagant and authentic, her story grand yet intimate. This is literature of the first order.”
—Andrew Solomon, author of Far From the Tree, winner of the National Book Award


Tuesday, March 15th at 6pm
Corner Bookstore, 1313 Madison Ave, New York, NY
Friday, March 18th at 7pm
Bookcourt, 163 Court Street, Brooklyn, NY
Monday, March 21 at 7pm
R.J. Julia Booksellers, 768 Boston Post Road, Madison, CT
Wednesday, April 6 at 6:30pm
Kramerbooks & Afterwords, 1517 Connecticut Avenue NW,
Washington, DC
Wednesday, May 4 at 12pm
New York Public Library, 445 5th Avenue, New York, NY