The Flamethrowers

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The Flamethrowers
First edition hardcover
AuthorRachel Kushner
CountryUnited States
Publication date
April 2, 2013
Media typePrint (Hardback)
Pages400 pp (first edition, hardback)
ISBN1-439-14200-9 (first edition, hardback)
LC ClassPS3611.U7386F57 2013
Preceded byTelex from Cuba 
Followed byThe Mars Room 

The Flamethrowers is a 2013 novel by American author Rachel Kushner.[1][2] The book was released on April 2, 2013 through Scribner.

The Flamethrowers follows a female artist in the 1970s. While writing the book, Kushner drew on personal experiences during and after college, as well as her interests in "motorcycles, art, revolution and radical politics."[3] The book was selected as one of the "10 Best Books of 2013" by the editors of the New York Times Book Review.[4] It was the subject of a literary spat between the coasts summarized in The New Republic, with the Los Angeles Review of Books attacking the New York Review of Books's review as sexist and unfair.


In 1975, a young art school graduate from Reno moves to New York City hoping to become a successful artist. She meets an older, more established artist, Sandro Valera, the heir of Moto Valera, an Italian tire and motorcycle company. He and his friends nickname her Reno. In 1976, with the reluctant approval of Sandro, she takes one of the Moto Valera prototype motorcycles to the Bonneville Salt Flats where she intends to race and then photograph her tracks as part of an art project. Reno crashes the bike but is adopted by the Moto Valera crew who help her set a record to become the woman with the fastest racing record in the world.

The following year the Valera crew ask Reno to join them on a promotional tour in Italy. Sandro reluctantly decides to accompany Reno and the two spend two weeks with Sandro's family in their villa in Lake Como before the promotional tour is due to begin. However plans for the tour are put on hold when the star of the promotional tour, a professional racer, is kidnapped. Reno also finds Sandro kissing his cousin, Talia, and runs away to Rome with the Valera family mechanic, Gianni, who introduces her to a group of young radicals. Reno is swept up in part of the Movement of 1977 and participates in riots. She later helps Gianni illegally cross the border into France.

Back in New York Reno moves out of Sandro's apartment and concentrates on her art. She learns that Sandro's older brother has been kidnapped by revolutionaries and tries to contact him but realizes he is already seeing someone new. After his brother's murder Sandro finally returns to Italy where he will succeed his brother as the head of the Valera empire.


Reno mentions watching Wanda directed by Barbara Loden as well as Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles directed by Chantal Akerman.

Reno also makes several references to Spiral Jetty, an artwork created by Robert Smithson.


Critical reception for The Flamethrowers has been for the most part positive.[5][6][7] The New Yorker's James Wood praised the book as "scintillatingly alive" and commented that it "[succeeded] because it is so full of vibrantly different stories and histories, all of them particular, all of them brilliantly alive."[8] The Guardian commented upon the book and its polarized reviews, remarking that while some reviewers such as Wood and novelist Jonathan Franzen have been vocal in their praise, other reviewers such as Adam Kirsch commented that the book was "macho," which explained "why it has been received so enthusiastically by the critics."[9] However, Kirsch's overall review also contained praise: he wrote that Kushner had "a real gift for grasping the prose-poetry of ideologies."[10]

The Flamethrowers was listed as one of the top 10 books of 2013 by the New York Times.[11]

The New York Review of Books wrote a predominantly negative review in which it criticized elements of the book as unconvincing. The review remarked that the book was "tiresome, histrionic, hysterically overwritten" and was "desperate to show how brilliant it is".[12] The review provoked a response from the Huffington Post's Nicholas Miriello, who published it through the Los Angeles Review of Books.[13] Miriello remarked that Seidel's review was more interested in Seidel than the book itself and that it was "gallingly condescending" and "often inadequate."[14] The New Republic in turn commented upon Miriello's response, suggesting that Seidel's opinions might have been more based upon differences in cultures between New York and the west coast.[13]

The Flamethrowers was a finalist for the 2013 National Book Award.[15]

Film adaptation[edit]

A 2014 article by The Guardian reported that Jane Campion was on the verge of closing a deal with producer Scott Rudin to shoot a film adaptation of The Flamethrowers.[16]


  1. ^ Garcia, Christina (April 26, 2013). "Revolutions Per Minute". NY Times. Retrieved 21 September 2013.
  2. ^ Newton, Maud. "Racing From Art To Revolution And Back Again In 'The Flamethrowers'". NPR. Retrieved 21 September 2013.
  3. ^ Russo, Maria (May 6, 2013). "Knowingly Navigating the Unknown". NY Times. Retrieved 21 September 2013.
  4. ^ New York Times (2013). "The 10 Best Books of 2013". Retrieved 7 December 2013.
  5. ^ Garner, Dwight (April 16, 2013). "Speed Demons and the Velocity of Words". NY Times. Retrieved 21 September 2013.
  6. ^ White, Duncan (19 Jul 2013). "The Flamethrowers, by Rachel Kushner, review". The Telegraph. Retrieved 21 September 2013.
  7. ^ Ulin, David (April 12, 2013). "Rachel Kushner lights a fire in 'The Flamethrowers'". LA Times. Retrieved 21 September 2013.
  8. ^ Wood, James (April 8, 2013). "Youth in Revolt". New Yorker. Retrieved 21 September 2013.
  9. ^ Higgins, Charlotte (23 August 2013). "The Flamethrowers: the Great American Novel for the 21st century?". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 September 2013.
  10. ^ Kirsch, Adam (May 29, 2013). "The Mythmakers". Tablet Mag. Retrieved 21 September 2013.
  11. ^ "The 10 Best Books of 2013". New York Times. December 4, 2013. Retrieved 21 November 2014.
  12. ^ Seidel, Frederick (July 11, 2013). "'This Book Has Heat'". New York Review of Books. Retrieved 21 September 2013.
  13. ^ a b Tracy, Marc. "The L.A. Review of Books Declares War on the N.Y. Review of Books". The New Republic. Retrieved 21 September 2013.
  14. ^ Miriello, Nicholas. "What Is This Review Interested In?: On Frederick Seidel's Review of Rachel Kushner's "The Flamethrowers". LA Review of Books. Retrieved 21 September 2013.
  15. ^ National Book Awards - 2013. National Book Foundation. Retrieved December 22, 2013.
  16. ^ Zarum, Lara. "'Jane Campion May Direct an Adaptation of The Flamethrowers. This is Great News.'". Retrieved 22 July 2016.

External links[edit]