The Town of Babylon

Publication Date:

February 2023



Original language and publisher

English (USA) | Astra House

Territories Handled

World excl. North America

Territories Sold

Italy (NN)


Debut Novel, Literary Fiction


  • 2023 Aspen Words Literary Prize (longlisted)
  • 2023 PEN Open Book Award (longlisted)
  • 2022 National Book Award for Fiction (finalist)

Foreign Covers


The Town of Babylon


Captivating and poignant, this modern coming-of-age story about the essential nature of community is a page-turning novel. — Book Passage, San Francisco Bay Times

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. Publishers Weekly (starred review)

[An] intimate debut. — The New York Times

…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… — Kirkus Reviews

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 everythingeverythinghas 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

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

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

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

It’s a great singular journey of a queer character that we don’t always see, but it’s also funny, honest, and accessible. — Aaron Foley, author of The Boys Come First

This debut novel covers young love, queerness, racism and classism in white suburbia, and overall identity in a refreshing new way. Bookstr

The Town of Babylon does not hesitate to plunge into the wounds the past has left us with, and beautifully threads queer, racial, and class identities with a portrait of personhood that Varela masterfully executes with both poise and power. It’s a gift of a book from an extraordinary talent. — Greg Mania, author of Born to Be Public

Fans of funny, voice-driven novels, rejoice! This is a scathing critique of white America and the so-called American Dream, a richly textured portrait of ordinary queer life, a middle-aged love story, a moving family drama, and one of the best portrayals of suburban life — in all its violence, absurdity, and contradiction. — Book Riot

Deftly weaving together first- and third-character viewpoints and the past with the present, Varela provides a rich, complex portrait of growing up an outsider in one’s own hometown. — Bloom

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, The New Yorker

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

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

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

This whirlwind of a novel is such a beautiful portait of what it can be like to “go home” and heal some of those young adult wounds that have unconsciously made their way into your current reality. It’s funny, insightful and captivating. You’ll fall in love with Andrés the main character! — Lupita Aquino, SheReads

Broken hearts, aging parents and a second coming-of-age: The Town of Babylon by Alejandro Varela is thoughtful and charming, honest and compassionate—a story of finding home and one’s self. — Barnes & Noble

The Town of Babylon is a big-hearted, intricate, and daring debut novel that creates a fully-realized, imperfect hero who confronts our country’s great failings while discovering the fragile beauty that lurks beneath the surface of human connections. There is an assuredness to Varela’s writing, a quality usually observed in authors who have a dozen books to their name. Simply put, this is a perfectly crafted novel from a truly talented writer. — Dan Olivas, Latino Book Review

A magnificent debut. . . Varela deftly chronicles several elements of the modern American experience that we rarely see represented in popular culture: the experience of being a child of immigrants who strives to move up in society, being a person of color in predominantly white spaces, being a queer person in predominantly straight spaces. It’s a beautiful story about community, friendship, and figuring out one’s place in the world. — Nisha Chittal, Vox

A wonderfully rich and complex story that begins with an invitation to a high school reunion that becomes an occasion for the narrative to delve into layers of the narrator’s past. The book weaves the narrator’s past to his present with a voice that shines sharp and insightful. Every piece of the narrator’s recollection contributed to a rich community mosaic grounded in the narrator. One of my favorite debuts ever! —Helen Chen, Medium

“In this poignant, heartbreaking, yet funny work recommended by The New York Times, Varela explores what it means to be queer, a person of color and an immigrant among the white picket fences of American suburbia.” —Tyler Franchisine, Biscayne Times

Intimate and expansive, universal and local, funny and heartbreaking, Alejandro Varela’s “The Town of Babylon” delivers a rich, energetic narrative of life and death in an American suburb. A gay Latinx man returns to his hometown to care for ailing parents and finds himself forced to confront the histories of love, loss, struggle, and sacrifice that, for better and worse, have formed him. With this urgent, vivid novel, Varela has given us a modern classic and an indelible portrait of our times. — A Finalist for the 2022 National Book Award for Fiction, The National Book Foundation

For readers of Little Fires Everywhere, Fates and Furies, and The Topeka School looking for intimate narratives about domestic and suburban life. Revolutionary Road meets What Belongs to You in this debut novel about suburban malaise, following Andrés, a gay Latinx professor, returning to his hometown for a twenty-year high school reunion.

When his father falls ill, Andrés, a professor of public health, returns to his suburban hometown to tend to his father’s recovery. Reevaluating his rocky marriage in the wake of his husband’s infidelity and with little else to do, he decides to attend his twenty-year high school reunion, where he runs into the long-lost characters of his youth.

Jeremy, his first love, is now married with two children after having been incarcerated and recovering from addiction. Paul, who Andrés has long suspected of having killed a man in a homophobic attack, is now an Evangelical minister and father of five. And Simone, Andrés’s best friend, is in a psychiatric institution following a diagnosis of schizophrenia. During this short stay, Andrés confronts these relationships, the death of his brother, and the many sacrifices his parents made to offer him a better life.

A novel about the essential nature of community in maintaining one’s own health, The Town of Babylon is an intimate portrait of queer, racial, and class identity, a call to reevaluate the ties of societal bonds and the systems in which they are forged.

“I see Varela’s writing as a modern, urban entry in the tradition of works like John Cheever’s The Stories of John Cheever or Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love—a tradition kept alive by writers like Teju Cole in Every Day is for the Thief and Jamel Brinkley in A Lucky Man.” —Acquiring editor Danny Vazquez

Marketing Information

  • Named one of the Best Books of 2022 by Publishers Weekly
  • ONE OF THE MOST ANTICIPATED BOOKS OF 2022 – BuzzFeed, LitHub, Electric Literature, Cosmopolitan, LGBTQ Reads, Latinx in Publishing, Lambda Literary, and New LGBTQ Fiction for Pride 2022
  • Shortlisted for two International Latino Book Awards (Best First Book – Fiction – English) and The Isabel Allende Most Inspirational Fiction Book Award – English or Bilingual)
  • Named one of the “Best Debut Books of 2022” by Debutiful
  • Interview with The Boston Globe called “Alejandro Varela on becoming a serious reader”
  • Interviewed for Literary Hub for their National Book Award Finalist feature “Meet the 2022 National Book Award Finalists”
  • The PEN Open Book Award longlist was mentioned in the Asymptote “Weekly Dispatches from the Front Lines of World Literature” by Central America Editor-at-Large José García Escobar
  • Will be read by the following book club: Seattle Latinx Book Club April 25, 2023
  • Included in the Vanity Fair “25 books to read on vacation” selection.
  • Featured on the Biscayne Times “Soak Up the Summer with a Good Book”
  • At the top of the San Francisco Bay Times‘s list of recommendations from Book Passage, “Top of Your Stack: 3.21.24”

Foreign Covers


Other books by this author