The Town of Babylon
Longlisted for the 2022 National Book Award for Fiction!
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 everything—everything—has 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
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
- 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)
- Longlisted for the National Book Award 2022.