Bright Air Black


Amazon Best Books of the Month for March 2017

Barbara’s Picks, Library Journal, March 2017: “The multi-award-winning Vann’s sense of tragedy enfolded in the everyday is as dead-on as his gorgeously unflinching writing, which will come in handy as he recounts the myth of Medea. Vann does not offer a modern retelling, instead transporting us to third century BCE and the creaky ship Argo as it plows the Black Sea. Not surprisingly, Vann gives special voice to Medea, the sometimes mysterious center of the myth. Bound to make you shiver.”

“Any reimagining of the Greek myth of Medea, she who helped Jason acquire the Golden Fleece from her royal father and killed her children in revenge after Jason betrayed her, will never be a cozy read, yet Vann’s (Aquarium, 2015) version is darker, edgier, and more discomfiting than most. It’s made up of prose incorporating both mesmerizing sentences and concentrated fragments. A priestess of Hekate with no use for kings, Medea must depend on them and other men for her survival, to her frustration and fury. While ambitious, Jason still needs constant prodding to fulfill the destiny Medea creates for him by means of sorcery, cunning, and blood. The Argo’s sea voyage from Colchis to Jason’s homeland of Iolcus feels overly drawn out, yet it allows for multiple opportunities to rework the traditional mythos in inventive ways—which often involve the characters indulging in their atavistic natures. The setting has an otherworldly feel at times, which heightens the sense of the tale’s ancientness. Sensual and violent, often simultaneously, Vann’s novel evokes the primal force of women’s power.” — Sarah Johnson, Booklist

“Vann writes richly imaginative prose” Publishers Weekly

“His ambitious new version of an ancient classic” Kirkus

Publisher’s description (Grove):


Following the success of Aquarium, which was a New York Times Editors’ Choice and garnered numerous rave reviews, David Vann transports us to the thirteenth century BC to give a nuanced and electric portrait of the life of one of ancient mythology’s most fascinating and notorious women, Medea.

In brilliant poetic prose, Bright Air Black brings us aboard the ship Argo for its epic return journey across the Black Sea from Persia’s Colchis—where Medea flees her home and father with Jason, the Argonauts, and the Golden Fleece. Vann’s reimagining of this ancient tale offers a thrilling, realistic alternative to the long-held notions of Medea as monster or sorceress. We witness with dramatic urgency Medea’s humanity, her Bronze Age roots and position in Greek society, her love affair with Jason, and her tragic demise.

Atmospheric and spellbinding, Bright Air Black is an indispensable, fresh, and provocative take on one of our earliest texts and the most intimate and corporal version of Medea’s story ever told.

Foreign editions:  UK and Ireland (and most Commonwealth countries), Australia and New Zealand, France, Holland, Spain.