Kings of Broken Things

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Coming from Little A on August 1, 2017!!

With characters depicted in precise detail and wide panorama—a kept-woman’s parlor, a contentious interracial baseball game on the Fourth of July, and the tragic true events of the Omaha Race Riot of 1919—Kings of Broken Things reveals the folly of human nature in an era of astonishing ambition.

During the waning days of World War I, three lost souls find themselves adrift in Omaha, Nebraska, at a time of unprecedented nationalism, xenophobia, and political corruption. Adolescent European refugee Karel Miihlstein’s life is transformed after neighborhood boys discover his prodigious natural talent for baseball. Jake Strauss, a young man with a violent past and desperate for a second chance, is drawn into a criminal underworld. Evie Chambers, a kept woman, is trying to make ends meet and looking every which way to escape her cheerless existence.

As wounded soldiers return from the front and black migrant workers move north in search of economic opportunity, the immigrant wards of Omaha become a tinderbox of racial resentment stoked by unscrupulous politicians. Punctuated by an unspeakable act of mob violence, the fates of Karel, Jake, and Evie will become inexorably entangled with the schemes of a ruthless political boss whose will to power knows no bounds.

Written in the tradition of Don DeLillo and Colum McCann, with a great debt to Ralph Ellison, Theodore Wheeler’s debut novel Kings of Broken Things is a panoramic view of a city on the brink of implosion during the course of this summer of strife.


“For its descriptions of the violent outcomes of prejudice and political misconduct, this novel at once illuminates a savage moment in history and offers a timely comment on nationalism and racism. An unsettling and insightful piece of historical fiction.”
Kirkus Reviews, 5/15/17

“Readers will be drawn into Wheeler’s careful re-creation of a turbulent time.”
Booklist, 6/28/17

“Set during the Red Summer, Kings of Broken Things perfectly encapsulates both the frailty and darkness of the volatile period that saw the end of World War I, the shift from an agrarian to industrial society, Heartland baseball, and the brutal lynching of Will Brown that led to the Omaha Race Riot. Powerful and resonant, this book’s relevance, in the context of today’s concerns, cannot be overstated.”
—Julie Iromuanya, author of Mr. and Mrs. Doctor

“A beautifully written novel about an ugly, tumultuous time in history, Kings of Broken Things is an exciting, gritty portrait of a corrupt American city on the edge of self-destruction. It’s a novel that simmers, like Doctorow’s Ragtime, leaning forward always toward its powerful final chapters. Whether writing about violins or baseball or bordellos, Wheeler demonstrates a dazzling talent for bringing history alive, offering breathtaking insights into the hearts and minds of these immigrants and outsiders.”
—Timothy Schaffert, author of The Swan Gondola

“The rhythms of baseball run through the prose of Kings of Broken Things, as the game becomes a gateway into the stories we tell ourselves about America. This is a book that questions those stories and gives itself over to the conflict at the core of them, all told in sentences that skip along like a perfectly struck ground ball.”
—Matthew Salesses, author of The Hundred-Year Flood

“In this beautifully written debut novel, Theodore Wheeler takes us back to a crossroads in American history, a time full of the innocence of our childhood when the joys of simple pleasures were beginning to be tainted by the growing awareness of a darkness at the core of the American Dream. This is a novel for our time as we collectively face an uncertain future and ask ourselves how the daily shootings and injustices can be stopped. Wheeler possesses a powerful voice that reminds us that wrong doesn’t become merely historical, it lives forever, no matter how hard we try to erase the memory. Readers will learn from reading this novel, experience empathy and perhaps read the daily news with greater compassion. I recommend this novel be read and reread.”
—Jonis Agee, author of The Bones of Paradise

“In this marvelous debut novel, Theodore Wheeler’s clean and unsentimental prose takes us into the rough streets of Omaha’s River Ward at the end of the First World War. Wheeler skillfully wields historical facts and imagination to give life to immigrants and the sons of immigrants as they are swept up in American ways—from baseball and election politics to the tragic lynching of a black man named Will Brown. This is a book whose characters and scenes will stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page.”
—Mary Helen Stefaniak, author of The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia

“It is 1917 and Omaha is home to a diverse array of refugees and immigrants from war-torn European countries. Jake, Karel, and Evie are coming of age in a time of increasing nationalism, xenophobia, and political corruption. And with wounded soldiers returning from war but finding their jobs have been filled by black migrants from the south, Omaha now looks to be a tinderbox of racial resentment, gleefully stoked by the corrupt, moneyed politicians running the town. Wheeler masterfully creates multiple layers and hidden depths in these characters and the worlds they inhabit in restrained, yet powerful language. Intertwining scenes of the annual Interrace baseball game, a town navigating a false accusation that leads to the real-life lynch mob that burns down parts of Omaha in what is now called the Red Summer of 1919, and the characters’ acts of love and survival in all their complicated forms, Kings of Broken Things is heavy, yes, but will stay with you for a very long time. To quote PEN/Faulkner finalist Julie Iromuanya, ‘This book’s relevance, in the context of today’s concerns, cannot be overstated.'”
—Vivian Lee, Editor, Little A