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About the book
  • Published: 3 February 2014
  • ISBN: 9780099586982
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 400
  • RRP: $22.99

The Flamethrowers

An extraordinarily ambitious big American novel about a young artist and the worlds she encounters in New York and Rome in the mid-1970s - by turns underground, elite, dangerous


Reno mounts her motorcycle and sets a collision course for New York.

In 1977 the city is alive with art, sensuality and danger. She falls in with a bohemian clique colonising downtown and the lines between reality and performance begin to bleed.

A passionate affair with the scion of an Italian tyre empire carries Reno to Milan, where she is swept along by the radical left and drawn into a spiral of violence and betrayal.

The Flamethrowers is an audacious novel that explores the perplexing allure of femininity, fakery and fear. In Reno we encounter a heroine like no other.

Best Books of the Year:
* Guardian * New York Times * The Times * Observer * Financial Times * New Yorker * Telegraph * Slate * Oprah * Vogue * Time * Scotsman * Evening Standard *

Shortlisted for the National Book Awards 2013

  • Pub date: 3 February 2014
  • ISBN: 9780099586982
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 400
  • RRP: $22.99

About the Author

Rachel Kushner

Rachel Kushner’s debut novel, Telex from Cuba, was a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award and a New York Times bestseller. Her follow-up novel, The Flamethrowers, was also a finalist for the National Book Award and received rave reviews on both sides of the Atlantic. Her fiction has appeared in the New Yorker, Harper’s and the Paris Review. She lives in Los Angeles.

Also by Rachel Kushner

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Praise for The Flamethrowers

“Scintillatingly alive... It ripples with stories, anecdotes, set-piece monologues, crafty egotistical tall tales, and hapless adventures”

James Wood, New Yorker

“Kushner is rapidly emerging as a thrilling and prodigious novelist”

Jonathan Franzen

“One of the most thrilling and high-octane literary experiences I have had in ages”

Colum McCann, Sunday Independent

“It's so good, it's a little frightening… it makes any fretting over the state of the novel look plain silly”


“An adrenalin-fuelled coming-of-age novel”

Sunday Telegraph

“Unfolds on a bigger, brighter screen than nearly any recent American novel I can remember”

New York Times

“An ambitious and serious American novel. The sentences are sharp and gorgeously made. The scope is wide. The political and the personal are locked in a deep and fascinating embrace”

Colm Tóibín

“Dazzling... The Flamethrowers is a virtuoso performance; a ride of ache and pleasure, handled with pinpoint command”

The Times

“This glittering novel is both carefully structured and exhilarating”

Daily Telegraph

“Rachel Kushner’s fearless, blazing prose ignites the 70s New York art scene and Italian underground”

Vanity Fair

“A bright burning flame of a novel”


“The Flamethrowers is a strange, fascinating beast of a novel, brimming with ideas, and sustained by the muscular propulsion of Kushner’s prose… Kushner emerges as a wildly gifted artist filling a sketchbook with thrilling, eye-catching scenes”

Robert Collins, Sunday Times

“There is an exhilarating freedom to Kushner’s writing… Taut, vividly intelligent prose”

David Wolf, Prospect

“Sparky and inventive...a riot of a novel”

Daily Mail

“Ms Kushner’s kaleidoscopic prose carries the novel’s shifts in location and person, and the fast-paced rhythm harnesses the thrill of adventure”


“Swells with a daunting bravado”

Irish Times

“Oscillating between the hedonistic New York art world and Italy in the midst of the Years of Lead, The Flamethrowers is that rare thing, a novel that uses recent history not as a picturesque backdrop but as a way of interrogating the present. Kushner's urgent prose and psychological acuity make this one of the most compelling and enjoyable novels I've read this year”

Hari Kunzru

“The controlled intensity and perception in Rachel Kushner's novels mark her as one of the most brilliant writers of the new century. She's going to be one we turn to for our serious pleasures and for the insight and wisdom we'll be needing in hard times to come. Rachel Kushner is a novelist of the very first order. The Flamethrowers follows Telex from Cuba as a masterful work”

Robert Stone

“The Flamethrowers lives up to its incendiary title – it is a brilliant, startling truly revolutionary book about the New York art world of the seventies, Italian class warfare, and youth's blind acceleration into the unknown. Kushner is a genius prose stylist, and her Reno is one of the most fully realized protagonists I've ever encountered, moving fluidly from the fringe of the fringe movement to the center of the action. I want to recommend this stunning book to everyone I know”

Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia!

“Rachel Kushner writes dazzling, sexy, glorious prose. She is as brilliant on men and motorcycles as she is on art and film. The Flamethrowers is an ambitious and powerful novel.”

Dana Spiotta, author of Eat the Document and Stone Arabia

“A high-wire performance worthy of Philippe Petit... Hang on: this is a trip you don’t want to miss”

Ron Charles, Washington Post

“Wow! What a book! I'm eager for everyone I know to read it. It's an example of the very best in contemporary fiction…a contemporary masterpiece, and it wants you all to read it”

Josh Ferris

“A dazzlingly exciting novel... This is a deeply intelligent and engaging novel that uses all the virtues of old-fashioned storytelling to celebrate the triumphs and absurdities of new-fangled art”

Jake Kerridge, Sunday Express

“The Flamethrowers has gained praise from Jonathan Franzen and drawn comparisons with Patti Smith's Just Kids as it epically leaps between the New York art scene of the late 1970s and Italy in the midst of revolution... An essential summer read”


“Exhilirating, psychologically complex, and perfectly intense, this is a thrilling contemporary novel likely to become a cultural touchstone”


“A brilliant lightning bolt of a novel”

Maud Newton, NPR

“In this extremely bold, swashbuckling novel, romantic and disillusioned at once, intellectually daring and even subversive, Rachel Kushner has created the most beguiling American ingénue abroad, well, maybe ever: Daisy Miller as a sharply observant yet vulnerable Reno-raised motorcycle racer and aspiring artist, set loose in gritty 70s New York and the Italy of the Red Brigades”

Francisco Goldman, author of Say Her Name



“Rachel Kushner's The Flamethrowers is remarkable for its expansiveness and for its exhilarating succession of ideas”

Mark West, The List

“National Book Award finalist Rachel Kushner brings NYC's art scene to life so well in The Flamethrowers you could get high off the paint”

Entertainment Weekly

“Fast-paced, sexy and smart”


“Electric...addictive...smart and satisfying”

Oprah Magazine

“Captivating and compelling”

The Bookbag

“This is a work of ferocious energy and imaginative verve, straining at the seams with ideas, riffs, jokes, set-pieces, belly-laughs, horror and heartbreak”


“Kushner writes with authority, passion and humour, her characters richly drawn and her story packed with delicious anecdotes and side lines from a wide array of memorable characters”

Tracy Eynon, We Love This Book

“Sexy and brilliant”

Sunday Times Style



“Kushner's second novel comes loaded with recommendations and it's easy to see why…highly unusual and written with great seriousness and potency”


“It manages to relate the art scene in 1970s New York to the Red Brigades in Italy, with lots of motorbikes thrown in”

Nick Barley, Herald

“Kushner’s writing is a kind of marvel”

Richard Fitzpatrick, Irish Examiner

“This novel has undeniable force and power… it’s beautifully written”

Tim Martin, Telegraph

“You can feel the wind whipping through your hair, your pulse racing, as Kushner’s daring heroine, Reno, motorcycles across salt flats and down city streets, on the prowl for art, for love, for a cause”

The Oprah Magazine

“Kushner’s take on 1970s radicalism, art and politics is a big, absorbing read”

Financial Times

“A self-consciously cool mash-up of motorbikes, art and unpleasant Italian politics”

Nick Curtis, Evening Standard

“In fiction I enjoyed Rachel Kushner's The Flamethrowers for its style and its daring”

Colm Toibin, Observer

“The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner manages to connect the art scene in New York in the 1970s with the Red Brigades in Italy, through the medium of motorcycles and drag car racing. Ambitious and beautifully written, it is one of the more surprising books I have read this year”

Gordon Brewer, Scotsman

“Introducing a fresh new voice”

Justine Jordan, Guardian Online

“A left-field and potentially ludicrous literary concept – a multigenerational transcontinental historical epic built around a speed-freak biker heroine – is executed with élan by American novelist Rachel Kushner … Genius”

Kevin Maher, The Times

“The novel, Kushner’s second, deploys mordant observations and chiseled sentences to explore how individuals are swept along by implacable social forces”

New York Times

“A Bildungsroman set against the violence of the 20th century, The Flamethrowers is less a litmus test for misogyny than a standard for the recent historical novel”

Hannah Rosefield, Literary Review

“It should've won the National Book Award... It is second to none”

New York Magazine

“Some of the prose is as thrilling as riding a motorbike on a mountain road with no lights”

Nicky Dunne, Evening Standard

“Has the kind of poise, wariness and moral graininess that puts you in mind of weary-souled visionaries like Robert Stone or Joan Didion”

Dwight Garner, New York Times

“For a while last spring it seemed like every single person I knew in New York was reading The Flamethrowers, which is normally enough to put me off a book, but in this case I did read it and found that its ubiquity was more than justified. Then in September I happened to visit the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, where one of its most memorable set-pieces takes place, and I wanted to read it all over again. If I say it captures a young woman's experience of the downtown art world in the 1970s, I'm going to make it sound boring, but in fact it's superbly enjoyable”

Ned Beauman, Esquire

“Much of what makes this book so magnificent is Kushner's astonishing observational powers; she seems to work with a muse and a nail gun, so surprisingly yet forcefully do her sentences pin reality to the page. I was pinned there too –– BEST BOOK OF 2013”

Kathryn Schulz, New York Magazine

“A terrific, gripping, poetic book... Kushner's meandering plot and pacy pose has completely won me over”

Thomas Quinn, Big Issue

“Kushner’s prose dazzles with invention”

Emily Rhodes, Spectator

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