Brittani Sonnenberg

Brittani Sonnenberg was raised across three continents and has worked as a journalist in Germany, China, and throughout Southeast Asia. A graduate of Harvard, she received her MFA in fiction from the University of Michigan. Her fiction has been published in The O. Henry Prize Stories 2008 as well as Ploughshares, Short Fiction, and Asymptote. Her nonfiction has appeared in Time, Associated Press, Minneapolis Star Tribune, and NPR Berlin. Home Leave is her first novel. Visit her website here. 



Chris Kriegstein is a man on the move, with a career that takes his family across North America, Europe, and Asia. For his wife, Elise, the hardship of chronic relocation is soothed by the allure of reinvention. Over the years, Elise shape-shifts: once a secretive Southern Baptist, she finds herself becoming a seasoned expat in Shanghai, an unapologetic adulterer in Thailand, and, finally, a renowned interior decorator in Madison with a knack for intuiting her clients’ own journeys.

But it’s the Kriegstein children, Leah and Sophie, who face the most tumult.  Fiercely protective of each other–but also fiercely competitive–the two sisters long for stability, for normalcy in an ever-changing environment.

When the family suffers an unimaginable loss, they can’t help but wonder: Was it meant to be, or did one decision change their lives forever? And what does it mean when home is everywhere and nowhere at the same time? With humor and heart, Brittani Sonnenberg chases this wildly loveable family through the excitement and worry of their adventures around the world, and investigates the terrible and exquisite endurance of human attachment to people and place.

“Sonnenberg writes about expatriate life with an easy authority…[She] is most interesting when she allows herself flights into the otherworldly. A house that longs for the family which once occupied it narrates the opening section. Sonnenberg introduces these stylistics conceits slyly…In the elegiac final third of Home Leave, daughter Leah emerges as the book’s emotional core…this sets up an interesting contrast between the psychologies of mom and daughter: one never wanting to be fully known, the other never expecting to be found familiar. It’s a dynamic that whets the appetitie for what’s to come in American expat literature.”—Megan Hustad, The New York Times Book Review (“Editor’s Choice”)

“[A] compelling debut…[Home Leave] reveals a dialectical truth about families; they are places of joyous hope, and also crushing loneliness.”Los Angeles Review of Books

“It’s hard to believe that this astonishing novel is Brittani Sonnenberg’s first–she writes about family with such wisdom, humor, and native daring. Here is Persephone’s journey, undertaken by an entire family, the Kriegsteins, who ricochet through time zones, moving from Berlin to Singapore to Wisconsin to Bombay to Atlanta, together and alone. Rotating through characters and continents with fluid assurance, Sonnenberg explores how temporary stays and layovers can aggregate into a family’s entire story, and how a “home” can become an abstraction, the mythic archipelago of “the good years…as if we came from our joy.” Sonnenberg’s prose is so vital and so enchanting that you will read this book in the dilated state of a world-traveler, with all of your senses wide open. Her family members are so well-drawn and complex that you’ll close this book certain they exist.”—Karen Russell, Author of Vampires in the Lemon Grove, Swamplandia!, and St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves  

“Utterly convincing in its observations and confusions, Home Leave captures the realities of a globetrotting life with aplomb and poignancy.  What a marvel!”—Gish Jen

“The lucidity of Sonnenberg’s prose…is notable for its stark honesty and sharply-observed details…[An] ambitious debut.”Kirkus Reviews

“Sonnenberg delivers a sympathetic, funny debut…[She] eloquently illustrates the challenges and rewards of expat life.”Publisher’s Weekly

Home Leave is a remarkable debut, notable for the insightful intimacy of its characterization and a restless formal invention which perfectly evokes the uncertainties of expatriate life.”—Peter Ho Davies, author of The Welsh Girl

“Home Leave is a rich, lively novel.  Original in conception and set in various continents, it describes migrations as a contemporary existential condition.  More importantly, it shows how this condition effects change, loss, and growth in the migrants.  It offers many insights that are true.Ha Jin, author of Waiting, The Crazed, War Trash, A Free Lifeand Nanjing Requiem

“A captivating Tour de Force that follows a nomadic family across generations and continents.”–Wim Wenders

“Brittani Sonnenberg, like the best storytellers, shows us what we carry and what we leave behind as we travel across time zones (from America to Germany to India, China, Singapore), as we sit in airports, alone with the aloneness, as we love, live, grieve, and then try to live once more. Authentic, beautiful, bravely-told, Home Leave is alive with characters you want to protect and hold—characters you won’t want to leave behind.”—Nami Mun, author of Miles from Nowhere  

Rights: Grand Central, North America; Judith Murray at Greene & Heaton, UK; Arche Verlag, Germany; AST, Russia