The Breaking of Eggs

03 1 Breaking of Eggs montageREVIEWS

Peter Stothard, Times Online, 18 March 2010
‘I’ve read your blog but what’s The Breaking of Eggs book actually all about?’ was the complaint at Daunt Books on the Marylebone High Street in London last night … OK. Apologies for brevity and vagueness. I was just off the plane from the Berlin streets where some of the many fine parts of Jim Powell’s novel are set … Fortunately, I was able to say that this week’s TLS gives a fuller version by Lesley Chamberlain of why Powell’s book is worth the reading on any eastward plane journey – or any other journey.

Lesley Chamberlain, Times Literary Supplement, 19 March 2010
The Breaking of Eggs is a novel about middle age: not the strains on the body but on the inner life, the question of what it takes to survive. Feliks Zhukovski, who was born in Lódz, Poland, believes that his mother abandoned him when he was nine. He has made a competent life but never married; he lives for ideas and keeps people at arm’s length. The crisis begins when he realizes how lonely his days and nights are.     [read more]

John Mullan, Guardian, 25 February 2011, on ‘12 of the Best New Novelists’
I remember beginning Jim Powell’s The Breaking of Eggs and experiencing an unusual narrative voice that was neither inadequate nor self-consciously stylish, and a story that proceeded in traditional Greene-ian fashion, from self-delusion to disillusion. The narrator is a man in his 60s, living in Paris and subsisting on the travel guide to eastern Europe which, because of his communist sympathies, he has been editing for most of his adult life. With the collapse of communism, and a visit to his long-lost brother in the hated United States, his ideological convictions begin to crumble. Powell was one of our two chosen novelists over the age of 60 – like his protagonist. The fashion for literary showiness seemed to have passed him by.

Alex Clark, Guardian, 25 February 2011
The Breaking of Eggs by Jim Powell piques the interest from the first page. Its narrator is a 61-year-old Pole who has lived in Paris for most of his life, devoting himself to updating a guidebook to the communist countries of Europe. The novel moves cleverly between the comic, the serious and the terribly painful.

Leslie Reiner, Publishers Weekly, 28 June 2010
Jim Powell’s The Breaking of Eggs is the story of curmudgeonly Feliks Zhukovski, Polish by birth, Communist (make that ‘leftist’) at heart, who, at age 61, finds that just about everything he has based his life on is crumbling. Sole owner of a soon-to-be-outdated series of travel guides to Eastern Europe, Feliks, self-controlled and overly rational, falls ill and is forced by a chance remark (‘It’s always good to be at home when you are ill’) to confront the fact that he has no sense of home. With great charm, humor, and wisdom – and a vast amount of modern European history – Powell tells of Feliks’s rebirth from a political to an emotional creature. This story manages to take well-worn themes – the horrors of wars, the decisions made and misunderstood or regretted, the costs of political allegiances, the elasticity of families – and fashion them into a fresh, moving, and remarkable story. Unforgettable.

Rayyan Al-Shawaf, Boston Globe, 30 July 2010
‘When people said it was strange to construct the perfect society on a foundation of human bones, all you got was glib self-satisfied answers from the communists. Oh, they said, you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs… How callous. How inhuman.’ So wrote the indignant mother of Feliks Zhukovski, recounting her experiences in her native Poland after World War II, in a deathbed letter addressed to Feliks and his brother decades after the three of them had lost contact with one another during the war.     [read more]

Taylor Antrim, Daily Beast, 22 October 2010
One of my favorite things about Jim Powell’s peripatetic novel of politics, identity, and ‘home’ is that I can’t think of a single writer to compare him to. Graham Greene? Chang-Rae Lee? Jane Gardam? This is for sure: Powell, 61, briefly the mailboy for the Beatles (!) and for much of his life an ad man for a London firm, doesn’t write like a kid with a freshly minted MFA – no spiky dialogue or resonant descriptions of angled sunlight. Instead we get the leisurely, urbane, yet oddly gripping narration of Feliks Zhukovski, a 61-year-old ex-Communist Parisian bachelor who sees his political convictions fall apart through a cascading series of events in 1991.  [read more]

Julia Keller, Chicago Tribune, 17 August 2010
Feliks Zhukovski, narrator of the engaging new novel The Breaking of Eggs by Jim Powell, spends most of his life in transit. Feliks is the author of a travel guide to the countries of Eastern Europe, an area of the world which, at the moment Feliks begins publishing in 1955, still staggers beneath the brutal, oppressive rule of what was then the Soviet Union. He is a man on the move, but not really. Because for all of his trips between his Paris apartment and places such as Budapest and Prague to update the guide, Feliks doesn’t budge. He’s frozen in the past, locked inside the memory of being abandoned by his mother as the Nazis advanced on Poland in 1939. Outward motion, inward stasis. If your lead character is emotionally stunted and you want to whip up an instant batch of irony, then you can’t go wrong by making that character a travel writer. It’s a can’t-miss metaphor. Like a good budget hotel for vacationers who are watching their pennies, it’s easy and accessible.     [read more]

John McFarland, Shelf Awareness, 19 July 2010
Feliks Zhukovski has lived in the same Paris apartment for decades without really knowing the landlady who lives across the hall. He has written and published an annual tourist guidebook to the countries of the Eastern Bloc for as many years as he has lived in that apartment. His daily life has been admirably predictable, the same year in and year out. In Jim Powell’s thoroughly engaging debut novel, we meet Feliks at the beginning of 1991, when the USSR has collapsed, the Berlin Wall has been rubble for more than a year and a wave of change is sweeping former Eastern Bloc countries. At the age of 61, Feliks realizes in shock, ‘For my whole adult life, I had subscribed to an ideology that advocated change, radical change, as the solution to society’s problems. Yet I did not welcome change in my own life. I resisted it.’     [read more]

Kerryn Goldsworthy, Sydney Morning Herald, 26 June 2010
The life of Feliks Zhukovski so far has been determined by the decisions of other people or the events of history and he has responded passively to a pushy fate for the whole 60 years of his life. Sent in the nick of time out of his native Poland by his Jewish mother to a reluctant aunt and uncle in Switzerland in 1939, the nine-year-old Feliks has lost all track of his family and the end of World War II finds him a young man alone in Paris, committed to the Communist Party.     [read more]

Thomas Gaughan, Booklist Magazine, 15 April 2010
Powell’s delightful debut novel is by turns winsome and moving. Feliks is an indelible character, and the people who enter his life tell remarkable stories of the suffering that fascism and communism visited on Europe. The Breaking of Eggs is a book that thoughtful readers won’t soon forget.

Larry Thornberry, American Spectator, 27 July 2010
This impressive first novel is part coming of age story and part spy story, with a primer on 20th century European history thrown in. History at the most personal, small-picture level. It’s also about redemption, second chances, and what home means… A strength of the novel is that it sheds light on the great themes and tragedies of the 20th century, especially the almost unfathomable horror that was World War II, in a very personal way through the life of one family.

Toni Whitmont, Booktopia, 1 June 2010
The year is 1991 and 61-year-old Feliks Zhukovski, an expatriate Pole who lives in Paris, finds himself in a crumbling world. Having escaped the war and joined the Communist party in France, he has lived his life virtually alone, eking out a living with his travel guides to eastern bloc countries, countries which reflect his own hopes and ideals. Now the unthinkable has happened. The Berlin Wall has come down, and an American company wants to take over and modernize his precious publications.     [read more]

Finally, a review from the online community: Keris Nine,, 10 May 2010
What is most extraordinary about Jim Powell’s novel is not just its ambition, but the modest means through which The Breaking of Eggs covers that vast range of human experience that defines the world we live in today. It’s through the simple yet contradictory character of Feliks Zhukovski that Powell finds the perfect perspective to view the modern world, consider how we have arrived there and contemplate where we are likely to go. A 61 year-old man of Polish origin living in Paris in 1991, Feliks has witnessed the seismic changes that have come about after the collapse of the Iron Curtain and the fall of Soviet bloc Communism, but while the world moves on and takes it all in its stride, Feliks finds it much harder to redefine himself and his place within this new world.     [read more]