Russell Todaro, a young American translator, moves to Paris to take stock of his life only to further lose himself in the surprising twists fate has in store for him. One night, two men waving guns and knives break and enter his Paris hotel room, terrorizing Russell and his much older companion, a famous American poet named Edward Cannon. The intruders, not finding what they seemingly expected, leave without further incident but the baffling, traumatic events overwhelm Cannon who dies in his sleep later that night. Now Russell is left to ponder the meaning of the attack.
'A young American translator staying at an Italian novelist's Tuscan villa recalls both his recently deceased boyfriend and a better-loved predecessor. Like a Henry James character, the American attempts to navigate European literary and political intrigue' The New York Times Book Review
'The themes behind Olshan's plot - reputation, innocence, the fate of a manuscript and the effects of money – are Jamesian, as is the lingering evocation of the Tuscan palazzo.... His real strengths lie in his skill at mapping failed or failing relationships and his almost psychotherapeutic interest in the uncoiling of the tangle of guilt, inhibition and fear of emotional surrender that holds his protagonists back from happiness' Independent
'Olshan's crisp, satisfying new novel follows American translator and author Russell Todaro, a Jewish gay man who becomes embroiled in the death and ensuing scandal of a former lover. Set against a plush and evocatively described European backdrop, Olshan has produced a compelling story of forbidden desire, deception, religion and love's intoxicating allure' Publishers Weekly
'In Joseph Olshan's intelligent new novel, his eighth, it's the spirit of Henry James -- of The Aspern Papers, for instance, and The Lesson of the Master – that hovers over the historic Tuscan villa in which much of the story takes place. There's much to admire in The Conversion, not least the clean and nuanced elegance of Olshan's prose.... [He] explores with depth, as did Henry James, the ways in which all human motives are far from transparent. Olshan's Russell is a terrific creation, a man who wants to be converted by love but is unable to recognize, at least at first, his own disabling complexities' Washington Post