Virgil Wander

An enchanting and timeless all-American story.

by Leif Enger
Grove Press
Atlantic Monthly Press

The first novel in ten years from award-winning, million-copy bestselling author Leif Enger, Virgil Wander follows the inhabitants of a Midwestern town in their quest to revive its flagging heart.

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 320
  • Publication Date August 20, 2019
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4712-7
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $18.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Page Count 320
  • Publication Date October 02, 2018
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2878-2
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $27.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Publication Date October 02, 2018
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4668-7
  • US List Price $0.00

Author Biography

Leif Enger

Leif Enger grew up in Osakis, Minnesota, and worked as a reporter for Minnesota Public Radio before writing his bestselling debut novel Peace Like a River, which won the Booksense Award for Fiction and was named one of the Year’s Best Books by Time Magazine and the Los Angeles Times. His second novel, So Brave, Young, and Handsome, was also a national bestseller. It was a Midwest Booksellers Honor Book, and won the High Plains Book Award for Fiction. His third novel Virgil Wander was longlisted for the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, and was named a best book of the year by Amazon, Library Journal, Bookpage, and Chicago Public Library. He lives with his wife in Duluth, MN.

Read More About Leif Enger

About the Book

Midwestern movie house owner Virgil Wander is “cruising along at medium altitude” when his car flies off the road into icy Lake Superior. Virgil survives but his language and memory are altered and he emerges into a world no longer familiar to him. Awakening in this new life, Virgil begins to piece together his personal history and the lore of his broken town, with the help of a cast of affable and curious locals—from Rune, a twinkling, pipe-smoking, kite-flying stranger investigating the mystery of his disappeared son; to Nadine, the reserved, enchanting wife of the vanished man, to Tom, a journalist and Virgil’s oldest friend; and various members of the Pea family who must confront tragedies of their own. Into this community returns a shimmering prodigal son who may hold the key to reviving their town.

With intelligent humor and captivating whimsy, Leif Enger conjures a remarkable portrait of a region and its residents, who, for reasons of choice or circumstance, never made it out of their defunct industrial district. Carried aloft by quotidian pleasures including movies, fishing, necking in parked cars, playing baseball and falling in love, Virgil Wander is a swift, full journey into the heart and heartache of an often overlooked American Upper Midwest by a “formidably gifted” (Chicago Tribune) master storyteller.

Tags: Literary


for Virgil Wander

“Enger deserves to be mentioned alongside the likes of Richard Russo and Thomas McGuane. Virgil Wander is a lush crowd-pleaser about meaning and second chances and magic. And in these Trumpian times, isn’t that just the kind of book and protagonist we’re all searching for?”—New York Times Book Review

“[Virgil Wander] brings out the charm and downright strangeness of the defiantly normal.” Wall Street Journal

“Enger is a writer to be appreciated by anyone who cares about words. The book is full of little gems.”—Seattle Times

“You can be sure you’ve been expertly led into the realm of fiction where everything is possible, and ‘just because a thing is poetry,’ as Rune tells Virgil, ‘didn’t mean it never happened in the actual world, or that it couldn’t happen still.’”—Minneapolis Star Tribune

“The focus of [Enger’s] bright and breathing third novel feels mostly like life itself, in all its smallness and bigness, and what it means to live a good one.”Booklist (starred review)

Virgil Wander is a fast-paced, humorous and mystical novel about hope, friendship, love and the relationship between a two and its people.”BookPage (top pick)

“Surprises and delights throughout; definitely worth waiting for.”Library Journal (starred review)

“There is something like comfort and grace in Virgil’s story… A contemplative, comforting novel.”—Iowa Gazette

“Incredible and improbable, and totally wonderful. I love this book.”—Sally Wizik Wills, Beagle and Wolf Books & Bindery

“A fateful encounter with Lake Superior sets in motion a lovely tale that unfolds, the story of Virgil Wander that is Virgil Wander. He and the people who inhabit this small town make it an earnestly, if occasionally wayward, lived in place. It all comes off with a grace refreshing to behold.”—Rick Simonson, Elliott Bay Book Company

“This magical story set in the Midwest is on my very short list for favorite books of 2018! Leif Enger’s first book, Peace Like a River established him as a gifted storyteller. In “Virgil Wander” he continues to demonstrate his ability to weave an exceptional story out of ordinary people and places. He imbues his cast of flawed characters with a sweetness and optimism that is believable and refreshing. Even the dark moments shine with hope, faith, and a belief that doing what’s right is always the best choice despite the potential for failure and loss.”—Adrian Newell, Warwick’s

“A raft of booksellers have stolen my thunder in praising Virgil Wander, so I’ll just add a personal note: thanks, Leif, for reminding me that my native but long-abandoned Midwest is not populated by cardboard cutouts wearing MAGA hats but human beings of life, blood, and oh-so-much character.”—Ezra Goldstein, Community Bookstore

“Leif Enger’s dazzling new novel, Virgil Wander, has that perfect blend of a wonderful sense of place (our very own Minnesota!), quirky characters, and a delightful story. Our Midwestern readers are the perfect audience for this book, and I can’t wait to put it personally in their hands this fall.”—David Enyeart, Common Good Books

“There are very few books these days whose sole purpose is to remind you of the delight found in communities in small-town America. Leif Enger, author of Peace Like a River, brings humor and keen insight to a charming set of characters, each who remind us of how we can find kindness, forgiveness and second chances if we find time for each other. A true charmer of a book, perfect for fans of A Man Called Ove or Less.” –Casey Protti, Bookshop Santa Cruz

“Reading Leif Enger feels like settling in to hear an old friend tell you an amazing and engaging story. With his authentic, conversational voice, Enger returns to the same quirky and whimsical Midwestern characters who made his first novel Peace Like a River so endearing. These people are familiar–even if you’ve never actually known an owner of a fading, small-town theater, the eponymous Virgil Wander, who almost burns down his home and business in his concussed state after accidentally driving his car off a cliff. Or a one-game wonder of a minor league pitcher who disappears on a small plane, leaving behind his beautiful wife and son. There’s mystery and magic, fish tales and kite flying. The situations in the novel may be unusual, but the characters’ reactions are not. Enger’s explorations of loss and rebirth get to the heart of what makes us all human. Virgil Wander is a transformative delight.”—Shirley Wells, Watermark Books & Cafe

“Writing with love, care and a bit of whimsy, the inhabitants of a small Minnesota town bordering on Lake Superior come to life. Enger’s first book after ten years is a joy to read.”—Deborah Margeson, Douglas County Libraries

“After surviving a near fatal car crash, movie house owner Virgil Wander begins to re-examine his work, his friendships, and life. A true character driven novel depicting the perfect snapshot of a small midwestern town while capturing the likes of a Norman Rockwell painting. A simple story about a little Minnesota community with a big heart. For those who enjoy reading Fredrik Backman.”—KC Davis, Fairfield Woods Library

“The characters make the plot in this quiet and addictive story that left me smiling. I will be recommending this quite a lot, to a wide range of readers. Can you tell I loved it?!”—MarySue Waterman, Westport Library

“This character driven book, set in northern Minnesota, is good for fans of A Man Called Ove. When the story starts, Virgil Wander has just survived a life-threatening car accident and is just beginning to mend. We meet the different townspeople who all aid in his recovery as he works to reconnect with his life and to move forward in a more meaningful way.”—Linda Quinn, Fairfield Public Library

“A charming story of lives and loves, lost and found in a hard luck Midwestern town. With endearing characters and beautiful, unhurried writing, this novel, the author’s first in ten years, is well worth the wait.”—Susan Balla, Fairfield Public Library

“Virgil Wander’s world is completely off kilter after a serious car accident. His journey back to health and happiness is an absolute delight. Leif Enger’s writing is perfection.” Mary Coe, Fairfield Woods Branch Library

“A beautifully written slice of life with memorable characters. Worth the wait for another book by Enger.”—Sherry Fritzsche, Bank Square Books

“Virgil Wander, the title character of Leif Enger’s evocative new novel, drives his car off a cliff and into Lake Superior outside the Minnesota town he’s always called home. Shaken and unbalanced after being rescued, he re-engages with life differently than his former self, the “previous tenant,” would have. Then, when a gentle old kite-flying man appears looking for a long-lost prodigal son, a chain of events both charming and tragic unspools in this hard-luck town. A shaggy movie palace, a giant sturgeon, lots of strange kites, artisanal neon signs, and a downcast yet endearing supporting cast all populate Enger’s wonderful, heartwarming novel.”—Danny Caine, The Raven Bookstore

Virgil Wander is one of those rare books that tells you a serious story – sad, even – while creating a delightful reading experience. Every single character, every scene, every moment is perfectly drawn in language that’s down-to-earth but exuberantly literate. I just adored it and didn’t want it to end.” –Christie Olson Day, Gallery Bookshop

“Enger’s language reminds you that you’re in the hands of one of our best writers. Virgil Wander offers characters who are curious and charismatic in a story that’s timely yet timeless. Kites and movies, fathers who go missing, others who appear, fishing, lost and regained words – Leif Enger weaves them all into a meaningful, beautiful whole.”—Nick Petrulakis, Books Inc.

“A charming story of lives and loves, lost and found in a hard luck Midwestern town. With endearing characters and beautiful, unhurried writing, this novel, the author’s first in ten years, is well worth the wait.”—Susan Balla, Fairfield Public Library

“Here is an author we can trust and who we are willing to follow anywhere…[Enger’s] the type of writer that other writers read, and die a little.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“Enger has written a novel that’s boldly romantic and unabashedly appealing…it’s a journey you simply must not miss.”—Christian Science Monitor

“One of the most wondrous books I’ve read in recent years… [reminiscent of] John Irving’s A Prayer of Owen Meany, another novel infused with transformative magic.”—Charlotte Observer

“What could be unbelievable becomes extraordinary in Enger’s hands…Amazing.”—Miami Herald


“Who’s your boy then?” I inquired again. “Maybe I know him – it’s a small town.”

Again he ignored me. In fact he began to hum, an awkward surprise. First conversations are clumsy enough without the other person humming. It isn’t Midwestern behavior. It isn’t even really adult behavior. Later Orry would call it Winnie the Pooh behavior and that’s as close as I can come. He hummed and he puffed and he did something miniature with his feet, like a blackbird keeping its balance on a tin roof, then turned and asked in a tone of courteous pleasure whether I’d care to stay and launch the kite he had brought, a kite of his own design he had carried a great long distance to fly over Lake Superior, the mightiest freshwater sea in the world.

“No wind,” I pointed out.

“Not yet,” he agreed in a tone of mild aggravation, as though the wind were being delivered by UPS. He took the kite from under his arm and shook it out. I hadn’t flown one in thirty years and was ambushed by a sneaky sense of longing.

“It’s good in the air, this one,” Rune mused. “Not that it behaves. No no! Its manners are very terrible! But what a flyer!”

As if hearing its name the kite woke riffling in his hands.

Reading Group Guide

1. Virgil’s spectacular sail off the road into Lake Superior is the inciting force of this novel. How does the catastrophe structure the novel, for Virgil and the townspeople?

2. Virgil muses often about the kindness or cruelty of women. Who are the women he contemplates or fantasizes about, and how do they respond to him—as friends, mother figures, lovers?

3. What are the odds stacked against the people of Greenstone? Some would say this is a complicated, even disenchanted time in America. How does the book affirm or dispute this view of the country?

4. Greenstone feels like any American town that has been passed over or forgotten. Why are so many novelists and playwrights fascinated by small-town America? What ideas do they allow us to explore? What other novels, plays, or films explore similar themes?

5. Enger has a flair for eccentric characters. What makes them memorable? How are they quintessentially human, for good or for ill?

6.What is the symbolism of the kites and their effect on the fliers? Why is kite-flying so addictive to some characters?

7. How does the loss of Rune’s son reverberate through the novel? How is he represented and mythologized throughout the novel?

8. Discuss the cache of old films and the way gatherings and friendships grow around them. What do they mean to Virgil? How culpable was he in keeping them? Why does he finally return the contraband and what ensues?

9. What does Adam Leer represent in the novel and how is this demonstrated to the reader? Is Leer an archetypal character of motiveless malignity like Iago from Othello, or something more complex?

10. How do Virgil and Rune change as they recover from their respective injuries? How do other characters help in their recoveries, and how do their chosen activities help them regain their footing?

11. Reread pages 262-264. What are the main themes and imagery in this passage, and how is Virgil moving toward resolution? How is Bjorn important to the process, as well as Nadine?

Suggestions for Further
ReadingPeace Like a River by Leif Enger; So Brave, Young, and Handsome by Leif Enger; Plainsong by Kent Haruf; A River Runs Through It by Norman MacLean; Empire Falls by Richard Russo; Ninety-two in the Shade by Thomas McGuane; The Shipping News by Annie Proulx; The Moviegoer by Walker Percy; Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler; The Dog of the South by Charles Portis; Frankenstein by Mary Shelley; Metamorphoses by Ovid; The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka