Jessica Keener

STRANGERS IN BUDAPEST now out in paperback - from Algonquin Books

"A rare achievement for an American novel of this international emphasis" Best New Books," Entertainment Weekly

"Masterly...her writing sparkles...Strangers in Budapest doesn't exoticize or patronize its location; rather, in a rare achievement for an American novel of this international emphasis, it revels in the complexity of its appeal." "Best New Books," Entertainment Weekly

"In her tense and atmospheric thriller, Strangers in Budapest...establishes a definitive sense of time and place, makes a sensitive portrait of expat life, and examines ideas of what we lose, where we find home, and how love can and cannot survive."
Boston Sunday Globe

"Lyrical and Lovely, Strangers In Budapest is a memorable and haunting read." Best Books 2017 - January Magazine

"Most impressive, however, is Keener’s Budapest, a rough-edged, darkly beautiful city rushing into the future. It makes for an ideal place in which to explore themes of loss, love, and the courage required to come to terms with the past—courage that “was easy to ponder as long as you didn’t have to do anything about it,” Jewish Book Council, Jonathan Arlan

Strangers in Budapest chosen for "Best new books for November" Chicago Review of Books

“Full of seduction and intrigue, this thrilling novel is a perfect homage to a city in transition.” Real Simple, #3, "Best new books to read" November.

“A slow burn of an international psychological thriller." Library Journal

"Part mystery, part modern history, part character study, Keener’s multi-layered tale reveals the power of the past to haunt the present. It’s mesmerizing." The Dayton Jewish Observer (May 2018)

"Combines strong characters with a riveting plot to craft a memorable novel" Publishers Weekly

"This haunting, beautifully written story emerges from the shadows and narrow streets of Budapest and its historic mysteries to raise intriguing questions about the power of the past, grief, guilt, the endurance of pain and whether redemption is a worthy goal." Hadassah Magazine

"With chills lurking around each corner...a perfect page-turner for late autumn." Boston Magazine

"Keener expertly weaves together a story that not only showcases an expat life, but also shares the tragedies, memories and grudges of strangers in a beautiful city who are more connected than they have come to believe." Book Page

“In Keener’s Strangers in Budapest, the city is as much a character as any, and as Annie and others begin to cave under its crumbling weight, what’s revealed where East meets West is a story about the implacability of the past—present, progress, and denials notwithstanding.” —Foreword Reviews

"Gorgeously told and deeply moving" Caroline Leavitt, NY Times bestselling author


photo by Roger Gordy

I have many interests--nature, people, home design, books, music, travel--but in the end, all these things converge and root back to one thing that I find compelling: how we relate to ourselves and to others. In my writing, I love unraveling interpersonal sagas and exploring how people reshape their histories in a hopeful, life-altering way. I believe we're all vessels of history, imagined or real. What drives people to make choices, good or bad? Writing is my way of delving into the complex nature of humanity.

I'm also fascinated by how people define their personal nesting grounds. Check out my blog: Confessions of a Hermit Crab for photo essays related to this subject.

Most of us harbor secrets, consciously or unconsciously. Fiction is one way to shine light on these emotional caves we all have inside us.

And, then, there's my long-standing interest in health that comes from my early experience with a life-threatening illness, and as a recipient of an experimental bone marrow transplant (I'm talking late '70s here). I was one of the first. My story, Recovery, was inspired by this transformative event and won Redbook's second prize in fiction.

Best wishes,


"Like the adults in Rick Moody's Ice Storm," the central couple in this novel of 1970s suburbia are remote alcoholics. "Love was something distant that retired to a room on the second floor," Sarah, he 16-year-old narrator, says, referring to her stay-st-home yet absentee mother. This is a woman who makes a divot in the soil for her drink glass while tending her roses...This earnest debut centers on Sarah as she tunnels through new depths of loneliness...moving."
"Keener’s prose is spectacular, almost poetic. I found myself rereading many of the passages just to experience the beauty of her written word. She gives the reader the gift of a wonderful, honest, coming-of-age story. At just under 300 pages it is not a long read, but one that will resonate. "
“vivid…dreamlike quality. Keener's evocation of a young woman coming into her own is … moving.”
"Keener’s observations perfectly capture a certain kind of 1970s adolescence: the adults who tried too hard, the sudden appearance of a joint when in the presence of older cousins, the way a grownup party could spin from fun to disturbing in a blink. Most exhilaratingly, she taps into the thrilling moments when a girl of 16 can see her future, whether in music or books or a boy’s smile. Sarah watches her mother’s rose garden after her death. Like her children, some “bloomed haphazardly while some wilted,’’ a living symbol of what goes on, no matter what."
"Rooted in personal sorrow, this memorable debut will strike a universal chord with readers: "Life was full of befores and afters."
"Keener understands deeply that scene writing creates powerful moments for her characters. We learn of Sarah’s irritation, fear, reticence, and desire not through discussion, but through her actions and interactions with others. And Keener’s writing is lovely; she manages to build sentences that are both precise and ornate. While Keener’s Night Swim tells of a girl who has lost her bearings, her hold on her novel is both assured and poised."
"Jessica Keener's debut novel Night Swim is a masterfully told tale. Dysfunctional family dynamics are revealed in language evocative and honest, and her characters so well-drawn they could be our own kin. The emotional depth of this novel has me constantly recommending it to friends in book clubs."
About Night Swim
"Set in 1970's Boston high-society, Night Swim tells the tale of the Kunitz family, who hide their deep tensions behind a shimmering facade of parties and affluence before tragedy breaks their stable dance." (Brookline Booksmith)
Feature articles
More than a hundred feature articles published in The Boston Globe and other national magazines. Google my name as Jessica Keener or Jessica Brilliant Keener