As one of the thousands who fled the outbreak of nuclear war in an alternate United States―on an alternate timeline―Hel finds herself living as a refugee in our own not-so-parallel New York. An exploration of the effects of displacement on our identities, the communities that come together through circumstance, and the power of art to save us.
... magnificent ... an awesome and humbling literary achievement ... The text is triumphant, darkly humorous, and mournful by turns ... As its characters grasp for a concrete place to rest in a world that ever diverges from its set paths, Famous Men Who Never Lived is mesmerizing.
While Chess’ language is adept, and her worldbuilding is meticulous (almost overwhelmingly so sometimes), the plot of Famous Men Who Never Lived is somewhat complex and at times feels like it is attempting to accomplish too much ... But, really, once you’re in Famous Men Who Never Lived’s world, following alongside the funny, interesting, and sympathetic characters, the occasional 'huh?' moment recedes and the story races along to a surprising climax. Famous Men Who Never Lived, alongside an inventive and compelling narrative, offers an empathetic and fine-tuned commentary on displacement and otherness ... The novel is a wonderful example of how fiction can illuminate reality—and a stark reminder that we are all human, deserving of dignity and respect, no matter the country or dimension from which we come.
In this accomplished first novel, K Chess ... primarily tells the present-day story from Hel and Vikram's alternating points of view, [but] her multiverse gains further depth from transcripts of interviews with UDPs about events around the migration and life in the new New York City. Light, accessible science fiction elements enable the plot rather than take center stage. An allegory for refugeeism, othering and coping with staggering loss, Famous Men Who Never Lived will leave readers haunted by the UDPs' broken past but hopeful for their future.