Hold It 'Til It Hurts

A novel by T. Geronimo Johnson

August 28, 2012 • 6.1 x 8.8 • 340 pages • 978-1-56689-309-1

A riveting debut—a black Afghanistan veteran in search of his lost brother amid the chaos of Hurricane Katrina.

When Achilles Conroy and his brother Troy return from a tour of duty in Afghanistan, their white mother presents them with the key to their past: envelopes containing details about their respective birth parents. After Troy disappears, Achilles—always his brother’s keeper—embarks on a harrowing journey in search of Troy, an experience that will change him forever.

Heartbreaking, intimate, and at times disturbing, Hold It ’Til It Hurts is a modern-day odyssey through war, adventure, disaster, and love, and explores how people who do not define themselves by race make sense of a world that does.

About the Author

T. Geronimo Johnson was born in New Orleans. His fiction and poetry has appeared in Best New American Voices, Indiana Review, LA Review, and Illuminations, among others. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a former Stegner Fellow at Stanford, Johnson teaches writing at University of California–Berkeley. Hold It ’Til It Hurts is his first book.


Times-Picayune, “Top 10 Books of 2012 for fans of New Orleans- and Louisiana-set tales”

HTMLGiant, “11 Favorite Small Press Reads of 2012”

Colorlines, “Summer Reads! 3 Musts From an Indie Bookseller”

“A powerful literary debut. . . . The depth, complexity and empathy within Johnson’s narrative explores issues great and small—race, color and class, the wounds of war suffered by individuals and by nations, the complications and obligations of brotherhood and familial love. Transcendent contemporary American literary fiction, a rich and passionate story rewarding enough to be read again.” Kirkus, starred review

“As does Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Toni Morrison, [Johnson] connects characters through the spirit and the body.”American Book Review

“A powerful, stylish debut novel. . . . The stark backstory fleshing out Achilles and Troy's arduous combat duty over in ‘Goddamnistan’ smartly plays off the thorough exploration of modern American attitudes on race, war, and family.” Publishers Weekly

“The magnificence of Hold it ’Til it Hurts is not only in the prose and the story but also in the book’s great big beating heart. These complex and compelling characters and the wizardry of Johnson’s storytelling will dazzle and move you from first page to last. Novels don’t teach us how to live but Hold it ’Til It Hurts will make you hush and wonder.” —Anthony Swofford, author of Jarhead

Hold It ’Til It Hurts is the kind of impressive debut that marks its author, T. Geronimo Johnson, as a writer with a career that bears watching.” —Stuart Dybek

Hold It ’Til It Hurts is a novel about war that goes in search of passionate love, a dreamy thriller, a sprawling mystery, a classical quest for a lost brother in which the shadowy quarry is clearly the seeker’s own self, and a meditation on family and racial identity that makes its forerunners in American fiction look innocent by comparison.” —Jaimy Gordon, National Book Award Winner of Lord of Misrule

“T. Geronimo Johnson’s Hold It ’Til It Hurts is a dazzling first novel about the power of pain and the strength of love. . . . This novel raises—and answers—big questions, even as it maps the tough lives of men in cities under harrowing stress.” Gambit

“The novel is an epic in its own right, spanning continents, generations, and social and moral issues. In the end it’s about family: the one you’re born into; the family you create throughout your lifetime; and the larger family of human beings all living in the same crazy world.” East Bay Express

“Johnson is bringing the news here, rendering beautifully the pleasures (silverware in drawers instead of bins) and pitfalls (guilty liberals at the bar) facing soldiers at home. . . . Johnson tells this story with what must be a tremendously emphatic imagination, one that will serve him well in all his books to come.” Star Tribune

Hold It ’Til It Hurts was a brave book to write.” Room 220: New Orleans Book and Literary News

“Even as Johnson takes us on this odyssey through wartime America and an eventually devastated New Orleans, his ability to precisely describe the depths of a young man inoculated against both love and violence shocks us, again and again.” —ZYZZYVA

“While Johnson’s language is consistently stark, straight-forward, and deceptively simple, it manages to deftly capture Achilles—a decided anti-hero—as well as the modern American psyche and all the conflicts that go with it.” KGB Bar Lit Magazine

“There’s a lot happening in this novel by a 2004-06 Stegner fellow, and not the least of it a sympathetic (and deliberately Homeric) portrayal of returning soldiers and a clear-eyed look at how race and privilege complicate so much of American experience.” STANFORD Magazine

“[Hold It ’Til It Hurts is] surprising in its complexity and in just how much it contains. . . . There is much more to say and, one hopes, many more novels to come.” American Microreviews

“Geronimo . . . explores the complexities of interracial adoption and the unbreakable bonds between brothers. I was deeply moved by Hold It ’Til It Hurts, and impressed by the ambition of the novel.” The Rumpus, Roxanne Gay’s Reading Roundup

“Johnson, a native of New Orleans and a former Stegner Fellow, uses the aftermath of the hurricane to thaw out Achilles and help him forge some sense of identity.” Christian Science Monitor

Hold It ’Til It Hurts is a smartly-written and stylish meditation on family, love, masculinity, race and self-identity in modern-day society.” Newark Journal

“Johnson’s touching first novel is rigorously detailed.” Library Journal

Hold It ’Til It Hurts is more about love and redemption than race or war. The bond that connects Achilles to his brother, Troy, is magnificently drawn, the depth of emotion unforgettable. And the surprises in the plotting herald the beginning of an impressive literary career.” CounterPunch

“Johnson . . . clearly did his research, nailing the postwar struggle for soldiers now forever imbued with the instinct to strike first. Afghanistan is really just a backdrop for the wars on the homefront, and the big questions raised by race and identity crash into one another just as Hurricane Katrina bears down on New Orleans.” Time

“Johnson, a New Orleans native, achieves his ambitions in a debut novel that we praised for its lively prose, crisp dialog and a story that sends and African-American combat vet on a search for his adoptive sibling in post-Katrina New Orleans.” Times-Picayune

“What is most striking about the work is the haunting quality of Johnson’s realism, which is capable of great sensuality and great coldness in the same paragraph, and can hold the intensity of memory at the same timbre of the present moment in a single sentence.” Zing Magazine

Hold It ’Til It Hurts demands deep engagement and is a worthy addition to recent fiction about our twenty-first-century wars. . . . This is a vivid and provocative novel.” TriQuarterly Review

“Johnson’s writing left me constantly pushing towards the next plot-twist, not just at the ends of chapters, but at the end of every paragraph. . . . It’s this anxiety-ridden, and sometimes heart-wrenching, prose that grasps the attention of readers and holds it through the end of the novel.” Hazel & Wren

“[Hold It ’Til It Hurts] addresses complex themes of war, love, kinship, and race yet has the tension of a thriller. For all readers of literary fiction.” Library Journal

“Johnson tells both a love story and a quest story while unleashing pointed social critiques, all the while taking readers into the turmoil of an ex-soldier seeking to reconcile his own conflicting emotions about war, family, and race. An impressive debut from a writer to watch.” Booklist

“T. Geronimo Johnson explores the burdens and bonds of brotherhood in this exquisitely crafted novel of war and its aftermath. Johnson easily earns the reader’s rapt attention as he chronicles Achilles’s search for his brother in the land of lost promise that is twenty-first-century America.” —Robin Hemley

Hold It ’Til It Hurts is a novel that defies categorization. It is at once a mystery, a meditation, a modern-day myth, an indictment of war and an ode to love. But this much is clear: This masterfully written book, filled with trenchant observations and unafraid of tenderness, marks Johnson as a writer to watch.” San Francisco Chronicle

Hold It ’Til It Hurts is a smartly-written and stylish meditation on family, love, masculinity, race and self-identity in modern-day society.” Network Journal