IN 2011, Alexander Maksik published You Deserve Nothing, an excellent novel set in an international high school in Paris, about an American teacher who has an affair with one of his students. Maksik caught some flak after the novel was published, when Jezebel wrote an article revealing that the events of You Deserve Nothing had been drawn from Maksik's own experiences in Paris... as an American teacher who had an affair with one of his students. Maksik was criticized in some corners for exploiting the student he slept with by writing about her, and defended in others for his right to mine his own life for material.

Only Maksik knows whether the conflict around You Deserve Nothing has anything to do with the fact that his new book, A Marker to Measure Drift, is adamantly, emphatically not autobiographical.

In this great second novel, he sheds gender, race, and history to step into the character of a 24-year-old Liberian woman who fled her home country after rebel fighters killed her family. Plagued by powerful, near-hallucinatory memories, with the voices of her dead mother and father loud in her head, Jacqueline is homeless on a remote Greek island as the novel begins, living in a cave and close to starvation.

Via Jacqueline's memories of Liberia's civil war—of corrupt, out-of-touch bureaucrats and brutal rebel fighters—Maksik conjures a thick atmosphere of dread punctuated by shocking brutality. Over the course of the novel, Jacqueline sifts through her memories while trying to piece together a new life—and trying to decide if she wants to live at all. Small events—a coffee, a gyros—take on monumental significance, and Maksik is deft and patient as he teases out Jacqueline's recovery, coaxing her out of her cave to finally tell the story of what happened to her family, and to return herself to the world. In creating a well-drawn character so far removed from his own life, Maksik has written a novel that stands solidly on its own merits.