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The book is impeccable stylistically and intellectually, and the thorny issue of Polish-Jewish relations is penetrated with honesty and insight. The people interviewed and depicted in the book are -- well, simply, REAL.
Highly recommended for those readers who desire another perspective on the continent's people.
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Dimock's book is constructed as one long letter written by Jarlath Lanham on the eve of Gulf War to his nephew General ann to Des, the son of his father's ex-lover Lena. This letter is a part of a legacy accompanied with a substantial amount of money which the boys are to open at the time of Des' legal maturity - he is the younger of the two - on September 9, 2001. Jarlath himself is a recent convalescent of a psychiatric hospital and son of Richard Lanham, the special national security adviser to the President in 1965, and the chief architect of the American involvement in Vietnam. The purpose of Jarlath's letter is, in his own words, "to provide you [Des and General] with the means, should you find it necessary as I now do, to leave the Lanham family." What follows is an argument against the Father - partly an invective and an incantation, and partly an elegy permeated with muted anger - accompanied with a method for a different history.
Intent on instructing the boys with the rules of ancient rhetoric which will enable them to condemn and reject the legacy of Father, Jarlath structures his letter around the rhetoric's four faculties: invention, arrangement, style and delivery, with memory, the fifth, and for Jarlath, the most important faculty, left out and treated throughout the narrative as its central subject matter. This is accomplished through an extraordinary method in which Jarlath combines photographs left to him by his brother AG with the images of the family history in order to provide Des and General with the backgrounds against and through which they will develop their ability "to discuss capably those things that law and custom have assigned to the duties of citizenship, and to secure as far as it is possible, the agreement of their hearers."
The contents of those photographs and the particular details of Jarlath's method should remain for each reader to discover on his own. But what needs to be said is that in this short book Dimock accomplishes what has been in one way or another the goal of modern literature ever since Flaubert's famous struggle with style. Dimock's combination of the scientific language of the rules of ancient rhetoric and the narrative poetry of the history of the Lanham family results not in a typically post-modern confusion of styles which often breeds entertaining yet often superficial and frivolous prose. On the contrary, it in a sense surpasses that linguistic Babel and errupts into something that transcends language, namely, an ekphrasis, a description of those photographs and images from the family history, a memory which Jarlath claims is the basis of language and hence political action. This strange and unsettling mixture of languages is also what precipitates the uniqueness of Jarlath's voice, it's poetry-like quality along with its deafening repetitions, and what must sound to the rest of us, slightly mad insistence. But when we realize that behind Jarlath's condemnation of his Father lie millions of dead Vietnamese, it is hard to ignore the courage and determination with which he provides Des and General with a choice for a different history.
Among other themes which Dimock's book directly or indirectly addresses - and there are many - one, however, stands out in its importance and in the treatment it receives. I know of no other book in the contemporary American literature which deals with the question of race with such intelligence and equanimity. The place at which it emerges in the novel is the very beginning, where Jarlath "for rhetorical convenience and prolepsis" includes Des in the Lanham family and burdens him with the same opportunity and responsibility as he does General - the boys are given the same amount of money as well as the same method. They are, on the other hand, equally burdened by Father's legacy and the choice to define themselves against it. They are in this sense made brothers, they at least partly share a common history and are given a chance to have a common future. The only place in the book where we learn that Des is an African-American, however, is the moment of his mother's sudden protest - a moment of truth about her relationship with Jarlath's father - against a slide showing the execution of a random Chinese thief during the Boxer rebellion in 1904. She identifies her own relationship with Jarlath's father with the randomness of this horrible act and exclaims "Any brown girl will do!" These two details are almost unnoticable in the larger context of Jarlath's letter and yet they are absolutely fundamental and at the center of Jarlath's and Dimock's project.
There is nothing quite like Dimock's book in the contemporary American literature. It is writing for which we still have no name. But one can be almost sure that this is what literature will, or should look like in the next millennium.
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Felipe Alfau was a strange character and so are his books - very very different, they remind us of the writings of Vargas Llosa with a taste of Cortazar. This is not a translation rather Alfau has written the book in English so all the spices of the Spanish culture are visible. This is extremely rare even with the best of the translators. You get a taste of Spain and a vivid picture of the vibrant society which was so different from the rest of Europe. The people are full of life and passion. Love and passion are the means for making life flow and may be we all need to follow that some day.
You can look at this book either as a short story book or a novel - since it has nine short stories which can either be individually read but they are also connected to each other.
I am long time fan of Marquez and I can promise that this book is equally impressive as any book from Marquez. It is a must buy.
However the next three stories are excellent and I was quickly drawn into the surreal world of Alfau. Each chapter works well as a short story, but the further the reader digs, the more the stories link into a single novel rich in characters and ideas. Borges, Calvino, Kundera and the Boom-time Latin Americans were great writers, but after reading Alfau I realise they were not as original as I'd long thought. A book waiting to be rediscovered (again!).
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This book, therefore, came as a pleasant surprise to me. Sereny starts from no assumptions about Speer (except the assumption that Speer did in fact know about the Jews), and through a series of in-depth interviews with Speer, his family, and just about anybody who had ever encountered him in his lifetime (both favorable and unfavorable), shows perhaps the most comprehensive and (I believe) accurate portrayal of Speer that it is possible to achieve, as told by people who are in a position to know.
Despite the fact that it is occasionally difficult to read (there is often a lack of transition), I would recommend this book, above all others, to anybody who wishes to learn the truth about Speer and his writings.
Sereny beautifully weaves her story, throwing in wonderful ancillary observations about the Nazi hierarchy. She includes Speer's disingenuous criticisms of Hitler (whom he actually worshipped), as well as his opinions on Goering, Goebbels and Hitler's other minions.
Sereny includes details of Speer's love affair late in life with a much-younger blonde woman and the dumping of his long-suffering wife after 50 years of marriage.
Most important was Speer's assiduous and desperate attempt to disguise the fact that he knew about Auschwitz and successfully (until Sereny) hid it from the world.
Sereny deserved the Pulitzer for this book. Read it and you won't be able to put it down.
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Alan Taylor's WILLIAM COOPER'S TOWN: POWER AND PERSUASION ON THE FRONTIER OF THE EARLY AMERICAN REPUBLIC is an outstanding biography of an archetypical American character, an extraordinary social history of life and politics on the late eighteenth-century frontier and a brilliant exercise in literary analysis.
This is a wonderful read. Taylor's lively prose, compelling narrative and original, fresh story sustained my interest from cover to cover. I never would have imagined such a dull title could cover such a marvelous book. WILLIAM COOPER'S TOWN certainly deserves the Pulitzer Prize it was awarded.
Taylor not only describes William Cooper's rise from rags to riches and even more meteoric fall but analyzes Cooper's political odyssey in America's frontier democratic workshop.
"As an ambitious man of great wealth but flawed gentility, Cooper became caught up in the great contest of postrevolutionary politics: whether power should belong to traditional gentlemen who styled themselves 'Fathers of the People' or to cruder democrats who acted out the new role of 'Friends of the People.'"
Taylor argues "Cooper faced a fundamental decision as he ventured into New York's contentious politics. Would he affiliate with the governor and the revolutionary politics of democratic assertion? Or would he endorse the traditional elitism championed by...Hamilton." "Brawny, ill educated, blunt spoken, and newly enriched," writes Taylor, "Cooper had more in common with George Clinton than with his aristocratic rivals." "For a rough-hewn, new man like Cooper, the democratic politics practiced by Clinton certainly offered an easier path to power. Yet, like Hamilton, Cooper wanted to escape his origins by winning acceptance into the genteel social circles where Clinton was anathema." Taylor concludes "Cooper's origins pulled him in one political direction, his longing in another."
James Fenimore Cooper's third novel, THE PIONEERS, is an ambivalent, fictionalized examination of his father's failure to measure up to the genteel stardards William Cooper set for himself and that his son James internalized. The father's longing became the son's demand.
Taylor analyzes the father-son relationship, strained by Williams decline before ever fully measuring up to the stardards he had set, and the son's fictionalized account of this relationship.
James Fenimore Cooper spent most of his adult life seeking the "natural aristocrat" his father wanted to be and compensating for his father's shortcomings. It is ironic that the person James Fenimore Cooper found to be the embodiment of the "natural aristocrat" his father had longed to be and that he had created in THE CRATER and his most famous character, Natty Bumppo, was the quintessential "Friend of the People"--Andrew Jackson.
I enjoyed this book immensely and give it my strongest recommendation!
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