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Appointment in Samarra

3.83 of 5 stars 3.83  ·  rating details  ·  8,666 ratings  ·  450 reviews
O’Hara did for fictional Gibbsville, Pennsylvania what Faulkner did for Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi: surveyed its social life and drew its psychic outlines, but he did it in utterly worldly terms, without Faulkner’s taste for mythic inference or the basso profundo of his prose. Julian English is a man who squanders what fate gave him. He lives on the right side of th ...more
Paperback, 251 pages
Published July 8th 2003 by Vintage (first published January 1st 1934)
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The Hobbit by J.R.R. TolkienGone with the Wind by Margaret MitchellBrave New World by Aldous HuxleyThe Grapes of Wrath by John SteinbeckOf Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Best Books of the Decade: 1930s
68th out of 380 books — 588 voters
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee1984 by George OrwellThe Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. TolkienThe Catcher in the Rye by J.D. SalingerThe Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Time Magazine's All-Time 100 Novels
77th out of 100 books — 303 voters


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Community Reviews

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David Lentz
O'Hara's distinctive literary voice is both unique and disarming. For the first hundred pages I was unsure that O'Hara was even a competent writer, nevermind author of one of the century's great novels. His narrative technique and dialogue both are steeped in the jargon of his heyday, Prohibition Era, small town America. But O'Hara deals with big themes and the idiom of his day becomes secondary. He seems to want to take on big questions: why is the moth so driven to the flame? Why do we so will ...more
Jake
Oct 13, 2010 Jake rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: novel
On the back of this novel, Hemingway offered the following blurb: "if you want to read a book by a man who knows exactly what he is writing about and has written it marvelously well, read Appointment in Samarra." Unfortunately, the subject John O'Hara knows so much about, and about which he does occasionally pen very beautiful pages, is the social life of the country club set in a little backwater city in central Pennsylvania. The novel takes place in 1930, but apart from a few passing reference ...more
Rolls
This is on The Modern Libraries Top 100 Novels? I can see no reason why. It's a good book - but top 100? Come on! This should be like # 552 on a list of the 1000 best novels.
aPriL eVoLvEs
The stifling atmosphere of small town life is so vividly displayed here that alone made the book difficult for me. I'm not old enough to know what middle class mores were in fact like in the 1930's but many so-called canon Great Books depict the same types of people, occupations and distresses.

The Wasp set of values in vogue in the past, under which the characters in the book must live, struck me as the American version of Victorian values in the earlier era. Julian English's name is a clue to
...more
Michael
O'Hara is neglected today -- maybe he was so ferociously accurate about his own time that he wrote himself out of the public mind. Who wants to keep getting their fingers burned, picking up each new book? Besides, as he aged, he got cranky and "prolix," as someone once put it, probably Updike. Appointment in Samarra is a tiny bit childish at the very beginning, when it feels like high school; but very soon the characters march righteously off the page and into your mundane, what'sforlunch consci ...more
Patrick McCoy
I have heard a lot of good things about John O’Hara’s first and most popular novel, Appointment in Samarra. So I finally decided to read it. It was quite a revelation-a Fitzgerald-esque depiction of the 30s jazz age lifestyle complete with snappy dialogue, big parties, heavy drinking and other sorts of dissipation. There are bootleggers and gangsters among the upwardly mobile who see this way of life as an entitlement. It is essentially the chronicle of a marriage in decline between the self-des ...more
Ensiform
Told from a variety of viewpoints and through flashbacks, this often grim novel of manners centers on one Julian English, the owner of a Cadillac dealership, and his fall from society’s good graces. After drunkenly flinging a drink in the face of Harry Reilly at a party, Julian is rather unsettled to find that this act has deeper consequences than he realized. Reilly is well-liked, free with his money, was once a suitor of Julian’s wife before she married him, and has lent Julian himself a large ...more
Margit
Feb 23, 2008 Margit rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Alison and Nicky
Appointment in Samarra is an American Classic by John O'Hara. He describes the life of a young man in small town America before the Depression who has it all. When he makes a big mistake on Christmas his downward spiral is aided by people and events and shows that it is rather difficult to evade one's fate. This is also implied by the Arabian parable in the beginning of the book.
The book is very well written and , although it is depressing, I enjoyed it very much.
Mike Moore
A remarkably succinct novel about social standing, gender relations, economic disadvantage, sex and death.

John O'Hara is often thought a middling writer, but for at least the 200-odd pages of this work he is an absolute master. Covering an astounding panorama of themes and insights into the bourgeoisie population of a small town at the beginning of the depression, his frankness on married life, resentment, criminality, and a dozen other topics that are alternately ignored or aggrandized by other
...more
matt
pretty darn good minor classic about fitzgerald's famous "lost generation"...I really enjoyed this when I read it a million years ago. I just completely plugged into it and read it till the early hours of the morning. Great platter of minor characters and a well-paced plot leading inevitably to the satiric denouement where the flapping and philosophizing ends in tragedy because the participants lack the necessary self-reflection to understand how existentially unmoored they are in the consumeris ...more
Tony
APPOINTMENT IN SAMARRA. (1934). John O’Hara. *****.
I like to go back and re-read books that I have read years and years ago that I only remember as being really good at the time. I first read this first novel by O’Hara in the late 1950s, when I was in high school. I was in school in Philadelphia, so was familiar with the setting of the story – the anthracite coal region. The town in the novel was called Gibbsville, a thinly veiled reference to O’Hara’s home town of Pottsville, PA. His characters
...more
Courtney H.
Really? This is considered one of the top 100 novels of the twentieth century? Really? And it is ranked significantly higher than anything by Baldwin or Wharton? I already had some serious concerns about the Modern Library list (I know, I know--lists are stupid), the inclusion of this book on it at all cemented them.
Let's see... well, let's start where O'Hara started. Two pages in we get some gross sexism and overt bigotry, themes that continue to pepper the book with no suggestion that the cha
...more
Jon
How one act of indulgence/wish fulfillment demonstrates the tenuousness of some peoples' lives. Julian Engish, a man who has a few problems, but is generally successful (especially considering the economic times in which he lived!) gives in to a suppressed desire, acting on it, and it leads him down an increasingly tormented path. He may not be a sympathetic character, but he is, at times, understandable and also by a certain stage pathetic enough to feel sorry for. We've all done something we r ...more
Jenn Ravey
In one of the greatest scenes I’ve read in recent memory, Julian English fantasizes about throwing his drink in the face of Harry Reilly. What has Harry done? Nothing, really. But at this particular dance, Harry Reilly tells story after story, and it’s not just that – Harry has a specific method to his storytelling, mannerisms of which Julian tires. But he dissuades himself, reminding himself that Harry has loaned him quite a bit of money to pull Julian out of a pinch at the Cadillac dealership. ...more
Matt
O'Hara's timeless novel begins with W Somerset Maugham forboding epigraph Death Speaks.

Death speaks:
There was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the market-place I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture; now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from t
...more
Jay
Dec 21, 2008 Jay rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: fiction

My my. There's something about the pleasantville genre that never quite sat square with me- the difference between the public persona and the ineffable "self" that makes a mess of so much decorum. Well, no shit. Writing after 1968 affords us that judgement.

But here's John O'Hara, writing over the winter, publishing in '34. His apparently bibulous inclinations makes him one of the best writers about character and drink, at least on a technical level. But this portrait of a small town built on a d
...more
Kristie
I just finished this book - not sure how I missed reading it before now. I found it to be compelling and chilling. I constantly had to remind myself of when it was written as it comes across as extremely modern in spite of period details and references that remind you of its true era. That it is a first novel is impressive to say the least. O'Hara deals with themes that are complex and mature. The title and the way it is cued up with a famous quote from Maugham is brilliant. I read some reviews ...more
Emily
I seem to be attracted to fiction in which the protagonist has a Larry David-like talent for humiliating himself without a modicum of self-awareness. That explains my love of Richard Yates, and now, John O'Hara. This book was written in the early 1930s, and yet it feels so modern. The bracing dialogue and the way O’Hara depicts the inner lives of the husband and wife feel authentic. The book has humor, even as the main character's descent makes you squirm. The fact that Julian English grows more ...more
Mary
John Updike provides a wonderful introduction to this novel which in no way I can compete as a reviewer other than to add my personal enjoyment for this, O'Hara's debut novel. It is outstanding for pace, dialogue and the sociological components of small city depression era lives in the upper middle-class and the fall-out of one man's careless act of throwing a drink in another mans face. Simple plot set up but it unwinds over three days into a remarkable, uniquely American in parts, story of the ...more
Czarny Pies
Nov 16, 2014 Czarny Pies rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: This review is a warning not a recommendation.
Recommended to Czarny by: An enthusiastic librarian.
The title in this is from the fable about a man who sees Death in the Baghdad market and immediately flees to Samarra and immediately flees to Samarra which is several hours away. A stall-keeper in the market rebukes death for scaring the customers away from the market. Death apologizes saying that he had not intended to reveal himself but had been surprised to see the man there because he had an appointment with him that evening in Samarra and thus had showed himself inadvertently.

John O'Hara's
...more
Maria
Appointment in Samarra chronicles the downfall of Julian English, the owner of a car dealership who belongs to the country club set. Set in Pennsylvania coal country at the start of the Depression, it's similar in feel to the novels of Fiztgerald -- in fact, Fran Liebowitz dubbed Frank O'Hara "the real F. Scott Fitzgerald" -- except that it's told from an outsider perspective and is more explicit about sex. As Lorin Stein points out, if O'Hara had written The Great Gatsby, he would have told it ...more
Bryan
A book I knew nothing about, from 1934, made for a quick read this weekend, and a damn good one at that. Appointment in Samarra by John O'Hara is exactly my type of book; focusing onrealistic, interesting characters. As I inch closer to the halfway mark of this list, I'm finally starting to realize what type of books I enjoy reading.

Set in the fictional Pennsylvania town of Gibbsville, Appointment in Samarra follows the self-destruction of one Julian English, over three daysat Christmas, 1930. A
...more
Brian
Apparently John O'Hara knew of what he wrote. Julian English's life spirals out of control in the 48 hours after a impetuous act of drunken disdain at the Christmas party at a small town country club in Pennsylvania. This is a superbly drawn character study. English is selfish, egotistical, drunk, childish and manipulative; but O'Hara makes us care deeply about him and his fate.

The novel blends high comedy in its depiction of the social world of small-town Gibbsville with an almost suffocating s
...more
Sophie Dusting
To clear up one thing first of all, the reason why I chose this book was due to a recommendation on a random website that stated it was a book for graduated students to read as to discourage them from continuing the student way of life, aka seeing the consequences of alcoholism. I'm glad I decided to read it - what a book. It is truly moving and incredibly thought-provoking.

The plot is quite similar to the Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald (another fantastic novel) in that it is about a social elite
...more
Chad
It is surprisingly enjoyable to read a novel about places you have been (Reading, Harrisburg, Allentown, Philadelphia), events you have attended (the annual Lehigh-Lafayette football game), and in general the culture in which you have lived. Appointment in Samarra is a bit like The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter in that the characters and relationships matter much more than the plot, even though three major events within 48 hours propel the book. If this were solely a book about Julian’s self destruct ...more
Beth
It is 1930's in Pennsylvania, United States. An era of financial depression for most people. Also an era of "old-fashioned" cultural mores and expectations being challenged on a regular basis. Speakeasies. The Mob. Cadillacs. Liquor. Dance cards. Racial and religious tensions. In the wealthy upper echelon of society (a.k.a. the country club set), socializing was practically a full time job and keeping up appearances was integral to one's success. Men were men, and women, who were supposed to "k ...more
Watchingthewords
Appointment in Samarra tells the story of the downfall of Julian English over the course of three short days during Christmas in 1930. Julian seems to have it all – he lives on the right street, owns a Cadillac dealership, is a member of the country club, has a beautiful wife, the right kind of friends – when he throws it all away by making a series of ridiculously awful choices (don’t throw a drink in the face of the guy who you owe $20k, don’t sleep with the mob boss’s mistress, don’t beat up ...more
David
Appointment in Samarra John O’Hara (1934) #22

February 11, 2012

I had no Idea what to expect of this novel, having never heard of it, or it’s author. These books are getting rather hard to find, as I am getting quite far down on the list, so when I found three in one day at Good Books in the Woods, I was pretty stoked. I picked this one to read first because in the Prior book I had been reading (a historical fiction of Elizabeth I) one of the characters had made reference to the parable from whic
...more
Jason McKinney
4 1/2 stars. The comparisons to The Great Gatsby are inevitable, even though the characters in this would be about a decade younger, considering the time period. What this really reminded me of was a darker, more menacing version of It's a Wonderful Life. Just imagine if the narrative perspective hadn't been from George Bailey's viewpoint and was, instead, from Mr. Potter's social strata. That comes closest to describing the tone and feel of this.

That being said, I really enjoyed this. It's a fa
...more
Tim
It's really good so far. I got it for Christmas. I guess it's noteworthy for being dirty and also for having lots of brand names mentioned in it, which was uncommon at the time. Like, instead of saying car he'd say Cadillac. I can really see O'Hara's influence on Updike. Some scenes are reminiscint of scenes in Rabbit Run. I have learned this: don't go throwing drinks in people's faces. It'll fuck everything up.


I finished it last night. I loved it. It read really quickly, Mr. O'Hara has no use f
...more
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don't understand the ending 2 16 Dec 04, 2014 09:59PM  
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John Henry O'Hara was an American writer born in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. He initially became known for his short stories and later became a best-selling novelist whose works include Appointment in Samarra and BUtterfield 8. He was particularly known for an uncannily accurate ear for dialogue. O'Hara was a keen observer of social status and class differences, and wrote frequently about the social ...more
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“When Caroline Walker fell in love with Julian English she was a little tired of him. That was in the summer of 1926, one of the most unimportant years in the history of the United States, and the year in which Caroline Walker was sure her life had reached a pinnacle of uselessness.” 4 likes
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