Oswald's Tale: An American Mystery
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Oswald's Tale: An American Mystery

3.77 of 5 stars 3.77  ·  rating details  ·  495 ratings  ·  52 reviews
In perhaps his most important literary feat, Norman Mailer fashions an unprecedented portrait of one of the great villains—and enigmas—in United States history. Here is Lee Harvey Oswald—his family background, troubled marriage, controversial journey to Russia, and return to an “America [waiting] for him like an angry relative whose eyes glare in the heat.” Based on KGB an...more
Paperback, 864 pages
Published June 25th 1996 by Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published 1995)
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Erik Graff
Aug 21, 2011 Erik Graff rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Americans
Recommended to Erik by: Fin Einar Graff
Shelves: literature
The Kennedy assassination was first rumored during afternoon recess from Lincoln Junior High School. It being Park Ridge, Illinois, a number of seventh graders took it as good news. No one doubted the rumor. I was asked by another kid who'd become president now and had to think for a moment before coming up with Lyndon B. Johnson.

After recess we were taken from class to the downstairs auditorium where we were addressed, solemnly, by Clifford Sweat, our principal. The teachers all appeared seriou...more
Katie
After reading Stephen King's 22/11/63 I thought it was time I finally delved into the Kennedy assassination and through internet searches decided on Oswald's Tale as a good starting (and in my case ending) point. I'd read The Executioner's Song when it first came out, but hadn't read anything else by Mailer so I didn't know what to expect.

The book is amazing in its depth, detail, the research and new light thrown on Oswald, especially his time in what was then the USSR. Mailer and his colleagues...more
Hortense
For God's sake. 840+ pages. Was Norman serious about this or only seriously adding to the confusion. My teeth were on edge when this book was all that I could find to read in my bored visit to the incredibly ugly town called Aberdeen on the Pacific coast in the bleak environs of wild beauty of that part of Washington. It lasted a weekend and I knew nothing more leaving than I knew at the start. But that was the good news. I have in mind rereading this moronic vast work of intemperate close reaso...more
Andy
Fascinating in depth research of Oswald's life. And leaves you thinking he was unstable enough to have acted alone and secretive enough to have been an operative.
Terry Bonner
Over the last forty years I have read far too many books on the Kennedy assassination to be considered healthy. It is quite easy to be persuaded by presentations of specious evidence and half-baked conspiracy theories. This book, albeit not one of Mailer's best efforts, was the last book I ever ever read on the subject. The portrait of Oswald which Mailer's paints in broad strokes as he embarks on his own personal pilgrimage through the files of the House Select Committee and the KGB archives is...more
Nick Sweet
Reading Oswald's Tale was one of those fantastic reading experiences I'll never forget. Mailer made his name initially with The Naked and the Dead, which didn't really do much for me. I thought The Deer Park was pretty mediocre and hated Barbary Shore, An American Dream, and Ancient Evenings and think Tough Guys Don't Dance is one of the worst books I've ever read from cover to cover (I only finished reading it to find out if it continued to be as bad as I thought it was going to be...), so none...more
Patrick DiJusto
I'm 125 pages into this book and I'm absolutely blown away. mailer is an absolute genius. More later!

I finished all 866 pages and Mailer is still a genius! Soon after the fall of the Soviet Union, he and a researcher went to the CIS and tracked down KGB officers and Intourist guides and everyday people who knew Lee Harvey Oswald when he lived in Russia. These people, who had not told their stories for 30 years, provide a new look at Oswald: who he was, how he acted, etc. He seems to have been a...more
Cathy DePaolo
I didn't like Mailer's writing style. He was all over the place and wrote in his Russian subject's voice, even when not quoting him/her which was really difficult to read and follow.

I didn't have many facts on Oswald or the shooting and Mailer made assumptions in his writing that whomever was reading his accounting was pretty familiar with the cast of characters and the events surrounding the shooting, which was a bit off-putting as well.

Overall, I wouldn't recommend the book. Some of the accou...more
Stephan
Mailer's insights and description of life in the late 50's and early 60's Soviet Union was fascinating and his following Oswald's journey there was unembellished and intriguing because of that. For a man who went to the archives of the KGB leaning toward a conspiracy of some sort and be brave enough to come to a different conclusion when the facts led him to that, was very brave indeed. And Oswald's life here leading up to the assassination was at least as compelling. It all added up to the conc...more
Richard Kramer
If you like to read, and like to live with books, you learn that some books wait, shyly, for a mutual friend to say “I think you two might like each other.” Sometimes the fix-up doesn’t work — you just say yes, you take your chances — but when it does you feel grateful to that friend, forever, that he knew you like that. Knew the two of you, you and the book.

Manny at Book Soup is one of those friends. Book Soup is on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. Everything around it keeps closing, but Book S...more
Robert Clancy
More like one enormous Wiki page than a tightly crafted biography, Mailer copies interviews, testimonies, pages from other books and connects them with his own controversial, outrageous comments and insights.
But like a bloody, messy highway accident at which you can't keep staring, Mailer's factoids about Oswald are mind-blowing, however. For instance, one of Oswald's friends in Dallas was a quasi-Russian immigrant, quasi-aristocrat, oil surveyor, playboy and possible CIA operative named Baron G...more
Page
This is a great background story that will put many but not all Conspiracy Theories about Kennedy's assassination to rest. It is written by a novelist and is gripping and full of information. It was a random pick up and a pleasant surprise. I plan to read more of Mailer.
Christian.scott
Brilliant and engaging, I have read dozens of JFK/Oswald books and this one showed me things I had never seen before and made the whole saga plausible.
Guillermojimenezespneo
Leer historia es sacralizar la mentira. Sé con absoluta certeza que todos mentimos, no importa el pretexto, todos mentimos. El significado de leer historias de quienes algo hicieron, por lo común causaron muertes, una o muchas, es adentrarte en el lado más oscuro de lo humano sin porqués ni causa alguna de sus abominables conductas. Leer acerca de Lee es leer acerca de la nada. Quizá los 5 minutos de fama que pronosticaba Warhol, quizá lo que sea que haya sido, matar nunca, excepto en la propia...more
Christine Ward
In this book, Mailer attempts to figure out who Lee Harvey Oswald was, and why he assassinated JFK - if he even was the assassin. It is no small task to accomplish this, but with his meticulous research, Mailer does a good job at capturing Oswald's, as well as Marina's, life in Russia. Mailer also does a good job at describing the points of view of many of the people who encountered Oswald and Marina, both in Russia and in the USA, but some of his psychological assessments and purported "insight...more
Dan
A big long biography of Lee Harvey Oswald, who is alleged to have assassinated President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. The great thing about this book is that Mailer was able to get access to detailed information about Oswald's experiences while he was living in Russia, both by interviewing Oswald's widow, Marina, and spending time in Minsk interviewing people there who knew Oswald. Mailer's conclusions about what happened on November 22, 1963 are different from mine, but there is a lot of informatio...more
Richelle
If you are looking to expand upon your knowledge of the various theories surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, this book is a must-read. Having made my way through numerous books on the subject, most of which were based on the notion that the Mafia and CIA were implicated with varying degrees of involvement, Mailer's book was the first I'd come across that argued the theory of Oswald as the lone gunman. While it is easy to be persuaded in either direction with all of the ev...more
Kevin J. Rogers
Feb 11, 2008 Kevin J. Rogers rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: History buffs, conspiracy theorists, and lovers of good journalism.
For many years I believed, along with a majority of American citizens, that the assassination of John F. Kennedy was the result of a conspiracy (of whom, I had no idea, although the Mob seemed like a likely suspect). After reading this book, my opinion changed. Mailer does an excellent job of following Oswald's tracks through the Marine Corps, Russia, Mexico, and the United States, and in the process debunks many of the myths that had grown up over the years about that mysterious (and mythical)...more
Tim Howard
Mailer dedicates the first half of the book - which runs to some 800 pages plus appendices - to Oswald's brief defection to the Soviet Union. There is an incredible amount of detail, much of which feels superfluous, but which I nevertheless enjoyed. Oswald is the focus, of course, but the depiction of the Russian lower middle class in the (relatively) liberal Khrushchev era is fascinating in its own right, as is the insight into KBG surveillance techniques. Oddly, Mailer writes this section in a...more
Rob Maynard
I can't believe I waited this long to read this book, given my devotion to Mailer and obsession with the Kennedy Assasination. Mailer bought access to Oswald's KGB files in the aftermath of the Cold War, and did an intensive interview with Marina Oswald Porter. His position is to examine and project Oswald the man, not Oswald the assassin or Oswald the mystery. Part of this involves copyediting Oswald's hitherto unreadable dyslexic writings about Russia and political philosophy, as well as his v...more
Damien
Jun 24, 2009 Damien rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: People interested in Soviet social history, psychology, or those who like to gawk at trainwrecks.

Work in progress...

Did Owald kill JFK? Mailer has insinuated publicly that it would have made sense for Oswald to have been the assassin, given his psychological quest to justify his own narcissism. However, like a piece of modern music whose cadences never fully resolve, this book left me unsatisfied. Mailer does not attempt to solve the murder; however, he excels at pointing out flaws in the Warren Commission investigation.

This is really two novels. The first is a fascinating portrait of Sovie...more
Jennifer Hand
While I was interested in learning about the JFK conspiracies--come to find out there are quite a few out there--this epic biography of the man held responsible for JFK's death, barely skims the surface of those theories. It is completely focused on Oswald and anyone who might have any contact with him, or contact with those who came into contact with him. So, while I was left wanting more information on the actual history, I certainly had my fill of the host of characters connected with Oswald....more
Beverly
This book was divided into two parts, the first part was Oswald's life when he defected to Russia and the second part was life in the US when he returned up to the time he assassinated Kennedy. Mailer approaches the book from the standpoint of getting to know Oswald as a person and then deciding if he was the lone gunman or not.

I enjoyed the book, especially the first part since Mailer was able to get access to Russian surveillance of Oswald and people who knew Oswald in Russia. The second part...more
Mmmjay
With Oswald's Tale Norman Mailer sets out to untangle the mess of opinion, heresay, gossip, legend, and fact surrounding the life of Lee Harvey Oswald. The readers journey comprises damn near 800 pages, after which said reader flies around the room, bouncing off walls as the air is farted out of the Mailer balloon. One supposes Mailer wanted to put his stamp on the chimera known as Oswald. The upshot is Mailers assemblage of data resembles a Frank Geary structure where one expects trap doors and...more
RC
An interesting read but how many interviewees were telling the truth? Possibly none!
Bob
Heavy stuff. Well written and thoroughly researched. I would suspect someone who lived through the moment, like me, would enjoy this book more than a younger person. But it could help anyone attempt to wrap their head around one of the key events of the last 50 years. It's long and slow going, but so fascinating I kept going. Very detailed, perhaps some of that could have been lest out. But very good (hard for me to say of Mailer). Recorded at a time when many participants were still living, so...more
One Flew
Mailer does an exceptional job exploring all of the complex details of the Kennedy assassination. At times he takes many liberties speculating on this or that theory, but that is one of the book's strengths. Mailer's biographies are certainly never dry or plain fact driven bores, rather they are full of personalities and grand theories. It is a very exhaustive look at the facts which I genuinely enjoyed, even if I couldn't come to agree with certain conclusions that Mailer reached.
Mike
along with Libra by Don Delillo and the American Tabloid trilogy by Ellroy, an addition to Kennedy & Oswald mythology. Good thing about this one is it goes into depth about Oswald's time in Russia, based on extensive research. Drawback is that Mailer can't keep from intruding into the story instead of letting it tell itself, but I'm pretty sure that's an intentional authorial strategy.
Pola
Mam bardzo mieszane uczucia w stosunku do tej książki. Z jednej strony pokazuje H.L.Oswalda, jego życie, charakter i co najważniejsze zmienne nastroje. Można go poznać z relacji różnych osób (żony, matki, braci, współpracowników).
Ale nie jest to książka która się czyta jednym tchem. 720 stron, czasem cycaty drobnym maczkiem -sprawia, że jednak trzeba na nią poświęcić dłuższą chwilę.
Kathi Jackson
This is a very long book and, as with most books of this genre, repeats much of what I've already read. I enjoyed it, though, and recommend it to Oswald researchers.
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Norman Kingsley Mailer was an American novelist, journalist, essayist, poet, playwright, screenwriter, and film director.

Along with Truman Capote, Joan Didion, and Tom Wolfe, Mailer is considered an innovator of creative nonfiction, a genre sometimes called New Journalism, but which covers the essay to the nonfiction novel. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize twice and the National Book Award once....more
More about Norman Mailer...
The Naked and the Dead The Executioner's Song An American Dream The Armies of the Night: History as a Novel, the Novel as History The Fight

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