I just finished, and what an awful taste in my mouth. I am perplexed by his conclusions about both his protagonists, though that perhaps explains the...moreI just finished, and what an awful taste in my mouth. I am perplexed by his conclusions about both his protagonists, though that perhaps explains the curious choice of asking us to spend 350 pages with them. (Perhaps he saw something he failed to communicate.)
Actually, with Martha, I'm convinced there WAS something extraordinary to communicate. Quite close to the start, we see two great writers sitting on either side of her at (I believe) her farewell party. They were close friends. I wrote in the margin there that that's no coincidence. People like Carl Sandburg are likely to be attracted to others with something going on. One might be a fluke, but two, unlikely. This woman obviously had something. I couldn't wait to discover what.
For 300 more pages, we see her accumulate a dizzying number of men successful in all sorts of fields, but particularly artists, who were quite taken by her. And it wasn't her looks. She must have been extraordinary in some way. It totally seems to have eluded Larson. I kept waiting for her personality to come through--for some redeeming qualities. She just seemed like a clueless simpleton. Lame, annoying character at the center of the book, and presumably a discredit to her as well.
So what happened? I have no idea. Larson seemed to fall for her, but then forgot convey why.
That's one of the many problems with this book. The periodic bursts of "dark and stormy" prose were also annoying, though they came and went.
I just don't get the appeal.
Here were some of my early thoughts, a few days ago:
I'm halfway through, and conflicted, starting to sour.
The short intro got me very interested, and I mostly loved Devil In The White City, so I dove in. But it never really grabbed me. (Certainly not the way Devil did--I was enraptured in both its stories immediately.) The two main characters here are exceptionally bland, and their story uncompelling. (Not much story to their story.)
What it DOES do, brilliantly, is its main intent: to provide a POV into what it was like for two outsiders to venture in and see the Nazi world as it took hold.
That was fascinating, and wonderful for awhile, though I was restless and yearning for a more interesting story and characters to take me in. And the longer it wore on, the more redundant it felt.
Then, this morning, I dove into history of the period elsewhere, and discovered how the story begins rather late, after Hitler had effectively taken control.
The prose is solid and Larsen is a natural storyteller most of the time, though he skitters into 'Dark and stormy night' territory too often.
Now . . . I'm wondering whether I should invest the time to finish.
I will adjust my rating as I go.
(I'm finished now. It has me irritated enough to want to slap one star on there, but that's unfair. There is lots of good storytelling in here, too. I'm just so exasperated by it.)(less)
Extraordinary book on nationalism, and how we create these images of who we are.
(I took a graduate course in Cultural Anthropology on ethnicity and na...moreExtraordinary book on nationalism, and how we create these images of who we are.
(I took a graduate course in Cultural Anthropology on ethnicity and nationalism, where we read a tremendous amount of the current academic thinking on related topics, and I found nearly all of it appallingly bad: in a world all their own, little touch with reality, and also a ridiculous fog index in the writing. There were a few gems in there, though, and this was the standout, by far. And more than a decade later, it has held up. This book has stuck with me.)(less)