P.J. Sullivan's Reviews > Exile's Return: A Literary Odyssey of the 1920s

Exile's Return by Malcolm Cowley
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's review
Jan 18, 2015

really liked it
bookshelves: history, nonfiction, sociology, philosophy, american-history, historical, new-york, literature
read count: two times

This is the story of the so-called lost generation of American writers, of their alienation from their American roots, their attempts to replace America's "mechanical values" with moral values by escaping to Europe. Of their struggles to reconcile their need for self-expression with their need to make a living. The crass money values of America drove them overseas, but their need for American money drew them back, back to an America that was changed, in their perceptions.

This is a narrative of ideas. It is literary criticism but also contains strong elements of aesthetics, philosophy, history, and especially, sociology. It is not an easy read because of the complexities of the isms involved: Bohemianism, Dadaism, Symbolism, etc. So many interweaving threads are hard to follow, but there are flashes of brilliant writing here.

The author was steeped in literature. He lived it, full-time. He knew the big names on both sides of the Atlantic. This book is very much an inside view of the mostly-American literary scene to 1930.

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