Susan's Reviews > The Dissident

The Dissident by Nell Freudenberger
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Jul 24, 2009

it was ok
Read in July, 2009

I really wanted to like this book. It begins with promise, but deflates thereafter. In order to believe in this book, the reader must overlook the author's calculated deception that a character is who the author says he is up until the last few pages of the book when he is revealed to be someone else. It's a little more complicated than that, but that's the essential flaw. Anyone who comments on this book without a "spoiler alert" is confronted by the dilemma of discussing the book without discussing the flaw. Discussing the flaw "spoils" the (contrived) plot and reveals a broken contract between the author and the reader. I've tried to be circumspect here, and I don't think I've revealed anything that would unravel the confusion at the heart of this book. (The author sets it up as a story about "counterfeiting" and "about the one thing that you cannot counterfeit".) The reader doesn't realize the broken contract until the final chapter. The author's deception and deliberate confusion aren't the only problems, but they warrant a 2-star rating. The time these pages require is not rewarded. One last point. Much is made (in the book and in these reader comments) about the question of performance art and ownership. Does the performer own the art or is the art produced by the photographer who documented the performance? This question is posed as if the Chinese discovered it in the East Village of Beijing in the 1990s. It is, however, a question that was exhaustively debated by western performance artists of the 1970s -- a fact that The Dissident never acknowledges.
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