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The Gallery

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  331 ratings  ·  80 reviews
John Horne Burns brought 'The Gallery' back from World War II, and on publication in 1947 it became a critically-acclaimed bestseller. However, Burns's early death at the age of 36 led to the subsequent neglect of this searching book, which captures the shock the war dealt to the preconceptions and ideals of the victorious Americans.

Set in occupied Naples in 1944, The
Paperback, 368 pages
Published March 31st 2004 by NYRB Classics (first published 1947)
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Mar 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
Southwest Airlines is different from other airlines. They don't charge a fee for baggage, they don't have assigned seating, and whoever is speaking over the intercom system likes to crack jokes. I boarded one of their flights last week, holding my carry-on in one hand and this book, 'The Gallery' by John Horne Burns, in the other. The pilot -- the pilot -- was greeting us, the passengers, as we stepped on board. Warmly, too. When the pilot -- the pilot -- saw my book, he grabbed it, and said, ...more
Apr 24, 2012 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: world war
Recommended to Mariel by: Gore Vidal is my book pimp
I might read everything the same way. Maybe I have some social anxiety lens like a toy view finder with stills all from the same movie. Click the handle and there's a GI soldier who can't talk to a girl. Click it again and a GI soldier is about to get scammed by a hot young Neapolitan lad (there is no other kind, I'm gathering). It's screwing bunnies and horny priests. I try to do something different. Last week I read a crime novel (The Friends of Eddie Coyle)! I rarely read those. You can't ...more
Gary  the Bookworm
Jul 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
John Horne Burns' The Gallery isn't always pretty, but neither is life. It takes us on a journey into the hearts and minds of an unlikely mix of American servicemen and vanquished Neapolitans after the Allied invasion of Southern Italy. In a series of nine portraits, we meet a few honorable Americans, some desperate Italians and a mountain of moral ambiguity. American greed complements Italian ingenuity in this caldron of destruction and despair which is Occupied Naples in the summer of 1944. ...more
Dec 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: readers w/ a spine, a sense of history, & a love of cities
Recommended to John by: My father, maybe.
If this suggestion seems to come out of left field, that's fitting, since my rediscovery of this mid-century American masterpiece swept me away from out of nowhere, recently. The novel appeared in 1947, widely hossana’d, though considerably ahead of its time in its jaundiced view of World War II — not the battlefield itself, but the terrible toll for those anyway near the shooting, the people we’d now call part of war’s “collateral damage.” Then, though, THE GALLERY fell from notice. Part of the ...more
Jun 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
One of the pleasures in searching through the book reviews of the late 1940s is finding a book such as this: a war novel—one highly lauded in its own time, barely mentioned in succeeding years, and the subject of revival attempts—which still stands up, and in fact exceeds its reputation, after six decades of similar works. Though Shirley Hazard claims, in a blurb on the book cover, that “no one will ever forget this book” it is not one of the more well-known WWII novels, though it was one of the ...more
J.M. Hushour
Mar 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I have a tendency to ruthlessly divide art dealing with war into two categories which dovetails nicely with my experience in what people like when it comes to portrayals of war: you're either a "Full Metal Jacket" kind of war person, or a "Thin Red Line" kind of war person. That is, you like it brutal or you like it thoughtful.
"The Gallery", probably one of the most expressive and darkly sublime portrayals of war I've ever encountered, falls into the second category. It's thoughtful, beautiful,
Apr 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"I remember my mother's teaching me out of her wisdom that the possession of Things implies a responsibility for Their use, that They shouldn't be wasted, that Having Things should never dominate my living. When this happens Things become more important than People. Comfort then becomes the be-and-end-all of human life. And when other people threaten your material comfort, you have no recourse but to fight them. It makes no difference who attacks whom first. The result is the same, a killing and ...more
Apr 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
When the family tombstone finally has my name on it, I'm fairly certain this book will rank as my all-time favorite. And if I spend eternity thinking about The Gallery, I think I'll be content. The structure of this book, the vivid characters, and the historical significance of it make it truly a heartbreaking work of staggering genius.

Burns did us a solid to note for the future that among the millions of soldiers from World War Two: some of them were gay, some of them fell in love, and many of
Jul 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
I found it helpful to be reading the biography of John Horne Burns while I was reading The Gallery to get some insight into the writer's life while he was writing the book and after it had been written. The Gallery is very unsympathetic to the American soldiers of WW2. Many of the men (and some of the women) stationed overseas during this time are portrayed as arrogant, selfish, and downright ugly. This is not the greatest generation Tom Brokaw spoke of. There are some wonderful glimpses of the ...more
Oct 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A series of vignettes connected mostly by the crushing dread of the machinery of war. Brave to write a book about war that features almost no combat, but also perfect and often times just as violent. Took me a long time to finish because there was no hurry.
Julian Gray
Oct 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
The Gallery is a book with no overall narrative - a series of vignettes really, all based on the author’s experiences in North Africa and, chiefly, Naples in the period of Allied occupation during World War Two. Burns was an American soldier, with aspirations to be a writer, realising this ambition in this book, his one masterpiece. The Gallery is the Galleria Umberto, the centre for much of the action that Burns describes. I focus here on the material set in Naples.

The vignettes cover a variety
Jul 23, 2013 rated it did not like it
I will begin by saying that I didn't even finish a third of this book, so yes, I will own up to the criticism of not being capable of accurately reviewing this book without having completed it.

That being said, I have never encountered a book that is so mind-numbingly dull that simultaneously asks so much of the reader at the same time. I, at no point in time, found even the slightest moment of interest in what was a series of disjointed, erratic, and haphazard ramblings.

No, I'm not afraid or
Daniel Polansky
Interesting. Burns worked in intelligence during WWII, and his job appears largely to have been trying unsuccessfully to keep his fellow soldiers from selling their equipment and rations to the starving Italian population which surrounded them. In this curiously structured novel – consisting mostly of sketches of characters that might have been found in Naples during the US occupation, smugglers, down on their luck GIs, syphilis victims, arrogant officers, club owners, etc. – Burns presents a ...more
Apr 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novel-us
A very impressive novel by a now-unknown author. This was one of the first US novels after WWII and depicts, in vignettes separated by "Promenades", nine persons who end up in Naples in August 1944. Two things are especially fascinating: the very bleak portrayal of the "Greatest Generation," and the (to a modern reader) blatant gay themes throughout. The NYRB edition contains two introductions which provides helpful background, and notes the fact that no reviewer when the book came out (1947) ...more
Joyce Zhu
Jun 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: five-star, lgbt, war
it is obvious after reading this book that burns was a man who saw and loved the beauty in other men; some of his descriptions of male beauty i would ascribe to his being male.
Steve Anderson
Jul 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: research
The Gallery was a successful first novel when it came out in 1947 and went unknown until recently when it was re-released. Author John Horne Burns, by most accounts troubled and alcoholic, hit his peak with this work and died relatively young.

It's been touted as a WWII novel, but this is not a novel. The narrative doesn't have an overriding plot, and there's only one brief combat scene, which transpires more like a murder. The book is rather a series of character vignettes, of various soldiers
Liz Goodwin
Jul 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, wwii, italy
The Gallery turned out to be a masterpiece of WWII literature I wasn’t expecting and didn’t know I needed. Burns alternates brief recollections of his travels in the military bureaucracy trailing the American forces, with longer stories about a generation certainly no greater than any other. Set against the morally murky backdrops of Allied-occupied Casablanca, Algiers and finally Naples - in the mess halls, censorship mills, a gay bar and a VD clinic - these are portraits of Americans (and a ...more
Sep 11, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: gay-fiction, nyrb
This is truly a neglected classic from the years just after World War II. More a series of character sketches than a novel it is nonetheless a brilliant evocation of soldiers in Italy, and Naples in particular, during the war. The section called "Momma" has rightly been noted as an outstanding depiction of gay men in war, but the rest of the novel does not fall far from the standard set in this section. Burns uses a realistic style to expose the foibles of men at war. For example, he shows the ...more
Jun 12, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This powerful, long-neglected novel of American soldiers in Naples during World War II may finally get some well-deserved attention with the recent publication of David Margolick's biography of its author ("Dreadful: The Short Life and Gay Times of John Horne Burns"). The novel was published in 1947 to critical acclaim but largely forgotten when Burns died, probably of alcoholism, a few years later. I read it too many years ago to remember the details but it made a lasting impression not least ...more
Jun 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
What a truly marvelous book, complex and different and challenging and delightful. A collection of portraits of people and places in 1944, mostly in Naples, Italy. "Momma", about a gay bar (which may or may not have ever existed) is an amazing story for its time, and "Queen Penicillen", about a soldiers 8 day stay in a VD clinic is incredible. But having read Dreadful, a biography of John Horne Burns, it makes me so sad to see the lost potential for this author. But if you're reading this ...more
Aug 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
The gallery of the title is the Galleria Umberto in Naples during the Allied occupation. The title also refers to the gallery of “portraits,” of habitues of the galleria, that makes up the novel. Each portrait is as complete and incisive as a novella. The portraits alternate with “promenades” wherein a narrator, apparently the author, recounts his memories of Casablanca and Naples during the war. Collectively it all works, memorably.
May 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: wwii
"Dear Mother, you'll be surprised to know that I'm writing to you from the syphilis ward..."

so many zingers in this book that make me laugh, gasp, and reel. The reason it got 5 stars from me is the excellent writing. The subject matter is hard to take because it shows people suffering. One of the best books about world war two, it is short on heroism and adoring liberated crowds and long on gritty realism.
Feb 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
WWII has been so mythologized as the "Greatest Generation." This gallery of fictional portraits written just after the war is a great antidote from that. It shows people and places in all their stinking and glorious humanity. It also seems to war ran on booze and cigarettes generally. Also has interesting early portrait of gay life being just part of the continuum of humanity.
Feb 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: novels-romans
Norman Mailer considers this one of the best war novels. Gore Vidal also praises the book.
May 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
I read this on a Kindle. I am convinced I pay attention better when I'm reading a bound book, but this is neither here nor there. I will only say I'd have rather had a book in my hand, with pages I could have turned. You don't get a sense of when a book will end when you're reading it on an e-reader. Even if the page number is at the bottom of the screen, that is not a good approximation of seeing your progress as you read a book made of paper. In any case, THE GALLERY, John Horne Burns's 1947 ...more
William Kirkland
Apr 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: war, ww-ii, italy
It is very rare to find a war story, especially one written by a participant, soldier, sailor, flyer, nurse, doctor, which sees the refugees, the prisoners of war, the civilians “employed” by the occupying armies. John Horne Burns in his 1947 The Gallery, is not only interested in these civilians, he, and some of his characters, genuinely like them. There is a dignity and love in the “enemy” they find missing from Americans, whether back home or in the occupying forces.

“Sometimes, said Michael
Henry Sturcke
Jun 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book is said to be a novel, but could with nearly as much justification be considered a collection of short stories. Unity of location and time argue for treating it as one work, however.
The conceit at the heart of the book is the dual meaning of the word “gallery.” Much of the plot unrolls in the Galleria Umberto, an arcade where one can find, legally or illegally, nearly everything in this otherwise destitute city. But Burns uses the alternate meaning of the term to explore what is on
Aleardo Zanghellini
I decided to read this after finishing Christopher Castellani's Leading Men, a fictionalised account of the relationship between Tennessee Williams and Frank Merlo: J H Burns features in Castellani's book's cast of characters. I am very glad I did.

To say that the book is an ode to Naples and Neapolitans against the backdrop of WWII is oversimplifying, if only because the war is less than a backdrop than the force that shapes both the Naples of which the author writes, and the narrator's love
Apr 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
The Galleria Umberto is a 19th century arcade in Naples Italy. In August 1944, it's glass dome was shattered by Allied bombings, but the structure remained the center of the community and was where the locals and occupying soldiers mingled. It serves as the setting for most of the action of this collection of stories and the gallery referenced in the title of the book. The other reference is the gallery of portraits that is the structure of the book. Included are portrait stories of a serviceman ...more
Alana Cash
Apr 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a very well-written, moving, passionate, gritty, sad, and engaging book written about Naples in 1944 when the Allies were taking Italy. The book tells different stories of Naples in sections through the eyes of women and men who pass through the Gallery Umberto. One story is about an Italian woman whose husband stops have sex with her when she cannot have children - she opens a gay bar in the Gallery. Another story is about a soldier who got Syphilis from an Italian woman he loved and ...more
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NYRB Classics: The Gallery, by John Horne Burns 1 5 Oct 23, 2013 10:32AM  

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John Horne Burns was a United States author. He is best known as the author of the 1947 story-cycle The Gallery, which depicts life in Allied-occupied Naples, Italy, in 1944 from the perspective of several different characters. In this work he explores the themes of material and class inequality, alcoholism, relations between the sexes, and sexuality in general, including homosexuality, with the ...more
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“They were our enemies. Yet in those young men of Italy I'd seen something centuries old. An American is only as old as his years. A long line of something was hidden behind the bright eyes of those Italians. And then and there I decided to learn something of the modern world. There was something abroad which we Americans couldn't or wouldn't understand. But unless we made some attempt to realize that everyone in the world isn't American, and that not everything American is good, we'll all perish together, and in this twentieth century....” 1 likes
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