lisa_emily's Reviews > The Lost City

The Lost City by John Gunther
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May 23, 2012

it was ok
bookshelves: 2012-read
Read from May 23 to 30, 2012

I came across this book while looking for all things Vienna, I believe it is now out of print, and is likely to stay that way. I was surprised to remember that I had read a John Gunther book back when I was in middle school, I had read Death Be Not Proud, which I was quite moved by. So I was looking forward to reading Lost City as it overlaps many of my interests. I read somewhere that Gunther wrote this in 1934, but could not get it published then since the characters were too similar to actual people that the publisher was concerned about libel lawsuits. So it was published in 1964. The book takes place in Vienna from about 1931-1934.

Gunther was a well-respected journalist back in the ‘30s through the ‘50s. He wrote a number of Inside books about various countries of the world. And in Lost City, when Gunther writes like a journalist, the book goes well.

Sometimes the ego of the writer can get in the way of the story. In some writers, the desire to re-create reality in the writer’s favour, or according to his desired outcome can be transparent, Hemingway and Fitzgerald have both suffered a bit of this, but their writing, (at least Fitzgerald) is so clear that this tendency can be forgiven. Gunther had set out to write an epic- about an important turning point in Western history, which he was fortunate to have witnessed. Regrettably, he fell short of creating this epic.

Part of this failure lies in part with the characters. The main protagonists are Mason Jarrett, a stand-in for Gunther himself, a foreign journalist writing for a Chicago newspaper, and Paula his wife. They are constellated by a number of other journalists and their wives, from other countries, including other Americans. The other journalists add some color with their varying personalities, but one in particular was most appealing, the Hungarian Dr. Sandor. Jarrett is an ambitious writer with dreams of writing literature, but he ends up also being quite a cad, carrying on various philandering romances. Paula, not a cad, but is rather annoying. At one point she whines about not having a child yet and how that makes her a sort of unfinished woman. WHAT! Really- I know it’s the ‘30s and all, anyway, this aspect really turned me off. The female characters were really unreal and maudlin, and this brought the novel into disrepute.

Overall, these journalists break big stories, witness Vienna’s decline, and experience varying domestic discord. Besides the main characters being of a meh quality, I also felt that Gunther was trying to write two books and ended up writing neither- if the book was about a group of journalists in a pivotal moment in history- or a domestic novel about a relationship and the external influences. But trying to fit both in one novel makes each side a bit mawkish; each thread interfered with the other. I did find the world of the journalists most delightful and would have appreciated a novel more in this vein. I’m pretty sure since Gunther was in this world, that he nailed it close. I found how the journalists worked together to break a big story, like the meltdown of the AOG (Austria’s biggest bank).

Also, when Gunther goes off in a poetical bent, trying to write descriptively, he had some problems. Examples: “Snow fell, froze in the streets, melted, froze again. Lumps of black ice, which took on the shapes of squashed seals, lined the curbs; automobiles crashing through the swollen streets sent up whiskers of icy sprays along the walks.”

“Her body seemed heavy, the little shelf of tilted flesh between nose and lip, with its soft V, as if a kernel of corn candy had been pressed there, and grayish, not rosy, and a tiny, almost imperceptible with line around her big, chubby lips.”

And there’s more. Anyway, I’m glad to have read this book for the historical content, but I don’t think I could recommend it reading it for pleasure, it’s too much of a commitment for not enough reward.
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07/23/2016 marked as: read

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message 1: by lisa_emily (last edited Jun 08, 2012 10:40AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

lisa_emily Finally finished this behemoth of 594 pages. I have real mixed feelings about this book, which I will go in detail a little later as I collect my thoughts about it. I liked parts of it, but I really hated some aspects of it as well.

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