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1919: 2 (U.S.A.) [Paperback]

Passos John Dos

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1919: 2 (U.S.A.) + The Big Money (U.S.A.) + The 42nd Parallel (U.S.A.)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 380 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin (Trade); 1st Mariner Books Ed edition (14 July 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618056823
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618056828
  • Product Dimensions: 20.8 x 14 x 2.5 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 643,887 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  13 reviews
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing what a little focus can do 13 July 1999
By Michael Battaglia - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
The first book of this series, 42nd parallel was simply amazing in the crosscutting technique mixing it up with news clippings and stream of consciousness rantings but in this book does Dos Passos finally find his real voice in his fury at "Mr Wilson's War". His hatred for the war crackles through every page, every sentence is filled with a fury that can't be described, he knows the war was wrong and he knows exactly why and with the patience of a master he sits there and points each of his ideas out and sets it before you and in the end you don't know what to do. The book is more intense than anything I've read before, pages just fly past as the character histories pile up, as the Newsreels and Camera Eyes (definitely at their best here, as he tells his own WWI experiences) flip past each other from one to the other with dizzying speed where you find yourself immsered in a world which you (probably) never knew. For once the workers rights stuff is pushed to the side, showing up mostly toward the end and the last fifty or so pages of the book are breathtakingly brilliant finally hitting the climax with the prosepoem "Body of an American" Dos Passos' own biography of the Unknown Soldier, standing for every American that died for his country without ever really know what he was dying for. The rage and the passion here alone makes it one of the best books of the century and a definite forgotten masterpiece, and coupled with his lyrical prose and sense of characterization you have something that is better than any history book, even if it makes no pretense of being objective and makes the reader think. Don't let this series be forgotten!
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The one thing that enslaves people more than any other to the servitude of war is nationalism 25 April 2006
By Leonard Fleisig - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Those words, written by John Dos Passos while serving as a Red Cross Ambulance Driver during the First World War, provide the underlying theme for "1919", Volume II of Dos Passos' "USA Trilogy".

Dos Passos is one of the (now) lesser known literary giants of the first half of the 20th-century. At the height of his fame in the 1930s he found himself on the same pedestal as Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Faulkner. By the time Volume III (The Big Money) was released in 1936, Jean-Paul Sartre hailed him as "the greatest writer of our time". Edmund Wilson's review went so far as to claim that Dos Passos was "the first of our writers, with the possible exception of Mark Twain, who has successfully used colloquial American for a novel of the highest artistic seriousness." Dos Passos' literary reputation began to change during the Spanish Civil War. Dos Passos, along with Hemingway and many other literary figures including George Orwell, made his way to Spain to assist in the Republican cause. Like Orwell, Dos Passos was deeply affected by the brutal infighting amongst Republican supporters. In the case of Dos Passos he was deeply distressed by murder of a friend (anarchist and Johns Hopkins Professor Jose Robles) apparently executed by Stalinist cadres for his nonconforming radicalism. Hemingway mocked Dos Passos for his unmanly concern for his friend. Dos Passos reports that he told Hemingway that "the question I keep putting to myself is what's the use of fighting a war for civil liberties, if you destroy civil liberties in the process?" Hemingway replied "civil liberties, [__ _ _ ]. Are you with us or against us?" It is no surprise that Dos Passos' next book was criticized severely. The New Masses magazine referred to it as a "crude piece of Trotskyist agit-prop". Dos Passos never reclaimed the popularity he had achieved with the USA Trilogy.

1919 takes up where "42nd Parallel" left off. President Wilson, despite his 1916 campaign slogan "He kept us out of War" had taken the United States to war against Germany in 1917. Many of the characters found in 42nd Parallel, including Eleanor Stoddard, J. Ward Moorehouse, Eveline Hutchins, and Joe Williams find their to France. Along with a few new characters, their lives intersect and divert throughout the war and the subsequent peace talks at Versailles. With the exception of J. War Moorehouse these are all relatively `little people' who have no real influence on the course of events but who simply must endure them.

In addition to the stories of these fictional characters, 1919 is interspersed with mini-biographies of real people, newsreel clippings that place the story in a social a political context, and a series of autobiographical sketches in which Dos Passos steps out from the story and provides his own personal context to the times. The writing is terse and enjoyable. The highlights of the book for me were his biographical sketches. His mini-biography of Woodrow Wilson ("Meester Vilson"), J.P. Morgan, Theodore Roosevelt and Joe Hill say more about those men than many full length biographies. His closing biography, of the Unknown Soldier ("The Body of an American") picked from among the unidentified American casualties of the war,is a beautiful, politically charged piece of writing."

The use of the Camera Eye, biographies, and newsreels create a literary mosaic that leaves the reader feeling he is in the middle of a multi-media experience within the confines of a book. Later generations of writers have adopted this technique to great success. E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime is a case in point. (Doctorow wrote an appreciative foreword to this edition.)

1919 is a worthy successor to 42nd Parallel that leaves this 21st-century reader with a feeling that he had stepped back almost 100 years to a different time and place in American history. I would only note that his book will not be appreciated unless one has read "42nd Parallel". It is an investment in time that no reader with an interest in political (or politicized) fiction will regret making.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Breathless, fascinating ride loses steam towards the end 26 Sep 2004
By William Whyte - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
1919 follows several more or less powerless Americans up to and through America's involvement in the war and beyond, as fate and their immediate desires push them around the globe. The novel may have a reputation for being experimental, but this arises more from its structure than its readability: long stretches of conventional narrative in a breezy, modern voice are broken up by biographies of significant figures (Roosevelt, Wilson and heroes of the US labor movement), by "Newsreel" collages of press reports, and (least successfully) by "The Camera Eye" -- an ongoing interior monologue of an unnamed extra character, separate from the main stories, also caught up in the horror of the war.

Dos Passos's writing is fluid, transparent, and saturated with detail; the detail is reminiscent of Sinclair Lewis, but the novel moves at ten times the pace, overwhelming itself with the desire to show you new things. In some ways it reminded me of Jonathan Franzen's "The Corrections" more than any contemporary novel in its ambition to say something about almost everything, to squeeze as much as possible in. The description of Cambridge, MA was so pitch-perfect that I believe utterly in his descriptions of everywhere else, Genoa and Paris and Liverpool and Buenos Aires.

The places are great; the incidents are great; what lets the novel down is the people. Almost all of the characters are well-intentioned but not self-aware, driven by impulse, smart and observant but passive and impotent. They seem to deliberately seek out experiences to distract themselves from serious thought about what's going on; even those who do engage end up unable to make a difference (like the Socialist agitator towards the end of the book, going to jail on his twenty-third birthday). Although the biographies engage emotionally with their subjects, you find yourself wishing for the bluff, genial detachment of the main narrative to break into real anger or real passion; the war and the great events surrounding it seem no more or less consequential than a decision to take a train ride or an unsatisfactory one-night stand in a port town. Other reviewers read this as bitterness, a condemnation of the war for being yet another distraction dreamed up by the ruling classes. To me it reads more like an expression of powerlessness, a huge shrug of the shoulders, a feeling that no-one can do any more in the face of history.

Nevertheless, this is a great achievement; a documentary-like attempt to show the world as it is, with no romance or sentimentality clouding the view. If possible, try to get a copy with the original illustrations, which add a huge amount of flavor.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Bogged Down in the War 10 Jan 2007
By A. Ross - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
After reading and greatly enjoying the first volume (The 42nd Parallel) in Dos Passos' acclaimed "USA trilogy", I quickly moved on to this next volume. Picking up where that one left off, it takes the reader from America's entry in World War I through the end of the war. As with "The 42nd Parallel", this is done by following several characters through the war era, interspersed with Dos Passos' experiment modernist sequences "The Camera Eye" and "Newsreel." (These are kind of abstract prose collages or montages comprised of headlines, snatched phrases of songs, news clippings, and random phrases -- presumably intended to convey some of the mood and seeming frenetic pace of the time. At the time they might have seemed startling and striking, however to me they muddy up what is already a wide-ranging and complex narrative.) There are also sketches of major figures, such as Woodrow Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt, Joe Hill, J.P. Morgan, and the Unknown Soldier, which are miniature masterpieces of biography.

Unfortunately, while that first book was a revelation, I found this one exceedingly tedious. Dos Passos' antiwar sentiment is so strong and vociferous throughout the book that it lacks the range of the first book and settles into a more or less repetitive rut. While it's certainly instructive to see how almost a century ago, a nation could be easily seduced by manufactured patriotism, Dos Passos' take is so decidedly ideological that he masks some of the complexities of the situation. His bitter cynicism about it all -- which, to be fair, was hard won through his ambulance duty on the Western Front -- results in a very negative novel, in which all relationships are a failure, all promises broken, all politics corrupt, and even those who mean well are rendered ineffective by larger forces.

The book introduces a new set of characters, including a sailor, a poet, a Jewish radical, a small-town Texas woman, and a preacher's daughter. However, for some reason, their tales aren't nearly as compelling as those in "The 42nd Parallel." While this may be because they are overshadowed by the war, it doesn't help that many characters from that earlier book turn up in France to steal a good deal of the narrative thunder. In any event, what was exciting about the first book is decidedly less so here, and I don't think I'll move on to complete the trilogy -- at least not any time soon.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly Engaging and Entertaining Art 27 April 2009
By Kerry Hubers - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This second book in the U.S.A. trilogy seems more accomplished than the first. While I tend to believe this is because Dos Passos had gotten into the rhythm of the novel, it could be that, by the second book, the reader has become more acquainted with the experimental aspects. At any rate, this book, no less than the first, left me in awe. Dos Passos is a writer of the highest order.

While the first book focused more on economic issues in the lives of everyday Americans, this novel shifts focus to the war. Few of the primary characters are enthusiastic about the war and, thus, the cross-section of America presented cannot be said to be ideologically representative anymore than the first was ethnically or culturally representative. And yet the scope of the novel is broad. Again, Dos Passos' subject is America rather than individual Americans. While the individuals are interesting, they are not essential as individuals.

Dos Passos' ability to set a scene is as good as anyone's. In the following, two characters from the first novel are sitting at a small café in Europe just after Eveline has asked an intimate question of J.W.

"Eveline sat looking at him [J.W.] with her lips a little apart, her cheeks blazing. `Maybe it's taken the war to teach us how to live,' he said. `We've been too much interested in money and material things, it's taken the French to show us how to live. Where back home in the States could you find a beautiful atmosphere like this?' J.W. waved his arm to include in a sweeping gesture the sea, the tables crowded with women dressed in bright colors and men in their best uniforms, the bright glint of blue light on glasses and cutlery. The waiter mistook his gesture and slyly substituted a full bottle for the empty bottle in the champagnepail."

This is as close as most of the characters get to introspection. The characters of this novel, as most Americans yesterday and today, live their lives rather than ruminate about them. Where J.W. perhaps regret his focus on work and material things over relationships, other characters' lives are ordered primarily around relationships or the moment rather than about succeeding in any traditional sense.

One character sums up his view after breaking up with a girl he had impregnated: "Gee, I'm glad I'm not a girl, he kept thinking. He had a splitting headache. He locked his door, got undressed and put out the light. When he opened the window a gust of raw rainy air came into the room and made him feel better. It was just like Ed said, you couldn't do anything without making other people miserable. A hell of a rotten world."

It may be a hell of a rotten world, but in Dos Passos' hands, it is a beautiful one all the same. Dos Passos' vision can seem barren of the hope and optimism usually associated with the "American dream." Dos Passos is not interested in the popular illusion, however, but in America as it was lived by ordinary people. This trilogy may be the true height of American literature. At the least, it should be considered essential reading.

While this book could be read alone, to fully appreciate the connections between characters, you must start with the first book in the trilogy, THE 42nd PARALLEL. I highly recommend doing so. The U.S.A. trilogy is a truly astounding literary achievement and should be read as a piece.
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