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Fiskadoro [Paperback]

Denis Johnson
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

24 Jan 1994
This novel is a surreal allegory which puts forward a vision of a possible American future. It is set in a post-apocalypse society where the inhabitants of Twicetown await the second-comings of the gods Jesus, Quetzalcoatl and Bob Marley. Johnson has also written "Angels".

Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Faber and Faber; New Ed edition (24 Jan 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571170188
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571170180
  • Product Dimensions: 20.1 x 13 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,841,885 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Book Description

'A marvellous book, beautifully written and constantly entertaining-. He is a wonderful storyteller' Washington Post --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Denis Johnson is the author of nine novels, three collections of poetry, and one book of reportage. His novel Tree of Smoke won the 2007 National Book Award. Train Dreams was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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First Sentence
Here, and also south of us, the beaches have a yellow tint, but along the Keys of Florida the sand is like shattered ivory. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Strange second novel. 10 Nov 2002
By Jason Parkes #1 HALL OF FAME
I've read Denis Johnson's stuff out of sequence, so came to this after reading Already Dead, Jesus' Son, The Name of the World, Resucitation of a Hanged Man, Angels, Seek...This wasn't what I was expecting, so was a little disappointed- the problem more with my expectations of Johnson than the novel itself. Perhaps the problem was reading books like JG Ballard's The Drought, Richard Matheson's I am Legend & Paul Auster's In the Country of Last Things shortly before...
Upon re-reading Fiskadoro, I chastised myself for taking a negative stance towards it- OK, I don't think it's in the league of The Name of the World or Already Dead, but it is a bold, individual experiment and makes a lot more sense having read about some of Johnsons' experiences in Seek. Great to see Vintage reissueing Johnson's early works, which reminds me- I've got Stars of Noon to read.
Fiskadoro is a very strange book, that alone warrants investigation. There is also something fascinating about the notion of apocalypse and reaffirming the spiritual- which when you take into account this novel was made at the height of the Reagan era- makes it all the more interesting...
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By Jason Parkes #1 HALL OF FAME
I got into Johnson via 'Uncut' magazine- starting with 'Jesus'Son', 'Already Dead' and 'Resucitation of a Dead Man'. Which are all fantastic and amongst the best American (or anywhere) literature I've read. I even got a copy of 'The Name of The World' from the States- which I think is a masterpiece...'Angels', 'The Stars at Noon' and this novel are hard to locate in this country (I'm still looking out for the first two)- I came across this second-hand and was really pleased...However, upon reading this I just felt I'd been there before (and better) with JG Ballard's 'The Drought' and Paul Auster's 'In The Country Of Last Things'. The subject seemed too familiar, from 'The Road Warrior' to 'Waterworld', to the imaginings of a post-nuclear world in early Douglas Coupland to the apocalypse, albeit vampirical, in 'I Am Legend'...The theme is too familiar- and is very eighties; I think it is well-written- and suited to academic-study. But I could not connect with the themes or characters...I'll put this down to an experiment by the author, writers explore alternate avenues to expand their oeuvre. And I think here it doesn't come off; I was so bored I could have been reading 'Surfacing' by Margaret Attwood...So, after my first reading I'm anything but blown away- though the same can be said for Paul Auster's latest or 'The Body Artist' by Don DeLillo. This is far from Johnson's best and the last book I would reccomend to read by him...If a post-apocalyptic, po-faced sf-world cliche is your thing- then, you might just enjoy this novel.My advice?- wait for 'The Name of the World'...
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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  14 reviews
33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Allah, Quetzalcoatal, Bob Marley 2 Mar 2001
By Arch Llewellyn - Published on Amazon.com
Have you ever wished you could believe in ghosts? Or Jesus or Bob Marley or Bruce Lee? "Fiskadoro" creates a bizarre, poetic world where the civilization that stands between us and earlier forms of belief has been wiped out in a nuclear attack.
The new denizens of Twicetown (once Key West) live among the fragments of a half-remembered time, where scraps of different languages, musics, religions and machines exist without the memory of their earlier meaning or purpose. With no history to understand, the characters return to a more primal (primitive?) instinct for magic, ritual and resurrection.
Johnson writes with the weird precision of dreams, where details like the heat or the color of a tree are crystal-clear, but the larger meanings stay blurred. He's especially good at describing extreme states--epileptic fits, the Saigon airlift, a druggy tribal initiation rite.
But the characters themselves never felt very real to me. Maybe that's part of the point: without memory, identity softens and leaves a new margin for the spirit-world, for the deaths and strange rebirths that fill the story. But I found it hard to stay interested in what happened to anyone, and the novel ends (for me at least) with more muddle than mystery.
Still, Johnson's makes his fractured world every bit as believable as ours. His sharp, lyrical prose will haunt you long after you've forgotten the plot.
30 of 37 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hallucinatory, profound, brilliantly scattered 1 Feb 2002
By Clear-eyed - Published on Amazon.com
A friend gave me copies of Denis Johnson's "Fiskadoro" and "Already Dead," and told me to read "Fiskadoro" second since it was maybe too bizarre an introduction to the author's work. As a lover of the bizarre, I ignored his advice and read "Fiskadoro" first.
As noted by other reviewers, probably Johnson's greatest strength is his poetic and creative use of language. Like Bruno Schulz (as so brilliantly translated by Celina Wieniewski), he gives you sentences and paragraphs that are truly breathtaking, like unexpectedly stumbling across a scene of incredible beauty. Also like Schulz, Johnson is also quite adept at conveying dreamlike states of mind, and can inspire the conviction that delirium is more true than "objective" reality.
"Fiskadoro" can be called a science fiction book only in the most hair-splitting sense. It's not a druggy fantasy like the Carlos Castaneda books. Nor is it a cautionary tale warning us of the effects of nuclear devastation--although it certainly does convey some of those horrors very effectively. This is more of a psychological adventure, a meditation on human consciousness and being, with plenty of entertaining experiences along the way.
Johnson's humor is very sophisticated. It's a sign of his great skill that much of the humor is totally contextual, but nonetheless very amusing. His humor is not the knee-slapping variety, but more the awe-inspiring, thought-provoking variety. But very funny nonetheless.
Some of the imagery is so cinematic, so well described--with fairly ordinary language surrounding precisely the correct word to unlock the door to mysterious imaginings--that I would find myself thinking, "Wow...Can someone really do that with just words?" The guy is truly a gifted writer.
Occasionally, too, Johnson throws in a wise observation or imparts a philosophical nugget of the sort that a serious reader might jot down in a commonplace book, and that's always very rewarding.
The characterizations are less satisfying, for the most part. There are a number of very interesting characters, and we do get to know some of them pretty well, but I sensed a certain distance from most of the characters, except maybe Mr. Cheung. This is less a character-driven story than an idea-driven one. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but some readers may be disappointed by that.
The attempts of Mr. Cheung, gardener, clarinetist, and Manager of the "Miami Symphony Orchestra," to maintain a civilized sensibility in the face of choas and entropy are very touching. He reminded me of Mr. Tagomi in Philip K. Dick's "Man in the High Castle"--thoughtful, dignified, worried, prim, self-critical, conscientious, dogged, earnest. And Johnson does an excellent job of helping us see things through Mr. Cheung's eyes when he's the POV character.
I thought the latter portion of the book, after Fiskadoro himself goes through his transformation, was less satisfying than the earlier sections. (This may be because I embarked on that section the day after seeing the second part of the Ken Burns documentary on Mark Twain. Suddenly "Fiskadoro" seemed trivial in comparison to the monumental works of Clemens.) Even though some very intense things happen, the story became more symbolic and less emotionally involving for me in its concluding stages.
I was also a little put off by the growing feeling that the author regarded black and poor folks as very alien. Maybe that's unfair, but there's sometimes a condescending, patronizing vibe toward some of the characters. I prefer a writer who's in there with the characters to one who could be slumming. (Or is that my own prejudices rearing their hydra heads?)
Overall, though, I highly recommend "Fiskadoro." There is much more going on here than a beautiful writing style. Johnson shows you wonders, he embraces pain and fear and death as integral to life, and he reminds you that despite everything, life is precious and profound, and, yes, worth it--and sometimes strange in ways that are almost impossible to imagine. He gives you much to think about, but he slips the ideas in skillfully, organically, so that they appear in the light-bleached, desolate splendor of the landscape in a way that makes them seem like they always belonged there.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Post-Modern Popul Vuh ? 1 Sep 2006
By Skronk - Published on Amazon.com
You've gotta love an eschatology that encompasses Bob Marley, Jesus and Quetzalcoatl.

Denis Johnson's coming of age story revolves around the boy Fiskadoro, and his

clarinet teacher, Mr. Cheung. These inhabitants of Twicetown (set in the

post-WWIII Florida Keys), some of whom speak in a Spanglish or Rastafari patois, are

trying to restart civilization from the remains of the old. The apolcalypse has ruptured all

cultural continuity, leaving Twicetown's inhabitants with cryptic items from the past

from which they fashion their lives and beliefs. Old auto parts are fashioned into

furniture, phrases with forgotten meanings, song lyrics, and prophesies gleaned from a

children's book on dinosaurs all become part of their new creation myth: a post-modern

Popol Vuh.

Events in time seem to recycle and inform the future: One character, Grandmother Wright,

mute with age and senility, is trapped in her own memories of her escape from Vietnam during

the fall of Saigon. Her memories of her survival parallel the present: past becomes prologue

to the future.

With me so far? This book might be a tough introduction to Denis Johnson's work, but for me, his poetic turns of phrases made me stop several times in order to reread and savor select

passages. Overall, Fiskadoro shows that now matter how advanced our civilization may be, we're only a misstep away from new, spooky world.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Anthropologist at the End of the World 25 Jan 2002
By "adamted" - Published on Amazon.com
This is a glowing work, rendered in a luminous prose that seamlessly undulates between bright-pale caprice and dimmed, primitive(in tone, not execution) heaviness. Fiskadoro is a tale of the ancient human tribes of the future and Johnson is our masterful archeologist/anthropologist, an amnesiatic clairvoyant of the end of the world. We're presented with a post-apocalyptic glimpse of humanity's persistence in the lush yet devastated area south of the Florida Keys. It's a story about time's confluence, the ghosts of history's wandering presence in the present(our future), the self as a product of culture, the self as an ever dying vessel of forgetting, family, greed, born leaders, born failures, birth, death. To attempt to further encapsulate this novel is to truly do it a disservice for it unfolds magically before the reader's eyes, transports us far away to the here and now... if that makes any sense. Its somber tones(somber in the way a cello seems to lament at the same frequency of the heart) are moving, its compassion mixed with sudden moments of darkness is striking, its thematic, structural, and philosophical complexities are easily savored, devoured, drunk, basked in... for Johnson tells it with a sensitivity and a love and a vision that is both unique and rare(inspiring).
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Assume the Apocalypse 2 Mar 2006
By Lukas Jackson - Published on Amazon.com
FISKADORO is a radically different work than the other Johnson books I've read, JESUS' SON and ANGELS. In those works, Johnson renders gritty realities with poetry and spirituality that make them transcendent. The language is still poetic here, but now Johnson is rendering a strangely mutated, postapocalyptic world.

While the language is lush, and spiritual themes constantly emerge and submerge, FISKADORO strikes me as one of the most realistic portrayals of the post-apocalypse that I have seen. Too often, the post-apocalypse is portrayed as a hellish nightmare where basic humanity has disappeared (see Jack Womack's work). Johnson's survivors are shamefully ignorant by today's standards, and the cult offshoots of this future world demand horrific and seemingly needless blood sacrifices, but Johnson's future never devolves into caricature. In fact, at times I find myself considering that Fiskadoro's world, with the survivors eking out a quarantined existence starved of resources and information in the Florida Keys, is probably how most people on the Earth live NOW. Johnson seems to be suggesting this as well, with the interpolation of Fiskadoro's post-apocalyptic world and Grandmother Cheung's similar escape from the chaos of collapsing South Vietnam in the 1970s.

All in all, this is an extraordinarily thoughtful and exquisitely rendered work, almost more of a portrait in poetry than a traditional work of fiction.
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