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Seeing Calvin Coolidge in a Dream [Hardcover]

John Derbyshire
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 273 pages
  • Publisher: St Martin's Press (Feb 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312140444
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312140441
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.7 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,125,112 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Synopsis

Former Red Guard and middle-aged Chinese immigrant Chai pursues an obsession with the late American president Calvin Coolidge, while Chai's wife, Ding, is forced to save their marriage when he is tempted by a women from his past.

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Please note that my email address has changed to "john.derbyshire@csfb.com" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific, charming, poignant, uplifting 1 Sep 1998
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I understand this is the author's first published novel, and it is a masterpiece. The Englishman manages to capture the cadences of both Chinese immigrant and Yankee Puritan with aplomb. The use of language is breathtaking, the analogies awesome and the story itself charming, funny and totally uplifting. In the process he manages to paint a wonderful portrait of the most neglected President of the twentieth century, the magnificent Calvin Coolidge.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Coolidge for President in 2000! 10 Jun 1998
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Wonderful book about Chinese immigrant and how his study of and obsession with President Calvin Coolidge sets his life straight. Hopeful message about America and what makes the United States unique. Nice to see Coolidge--a much underrated president--come to life on these pages. Also, like a good teacher, this is one of those books that makes readers learn much and feel smart without ever having them work too hard.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Pleasant Surprise 17 Nov 1998
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
A delightful little novel about an Chinese immigrant who comes to idolize Calvin Coolidge. The author manages to portray a character who is quirky but eminently human, eccentric but likable. It is no surprise that one of the narrator's favorite authors is Samuel Johnson, himself a combination of the above-mentioned traits. It is also nice to see Calvin Coolidge getting some much-deserved credit in this book.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.9 out of 5 stars  22 reviews
34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant 20 Aug 2000
By Walter Fekula - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I am the Boris in John Derbyshire's brilliant first novel. I have had the priviledge of having Mr. Derbyshire work in my Department at a Wall Street firm allowing him to write his novel at the office. What has John done? He has put together a masterful novel of a Chinese immigrant who comes to this country with his Chinese wife and as many of us do, fantasizes about a former girlfriend who has also immigrated to this country. Unlike many of us husbands, he visits her. He then weaves in the 30th president of the United States who helps preserve his marriage. It should be noted that Mr. Derbyshire is English, went to China to teach and fell in love with and married one of his students. He does have a genuine fondness for Mr. Coolidge. We have debated to what extent the book is autobiographical, which he vehemetly denies although his wife hates the book. So be it. If you want a good, thoughtful read, try this acclaimed book.
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If only China had Calvin Coolidge in their history. 3 Aug 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This one really has to be read on trust. Such an absurd concept - former Red Guard escapes mainland China to Hong Kong, eventually reaches New York in the banking industry and becomes obsessed with Calvin Coolidge - can only be translated into wonderful reading by a genuine talent - which Mr. Derbyshire obviously is. It's worth reading for the commentary on Chinese history. It's worth reading for the commentary on Mr. Coolidge. It's worth reading strictly for the penultimate scene - when the title scene is played out. It's worth reading purely for the craft of the author's art. It's just worth reading - proof that there are still precious gems out there amid the torrent of flotsam and jetsam that the main publishing houses turn out on a prolific and shameless basis.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First off, a 'thank you' to previous reviewers here! 22 Dec 2004
By Owen Hatteras - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Until recently, my only acquaintance with Mr. Derbyshire was in his role as a somewhat disagreeable controversialist in "National Review" magazine. Then, I noticed his most recent book (as of this posting), "Prime Obsession", a non-fiction account of the work of 19th century German mathematician Bernhard Riemann, whose prime number theorum remains one of the biggest unsolved problems in mathematics. Through the capsule biography of the author, I found out the existance of this book and consulted the reviews here.

Having read "Seeing Calvin Coolidge in a Dream", I can say that it fully lives up to the sometimes-extravagant praise posted here. The book has a quirky charm all its own, not least because of the first-person voice of its hero, Chai, a winning and fascinating personality. Since the plot has been fully discussed in other reviews here, I will limit myself to a few random observations.

--Chai's account of his participation in the Red Guards as a teenager reads like a chiller out of Chen Jo-Hsi's book, "The Execution of Mayor Yin, and Other Tales of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution" His witnessing of a gang-rape (which he feigns participation in) shames him and destroys at a stroke any loyalty to the Party he may have had. This starts him on his long road to America.

--Like Joseph Conrad in England, Chai masters the intricacies of English while in America. His ironic and insightful observations of the United States, China, and Hong Kong (before the PRC took over) are fun to read and dead-on.

--The long-dead Calvin Coolidge appears to give some dry and intelligent advice. Mr. Derbyshire manages to squash the old legend of "Silent Cal" as unintelligent and indolent. While the author perhaps spreads it a mite too thick, it is still a useful and entertaining corrective. (I hold with the political scientist who believes that Mr. Coolidge's apparent indolence was the result of a deep--perhaps clinical--depression at the death of his 16-year old son, Calvin Jr. from septicemia caused by an infected blister on his foot that had been raised playing tennis on the White House lawn.)

All of this is just by-the-by, however. The book was simply a delight and I urge anyone whose interest has been piqued by these comments to read it just as I did.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific, charming, poignant, uplifting 1 Sep 1998
By Robert N. Going Esq - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I understand this is the author's first published novel, and it is a masterpiece. The Englishman manages to capture the cadences of both Chinese immigrant and Yankee Puritan with aplomb. The use of language is breathtaking, the analogies awesome and the story itself charming, funny and totally uplifting. In the process he manages to paint a wonderful portrait of the most neglected President of the twentieth century, the magnificent Calvin Coolidge.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Read or Good Book? 20 April 2005
By James Carragher - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I was telling a friend who was once my English professor at Cal Berkeley that Seeing was the best novel I'd read in a long time. (Unfortunately, there is currently little time for novel reading.) She asked, "Good book or good read?" I sort of went "Huh," but have been mulling over the question ever since. The answer: good read, emphatically. Swift, short and constantly entertaining in its transitions of place and time, and overlay of memory, Seeing is a true page-turner. Good book? I think the answer here is also yes. Derbyshire, who I presume from his name to be a Caucasian, does a pretty convincing job as an Asian narrator, even capturing Chai's reflexive smugness toward women, particularly his wife Ding. The pitch for the rehabilitation of Calvin Coolidge does not convince me; he still seems a simple man for simpler times whose values are of a more limited guidance than the author implicitly argues. At the same time, the observations on China, particularly the excesses of the Red Guard, and on a self-absorbed and often frivolous America as seen through a recent, successful immigrant's eyes ring very true. And you can't help but enjoy Ding's wiles as she brings Chai to live Coolidge's maxims.
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