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Underworld Hardcover – 27 Oct 1997


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 832 pages
  • Publisher: Prentice Hall & IBD; 1st edition edition (27 Oct 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684842696
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684842691
  • Product Dimensions: 16.7 x 4.9 x 24.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (72 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,178,173 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

While Eisenstein documented the forces of totalitarianism and Stalinism upon the faces of the Russian peoples, DeLillo offers a stunning, at times overwhelming, document of the twin forces of the Cold War and American culture, compelling that "swerve from evenness" in which he finds events and people both wondrous and horrifying. Underworld opens with a breathlessly graceful prologue set during the final game of the Giants-Dodgers pennant race in 1951. Written in what DeLillo calls "super-omniscience" the sentences sweep from young Cotter Martin as he jumps the gate to the press box, soars over the radio waves, runs out to the diamond, slides in on a fast ball, pops into the stands where J. Edgar Hoover is sitting with a drunken Jackie Gleason and a splenetic Frank Sinatra, and learns of the Soviet Union's second detonation of a nuclear bomb. It's an absolutely thrilling literary moment. When Bobby Thomson hits Branca's pitch into the outstretched hand of Cotter--the "shot heard around the world"--and Jackie Gleason pukes on Sinatra's shoes, the events of the next few decades are set in motion, all threaded together by the baseball as it passes from hand to hand.

"It's all falling indelibly into the past," writes DeLillo, a past that he carefully recalls and reconstructs with acute grace. Jump from Giants Stadium to the Nevada desert in 1992, where Nick Shay, who now owns the baseball, reunites with the artist Kara Sax. They had been brief and unlikely lovers 40 years before, and it is largely through the events, spinoffs, and coincidental encounters of their pasts that DeLillo filters the Cold War experience. He believes that "global events may alter how we live in the smallest ways," and as the book steps back in time to 1951, over the following 800-odd pages, we see just how those events alter lives. This reverse narrative allows the author to strip away the detritus of history and pop culture until we get to the story's pure elements: the bomb, the baseball and the Bronx. In an epilogue as breathless and stunning as the prologue, DeLillo fast-forwards to a near future in which ruthless capitalism, the Internet, and a new, hushed faith have replaced the Cold War's blend of dread and euphoria.

Through fragments and interlaced stories--including those of highway killers, artists, celebrities, conspiracists, gangsters, nuns, and sundry others--DeLillo creates a fragile web of connected experience, a communal Zeitgeist that encompasses the messy whole of five decades of American life, wonderfully distilled. --Amazon.com --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

‘This book is an aria and a wolf whistle of our half-century’ -- Michael Ondaatje

‘Underworld is a magnificent book by an American master’ -- Salman Rushdie --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 12 Dec 1998
Format: Paperback
It took a big effort to read this - carrying around that extra weight to and from work and in planes, and having to search for the concentration to draw together the myriad threads of the storylines in the midst of the rest of my life. But I have to say that it was well worth the effort.
It is not just the length that daunts. This is not a "page-turner" in the normal sense. Whilst some sections draw you through, the majority of the text, for me, cried out to be read lovingly and for meaning - which meant that I had to slow right down to make sense of it all.
If you have the time, and energy, (and are prepared to read something almost wholly American) you should read this book. It is surely of the highest quality.
True - there were the odd fifty pages here or there which I struggled with. But that was counterbalanced with some moments of such emotion (the argument over which brother should look after the aging mother; the description of flying through the blast; the scenes of infidelity; the scene with the shotgun to name only a few) to make up for this many times over.
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33 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Mr B on 9 April 2006
Format: Paperback
My advice: pick up this tome at your local bookshop and read the wonderfully evocative first 50-60 pages which describe a mythical baseball game at a pivotal moment in American history. Watch the game slowly unfold through the eyes of the youngster who vaults the turnstiles. Savour the descriptions of the stands going wild, the papers and programmes spiralling through the air and wonder on the fate of that coveted home run ball. And then replace your copy. For after this almighty beginning, Underworld's joys are but fleeting epiphanies. For me, De Lillo reads as if he is just trying too hard at times, and nowhere more so than in his constant reference to GenX assembly parts like linoleum and styrofoam in his descriptions. And it's such a shame because the set pieces are so huge in scale and ambition that you'd go with them, if the characters and situations didn't seem so studied, so plotted out. All the right tunes, but sadly minus the soul.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 29 Oct 1997
Format: Hardcover
In Underworld Delillo finally offers characters whose engagement with a devastated millenial landscape includes an emotional reckoning that exalts them to a more humane status. While it's easy to understand the point made by creating hollowed out characters in a universe of normalized paranoia, it's more effective for the author to plant real human beings into his environment, a point demonstrated over and over again by such great apocalyptic urban philosophical writers as Juan Carlos Onetti, and even recently by Rick Harsch, author of the remarkable and unfortunately overlooked The Driftless Zone. It seems that Delillo has finally brought all his talents to bear in this latest novel.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Scott on 22 April 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Whoever said that a great novel had to be easy to digest? Sometimes it is rewarding to work hard at reading a novel, taking the time to absorb the beauty of the language- paying close attention to the actual words upon the page. This is no page turner, but it is incredibly rewarding if you are prepared to give it the time.

The book isn't about plot, morality, resolution or sentimentaliy- apsects of American literature that I so often find repellent- Delillo depicts humanity not emotional cliche. It goes way beyond cliche, painting an incredible and beautiful picture of the United States during the second half of the 20th Century. The interconnected nature of everything on our planet is demonstrated so effectively as to be overwhelming- it is not only what Delillo depicts that is overwhelming, but also the sheer ambition of the writer in attempting to encapsulate so many nuances of American culture in one novel.

I imagine those who have posted such dispariging reviews were expecting such a highly praised novel to a bit more of the work for them. It took a long time to get through and it's rarely easy going, but if you come to it with an open mind and can suspend your assumptions about what a novel is supposed to be, then you may find Underworld to be extrmely valuable and satisfying.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 12 Feb 1999
Format: Paperback
'Longing on a large scale' Delillo writes 'is what makes history', and 'Underworld' is very much a book about longing. About America's irresistible longing for meaning and validation, order and consequence, a collective consciousness of faith and ideal and the sub-culture, 'the lost country inside America' that is its discarded identity, its 'waste'. Delillo evokes the intensity of this longing with a vital, imagery-driven prose that is both unsettling and breath-taking. The burden of war, real and imagined and the squalor of urban decay, the casual brutality of sex and death and the vast outpouring of the Internet. I didn't feel it was overly long or ponderous. It was a joy to read as much for the richness of the language as for its sheer size and depth. Delillo's America often seems a very desolate place, a country of secrets and empty spaces, but also uncompromising and powerful. As a European I don't know if this is a book Americans identify with, whether or not Delillo genuinely captures the mood of recent history. But he does capture the fascinating extremes that the American culture represents to non-Americans, the glory and despair of ambition and, most importantly, the universal dangers of self-inflicted ignorance.
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