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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars We're not in Miami anymore, Toto
There's a scene towards the end of Back to Blood when we finally get inside the secret studio of the elusive Russian artist Igor Drukovich. In public an arch-devotee of realism, Igor has hidden away in his studio a series of copies of modernist, surrealist, abstract and cubist masterpieces by the likes of Picasso, Matisse, Kandinksy and Braque -- the very artists he...
Published 16 months ago by Justin Huggler

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some classic Wolfe traits but let down by rambling plot and lost threads
He may now be 81, but there are no signs that Tom Wolfe is mellowing. Is his latest "Back to Blood" another magnificent addition to the Wolfe Hall or is he merely bringing up the bodies? Well for me, it's a little of both. The book's great strength and also its main weakness are in the similarities between this Miami-set story of racial and cultural tension and his New...
Published 12 months ago by Ripple


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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some classic Wolfe traits but let down by rambling plot and lost threads, 17 July 2013
By 
Ripple (uk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Back to Blood (Paperback)
He may now be 81, but there are no signs that Tom Wolfe is mellowing. Is his latest "Back to Blood" another magnificent addition to the Wolfe Hall or is he merely bringing up the bodies? Well for me, it's a little of both. The book's great strength and also its main weakness are in the similarities between this Miami-set story of racial and cultural tension and his New York-set classic "The Bonfire of the Vanities". There are familiar themes: newspapers, racial tension, the super-rich behaving disgracefully and lost in their own ego-mania, and a lively writing style shot through with angry humour, all of which bring to mind "The Bonfire of the Vanities". As there, he takes several characters from different worlds whose lives intersect in unexpected ways. But while taking those ingredients might seem a very welcome thing, the end result suffers in comparison.

Part of the problem is that the issues in New York that were part of "The Bonfire of the Vanities" seemed to define an age and had things that readers can recognize as, albeit extreme, versions of what they might see in their own cities and countries. The Miami issues are, to a degree, specific to that city and thereby hangs part of the issue. Racial tension is not, of course, confined to Miami, but the extreme pressure of the Cuban influx is, although that's not to imply that lessons cannot be learned from here. However, a further factor is that there are other writers, notably Carl Hiaasen who have made a career out of Miami novels so it's debatable how much new that Wolfe is able to bring to the table. With "Bonfire", you felt that Wolfe really lived the New York experience. With "Back to Blood" you feel that he has researched it.

The central storyline is one of Cuban cop, Nestor Camacho who manages to antagonize almost all ethnic groups in Miami at some point in the book, particularly his own Cuban community and then the African American community. His faux pas with the Cubans is following orders to save or arrest (depending on your point of view) a Cuban illegal immigrant's attempt to reach US landfall. By stopping this happening, he becomes a traitor to the Cuban neighbourhood in which he lives and to his family. His Cuban girlfriend leaves him, although this is less to do with his actions and more to do with her social climbing as she hooks up with her boss, an egotistical psychiatrist specializing in pornography addiction, whose clients bring him into contact with the ultra rich Russian oligarch community. This is part of my reservation about the book - Wolfe is at his cutting best satirizing the egos of the rich and powerful - he's less convincing when it comes to the under privileged, and Camacho is the main driver of this story and he falls very much into the latter category.

Wolfe does bring out the racial tensions amongst the African Americans, the Russians, the Cubans, the Haitians and the Anglos. The mayor is Cuban, the Chief of Police, African American, the press run by the Anglos, most of which are ex-Yale. It's no wonder that tension exists not least as when things start going pear shaped, there is a tendency to go "back to blood" and to revert to cultural groups. For Nestor of course, this is less of an option as he gets rejected by his own community early on.

Wolfe's journalistic eye for observation has not left him and nor has his energy in writing. He's fond of inserting sounds, usually in groups of four to the descriptions, he uses the colon more than any writer has ever done before, using them in groups of six either side of a character's thoughts, and is no stranger to an ellipsis. In places, his satire is biting and angry, and full of passion. But too often, he gets lost on some thread that becomes quite dull and repetitive. He even makes a multi-boat based orgy dull, which is a feat in itself. There are times when he seems to go for shock factor for the sake of it rather than to enrich the story and some plot lines are merely abandoned - like the Haitian professor who wants to be French. And while the plot comes together nicely at the end, the ending is rather sudden.

Wolfe is still one of the more exciting novelists to read and it's partly that some of his earlier works were so good that it's hard to live up to this standard. There are passages of "Back to Blood" where he seems to be back to close to his best form, but ultimately the gaps between these are too rambling. It would perhaps have benefited from a tighter edit (perhaps it has been edited by one of the three little piggies who was afraid of Mr Wolfe) but for all that is it is a satisfying beach read for the summer and less than perfect Wolfe is better than a lot of other writers on top of their game. The result is a strange mix of being enjoyable but at the same time, slightly disappointing.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars We're not in Miami anymore, Toto, 13 Mar 2013
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This review is from: Back to Blood (Hardcover)
There's a scene towards the end of Back to Blood when we finally get inside the secret studio of the elusive Russian artist Igor Drukovich. In public an arch-devotee of realism, Igor has hidden away in his studio a series of copies of modernist, surrealist, abstract and cubist masterpieces by the likes of Picasso, Matisse, Kandinksy and Braque -- the very artists he sneers at in public. But it turns out they are perfect forgeries Igor has been living off, laughing behind his hand as he deludes the art establishment which has rejected him.
It's hard not to suspect this might have something to do with Wolfe's own very public spat with the literary modernists. Like his character Igor, Wolfe is an exponent of realism in an age when it's out of fashion. Like Igor, he has publicly attacked the fashionable . Is he perhaps hinting that, like Igor, he could effortlessly replicate his rivals' works, while they couldn't copy his realism?
The thing is, though, that Wolfe hasn't proved all that versatile in his fictional career. After the dazzling success of Bonfire of the Vanities and A Man in Full he decided to turn his hand to something different in I am Charlotte Simmons. He tried to write the sort of novel his rivals excel at, set on the small canvas of a university campus, and focused on the interior life of its characters, but the result fell flat. Robbed of material suited to the satire at which he excels, he fell back on toilet humour -- literally, with a grotesque recital of the gruntings and strainings of a male undergraduate at stool.
Thankfully in Back to Blood he is back to what he does best, painting the life of an entire city, and following a wide cast of characters and the intricate ways they're connected. The protagonist is Nestor Camacho, an ambitious young cop. The child of Cuban immigrants, he sees a career in the police as his passport to acceptance by the wider community. The irony, as Wolfe gleefully describes, is that the Cubans already are the wider community of Miami, a city where immigrants are the majority. And Nestor's moment of triumph, as he saves the life of a would-be Cuban immigrant from Cuba live on TV, is also his downfall, as the man is arrested and deported, and Nestor is disowned by his own family.
That's the moment which sets everything else off in Back to Blood, which will force Nestor into an uneasy alliance with John Smith, a WASP reporter who is trying to uncover the truth aboutthe mysterious connection between Igor the artist and Sergei Korolyov, a Russian billionaire who has bought his way to the sort of social acceptance Nestor yearns for. Which will force Nestor out of his prestigious job on a police boat and onto a crime beat where he will be accused of brutality towards an African American suspect, and meet a stunning Haitian beauty.
And at the same time Nestor's old girlfriend, Magdalena, is on her own quest for acceptance, cut adrift from her Cuban immigrant roots just like Nestor. But while he is fighting to clear his name amid the crack dens of Miami, she seems on a relentless rise, with a rich new boyfriend who can take her to the most glittering parties in town.
It's the perfect canvas for Wolfe, who gets to give us a succession of the set pieces he is justly famous for: billionaires fighting like children to get the best paintings at an art sale; a police raid on a crack den; a reality TV show crew trying to start a fight at a high society party; Nestor and John Smith undercover at a lap dancing club.
This is a novel about outsiders, and their quest for acceptance. But the joke's on them, because they live in a city where everyone's an outsider, where even the privileged WASP newspaper editor is ill at ease and feels out of place. There's a scene where Nestor and John Smith are tailing Igor out of the city, and they come to a place which Nestor finds disconcerting and unfamiliar. "We've just entered a strange land...called America!" John Smith says, and then, echoing Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, "We're not in Miami anymore".
America is, of course, a country founded on immigration, but Wolfe's Miami is still in the crucible, being formed, while the rest of America has stratified around it. The structures of the rest of America don't apply in this Miami, it is the city of the future.
For all its zest and fun, this is a big, serious book then, about a big, serious subject, every bit as ambitious as Bonfire of the Vanities and A Man in Full, and to a large extent Wolfe pulls it off. That his conclusions often seem at odds with current fashionable thought doesn't matter a bit. He deserves a hearing.
But Back to Blood is not without its faults. The novel starts superbly, hurling the reader in medias res, and ends on an exhilarating high with Nestor and John's newspaper investigation, which proves that even in the days of the internet, it's still possible to write classic newsroom high drama.
But, surprisingly, it sags in the middle. This is largely down to the Magdalena subplot. While Nestor remains a sympathetic character throughout his tribulations, it's harder to root for Magdalena after she callously ditches him on her very first appearance -- and at his lowest ebb too. Her new lover, Norman the sex doctor, and Maurice his billionaire patron, are deliciously grotesque at first but after a while they just become grating.
It's not till Magdalena gets involved with the Russian billionaire Sergei that her subplot picks up -- Wolfe pulls the oligarch off brilliantly, his ruthless exercise of power at once enticing and chilling.
The other problem with Back to Blood is, still more surprisingly, with its style. Wolfe is a great prose stylist: he was famous for his style long before he ever turned to fiction, back when he was a pioneer of the New Journalism.
But in Back to Blood it all seems a little too overblown, there's too much onomatopoeia, too many arch new phrases for the familiar, too many interjections from - ¡Dios mío! -- the characters' own voices, too much description, too much of everything. There are even two scenes, in the lapdancing club and on a boat, where Wolfe feels impelled to embed the beat of the music in his prose BEAT thung as if for the BEAT thung benefit of BEAT thung readers who BEAT thung have never BEAT thung been in a night club. It all gets a bit tiresome and hard to read.
Indeed, in the lapdancing club scene, there's a sentence that's so jarringly out of character for Wolfe that you read it twice: "The smile looked like a mean streak turned up at the corners". It's a great sentence, but it's more like something Raymond Chandler would have written, and it makes you suddenly aware of how, for all his brilliance, Wolfe may have become something of a prisoner of his own dazzling style. And it makes you wonder if he does have a secret studio like Igor's somewhere, after all.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fun in the Sun, 3 Nov 2012
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This review is from: Back to Blood (Hardcover)
Miami gets the tom Wolfe treatment in the same way that New York did in Bonfire and Atlanta did (to a lesser extent) in A Man in Full. I can't say that I know Miami, but I also can't say I know Miami much better after reading this book. Much as I admire and like Tom Wolfe, I was reminded an awful lot of another Floridian author, Carl Hiassen, as I read Back to Blood. Except that Hiassen doesn't have to live up to being A Novelist and just gets on with his plot. Wolfe, however, carries the burden of being An Important American Writer, and I felt it showed in this novel. He tries to insert little stylistic twists into his narrative that seemed a bit forced and which ultimately became irritating as the book progressed. Frustratingly, I could see no need for this as Wolfe can write as gripping a story as anyone without any need for tricky prose. The opening scenes of Back to Blood testify to this, with a set piece that is imaginative, original and amusing, catapulting you into the novel with one swoop.
Once you're caught, Wolfe pulls you into his Miami world. As in many of his novels, he's peopled it with a variety of larger than life characters but, I have to say, none are too convincing. I kept getting the feeling, if anything, that Miami was NOT like Wolfe portrays it. This was a WASP's view and, as he demonstrated in Bonfire of the Vanities, that's a world he knows inside out. But what does Tom Wolfe know of how a Hiatian or a Cuban views the world of South Florida? He failed to convince me that he knew much, really, and he also failed to convince me that he could write with any authority about how young people see the world either. Whichever character's voice he chose to narrate a scene, the voice of Tom Wolfe tended to drown it out. Resultantly, some of his observations seemed to me borderline racist, sexist or ageist, despite the comments being "voiced" by a character who might harbour such a view. The tone of the voice is always Wolfe's.
Saying all that.....I was pretty much hooked into the book and its seven hundred or so pages flew past quickly. I can forgive Wolfe a lot because he just writes so well, and I didn't stop to think too much about what was happening as I was more interested in seeing how the plot panned out. When I finished the book, one of my first thoughts was that I just couldn't have spent ten quid for as much entertainment anywhere else. I suppose that sums up this novel for me - sheer entertainment. It's not the Great American Novel that many might be waiting for Wolfe to write, it doesn't capture the "zeitgeist" that Wolfe is often famous for and, being honest, it's a bit of a throwaway, in that I doubt I'll return to read it in future. But, of the fifty or sixty books I'll have read this year, Back to Blood will be in the "Top Three", and I can't give a much better recommendation than that.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hugely entertaining, 8 April 2013
By 
Peter Lee (Manchester ,United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Back to Blood (Hardcover)
It takes its time to start... As with all of Wolfe's books it takes a while to get used to his almost kinetic style of writing, and for the first few chapters I found myself labouring, but by the time I was fifty or so pages into the book I was loving it, and the pages flew by.

The story is set in Miami and after a prologue which is almost unrelated to the rest of the book the action shifts to a boat where Nestor Camacho becomes something of a hero after a spectacular arrest atop the mast of a yacht, which also sets him up as a villain to those in his local community. From then on his life begins to collapse and the numerous sub-plots begin, involving journalists, Russian oligarchs, art fraud, raids on drug dens, porn-obsessed psychiatrists and so on... The pace never lets up and as I said earlier, once you get used to Wolfe's hyperactive style (and quirky punctuation - this time he seems to be obsessed with colons which he uses to indicate thoughts - you'll see if you look at the text) the pages will fly. It does seem to end a little too suddenly in some respects, and some aspects of the ending are a little vague, but I loved it, despite it not being quite as great as "Bonfire of the Vanities" or "The Right Stuff". A great read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Back to Blood, 31 July 2013
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I really enjoyed this book - I thought it was as good as 'Bonfire of the Vanities' and I liked more of the characters. Before I bought the book, I had read a review which criticised it for having a lot of colons and exclamation marks - I didn't notice the latter, and the colons were simply used as a device to indicate people's own internal monologue as distinct from their spoken words. A really good read
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An alien world, 5 April 2013
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Patrick Hannay (Bangkok) - See all my reviews
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My only regret about this book is that it had to end. What characters. Makes me almost want to go to Florida....almost.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars BACK TO HIS BEST, 14 Mar 2013
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Scribbler (Ashford, Kent, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Back to Blood (Hardcover)
This is Tom Wolfe at the top of his game - witty, insightful, vulgar, erudite. The book identifies all that is wrong with America through a focus on Miami, its racial tensions, social pretensions and the primacy of money. As good as Bonfire of the Vanities in both its scope and ambition.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great fun, 28 Feb 2013
By 
Mr. Simon Clarke "simbadiow" (Isle of Wight) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Back to Blood (Hardcover)
Tom is back to his best. I was a bit disappointed by a Man in Full but this one fizzes along. Fascinating details about the different inhabitants of Miami and the awkward relationships between Americanos, Cubans, Blacks etc. Full of art, sex,politics and crime, it really has got something for almost everyone. Also fascinating was Wolfe's experimentation with language which when used by some authors means a difficult read, in Wolfe's hands results in free flowing wordplay that expands on text meaning. 700 pages long but I would quite happily have spent the same again in Mr Wolfe's assured hands.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Don't read this one first, 25 Dec 2012
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I'm a massive fan of Tom Wolfe, but this was the closest to disappointed that I've been with one of his novels. His vibrant style, which I normally love, is overdone to close to the point of caricature and a number of interesting characters barely get developed ( we learn that Ghislaine has lovely legs, wears tiny shorts and looks very white for a Haitian, but that's about all for such an important character).
Fascinating detail about Miami and its cultural diversity and tensions, but if you haven't yet read A Man in Full or I Am Charlotte Simmons, then leave this one til last
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars We een Mee-Ah-mee Now, 6 Dec 2013
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Syriat - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Back to Blood (Paperback)
American cities and culture have been dissected by Tom Wolfe before but in Back To Blood he takes his scalpel like prose to Miami and its melting pot of culture, creed and beliefs. It has a mixed array of character but central to the plot are Nestor, a Cuban descended Miami cop and Magdelena his girlfriend, also from the same part of Miami (Mee-Ah-mee). The story takes in Art, Psychology, Journalism and much more. It starts with Nestor stopping a Cuban exile making land and rolls from there.

Tom Wolfe has always used his wit and humour to shine a light on the eccentricities and absurdities or modern day America. This is no different. His use of language exactly as spoken can irritate (see the title of this review as an example). Previously I have loved that style but it did seem to get in the way occasionally this time. It is a long book and it took me a while to get through it. Its not one of his best, Man in Full or Bonfire of the Vanities for me are his best. I think it does lose pace occasionally and its plot stumbles a little in the middle. I also think that when we start looking at how a beat cops actions are discussed by the mayor and chief of police I was reminded of The Wire. Perhaps that is a good thing. Wolfe has always drawn a city out through its denizens to its largest characters and I suppose that has probably influenced The Wire and maybe that series has now taken this approach to its fullest extent.

Back to Blood is enjoyable but not Wolfe's most memorable novel. If you have liked his previous efforts there is enough here to admire and enjoy. Newcomers to Wolfe should probably start with earlier work, like the aforementioned titles. This effort is worthwhile but in their shadows.
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Back to Blood
Back to Blood by Tom Wolfe (Hardcover - 25 Oct 2012)
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