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4.0 out of 5 stars "I'm going to remake myself in the image I carry inside me.", 26 May 2007
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Matters of Honor (Hardcover)
This remark by Henry White, a Jewish survivor of World War II from Poland, could have been made just as easily by either of his two Harvard roommates. Sam Standish, the book's narrator, from Lenox, Massachusetts, is the adopted son of an old family, though his side of the family has little money and a dubious reputation. Archibald P. Palmer III, the third roommate, and son of an army man, has traveled the world and speaks many languages, and though he is not part of the "Chicago Palmers," he does not mind being considered one of them. The boys meet as freshmen in the 1950s, each determined to take advantage of Harvard's possibilities for forming new friendships, discovering new interests, and "connecting."

Through Sam, the narrator, we see the boys developing and dealing with the age-old issues of college boy-men. Henry, whose family has never been observantly Jewish, discovers prejudice because of his ethnic background. Archie cultivates the Latin-American ultra-rich, his facility in Spanish and his living experience in Argentina giving him entrée into a world that few non-Latinos can breach. Narrator Sam suffers a breakdown but turns his sensitivity and new insights to his own advantage by becoming a writer.

Begley traces the lives of these men separately and together from the age of eighteen through their seventies. The novel is a generational study, and the beginning is especially effective as the students each exceed their parents in education and opportunity. As the roommates pursue careers, travel the world, lose touch and then connect again, often at funerals or weddings, Begley shows the personal resolution and growth of young people who, having outgrown their parents, recognize that they live in different worlds which their parents will probably never understand. As they age into their seventies, the reader recognizes their difficulties finding happiness, forming loving relationships, and developing the generosity of spirit which would enable them to enjoy life fully.

If the subject matter and themes sound a bit trite--anti-Jewish prejudice at an elite college, difficulties with parent-child relationships, aspirations to elevated social positions, thwarted love, maintaining a sense of honesty and honor while seeking success--well, they are, to some extent. Yet the novel is fun to read, and the picture of Harvard in the 1950s provides a glimpse of a world gone by. Though Sam often "tells about" the action, rather than recreating it (violating a cardinal rule of fiction-writing), the more than fifty-year chronology of this novel and the reappearing characters keep the reader's interest high. Begley, a formal, traditional writer, maintains his own sense of honor and never stoops to sensationalism in his writing . n Mary Whipple
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4.0 out of 5 stars SATISFACTORY, 24 Dec. 2007
Heather Negahdar ""Haze"" (Bridgetown, Barbados) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Matters of Honor (Hardcover)
"To his own surprise, Archie was taken into a final club that was not at the bottom of the social pecking order, and very quickly club activities- festive alumni dinners and bouts of drinking- absorbed most of his time."

I was very entertained by this novel and gave thanks to author Louis Begley for the book.
The novel stretches from the time these three lads entered into Harvard, green and in some ways insecure. Sam Standish tells the story throughout. Sam an adopted son of the Standish family arrives first and quickly then Henry White joins him. Henry, a Polish refugee whose parents escaped the war has lived in America for some time. Everyone expects him to be afraid of being Jewish, but he shows something different, while Archie Palmer, a spoilt son, arrives last, is the sophisticated one speaking many languages and being well traveled, he fits in anywhere. He is at ease with the well heeled and the upper crust, as he is with the grass root people. The novelist takes us through their years at Harvard and into their adult lives. A marvelous read for those who love characters and fat books.
Reviewed by Heather Marshall Negahdar ( SUGAR-CANE 24/12/07)
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Matters of Honor
Matters of Honor by Louis Begley (Paperback - 29 Jan. 2008)
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