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4.3 out of 5 stars13
4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 8 August 2001
Having read Underworld, I though DeLillo would never have been able to prodece a book that would dazzle me more ... but Mao II is just that book. The sheer beauty of the prose is in places breathtaking, and the enormity of the ideas and themes, played out in the small details of characters lives and fragments of images viewed on television screens, held me engaged enough to finish the book in one sitting. There are sections I have returned to again and again - The photographing of Bill Gray, the depiction of Khomeni's funeral - and I have yet to not find the return worthwhile. Yes, Underworld is a huge and great novel - but for literary genius, this is the one to read.
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on 22 July 1999
I can't tell you if this book is objectively good or bad; I am not a critic and I don't want to dissect it. I liked this book a lot. I read it in two days and enjoyed it; it made me think and it didn't leave an impression of being didactic or pretentious. I think it is well written.
As for Warhol ripoff accusation, I don't see how it applies to anything but the cover design. Warhol and DeLillo happen to contemplate the same problems: the role of individual and group, the relationship between a crowd and celebrity etc. And this book is no more a Warhol ripoff than the Mao series are a ripoff of the artist who did the original Mao portrait - in other words, DeLillo organically appropriates the work of Warhol in the context of his book for his own ends and gives it his own meaning.
Again: good book. Read it.
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on 10 August 2000
This fascinating novel probes the connection between isolation and mass movements in the modern world. In doing so, DeLillo is intensely personal, creating some memorable characters, who are visually and emotionally there, on the page, in full brilliance and confusion. He also employs sublime writing, which captures experiences, images, or ideas of individual isolation or mass movements and then juxtaposes them, showing weird but profound connections. My favorite pages are 149-153, where DeLillo describes New York City's Tompkins Square in the early nineties. Then, drug abusers, the mentally ill, and the homeless turned this lovely neighborhood square into a shambling, threatening shantytown. If you missed it, DeLillo has saved the moment.
The central figure in this book is Bill Gray, an isolated writer with a wide and discerning following. Anyone who wants to write might ponder two of his insights: "Writing is bad for the soul when you get right down to it. It protects your worst tendencies." (page198); or, "It was the writing that caused his life to disappear." (page 215).
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on 9 July 2006
Although there is a strong story, Mao II is more an exploration of interconnected themes and images. It raises a lot of issues that stay with you, and insists that you think for yourself.

For me the main theme was around how people could be controlled by individuals. At the highest level, this was applied to groups, such as the Moonies and Maoist terrorists. This was set against a series of backdrops of crowd behaviours and mass tragedies, such as Hillsborough, Tiananmen Square, and an unnamed square in New York where the homeless congregate.

The same theme ran through the main characters. The central character is a dissolute writer, Bill Gray, who has stayed hidden for 20 years. His life is organised, and largely controlled, by a fan who has tracked him down and become his personal assistant. He is supported by an ex-Moonie girlfriend, who has not been completely de-programmed. They both become protective when the writer insists on being photographed by a photographer from New York who "only does writers". The new character destabilises the situation, and the writer re-enters the wider world.

It is here that the second theme of "writing and terrorism as a zero sum game" emerges. Bill is convinced that terrorists are taking the ground for commentary that was the preserve of serious novelists, and that news is the medium for them doing so. He becomes involved in the negotiation for the life of a poet held hostage in Beirut, and seems to become the target of the same group.

Some of the imagery is prescient: the twin towers of the World Trade Centre loom large through the window of the photographer's apartment, ten whole years before 9/11. Some of it is already out of date, either technically and socially. The inhabitants are so amazingly primitive that they still think a word processor is a pretty neat idea. Similarly, today's terrorists have moved away from Maoism, so that the idea of a woman photographer interviewing a Muslim extremist is simply unimaginable today.

Although a depressing book in many ways, there is hope lying in the rubble of this text. The story ends with a 4am wedding parade in Beirut that provides suitable "green shoots" of hope.

This is a book you'll either love or hate, and there's plenty to discuss. For these reasons, and because it's a genuine modern classic, it would make a great book for a book group. For example: "would you accept a baby from someone who walked up to you in the street?" Please discuss.
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on 10 May 2002
DeLillo's intelligence is astounding; his observations seem to clarify many uncatergorised fears that makes us 'all to human'; the scope and depth of his imagination is frightening: and all in all this is definitely a fantastic read.
In a nutshell, the plot is secondary to the ideas and themes that run throughout this epic novel - the power of imagery (photgraphs, mainly) and words, global terrorism and movements. Of these themes, the most striking is the photograph, and, in a sense, how the definite image of an event has come to resemble more than the reality itself.
The central characters are a female photographer and a reclusive author, who come together for a once-in-a-lifetime photo shoot of the hermit novelist, and it is the build-up and culmination of this which makes up the rest of the novel. The exchange here is one of the most brilliantly written, thoughtful, most inspiring pieces fo literature I've ever read, and i recommend everyone to give it a go merely for this alone.
Can't say too much about the plot, since there isn't really one. But, if a storyline is essential to your enjoyment of a book, I suggest leaving this alone . . . On second thoughts - give it a go and it'll probably change your stance.
For this reason, though, it loses one star.
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on 13 December 2012
Interweaving a moonie-type religious cult, the personality cult of mao, Islamic militants and the relationship of author to reader, Delillo explores some of the big issues of our times with his usual humour.

And the story itself is gripping as a reclusive author is persuaded to agree to attend a public meeting in London in support of a kidnap victim in Lebanon. Well worth reading.
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on 27 March 1999
This is without a doubt one of the best novels of this decade, and one of the best by one of the best American writers. The totality of the thing gets under your skin, inside your eyeballs, makes you see in a different way. A great work of art.
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on 1 June 2014
I bought it for an essay, brilliant read. it Really makes you think about the connection between art and politics
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on 3 March 2015
Very pleased with purchase. As described. Many thanks
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on 30 April 2015
It's about homeless people and tribes.
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