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The Book of Daniel (Penguin Modern Classics) Paperback – 2 Feb 2006
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" A ferocious feat of the imagination . . . Every scene is perfectly realized and feeds into the whole- the themes and symbols echoing and reverberating." - Newsweek " A nearly perfect work of art, and art on this level can only be a cause for rejoicing." - Joyce Carol Oates " This is an extraordinary contemporary novel, a stunning work." - San Francisco Chronicle " The political novel of our age . . . the best work of its kind." - New Republic " Remarkable . . . One of the finest works of fiction." - Minneapolis Star Tribune " Stirring, brilliant, very moving." - Houston Post "From the Hardcover edition."
The classic novel of an America inflamed by Cold War hysteria. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.See all Product description
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Top customer reviews
Daniel's communist parents, based on the real-life Rosenbergs, have been executed for passing secrets to the Soviet Union at the height of the 1950s McCarthyite fever when America seems to have lost the plot. And he has survived growing up without them. Barely. Hardly more stable than his hospitalised sister, his story-telling steers you straight into choppy waters. The stiff narrative breeze rarely slackens, veering wildly from one era to another and from Daniel in `journal' mode to a more distant third person . When you finally reach dry land, don't be hard on yourself if you feel a little disoriented, exhilarated and queasy in equal measure, much as if you have been pushed overboard after daring to question whether anyone has a firm grip on the democratic-capitalist rudder.
The book's destabilising atmosphere is undoubtedly one of its successes. The boot-strapping legal system that seems to admit circular arguments as evidence, the confusion of children so casually picked up by the state that has made their parents vanish, the inadequacy of the mental health system and the non-content of the anarchist, anti-system rhetoric: all make it harder to get one's bearings.
Daniel's eccentric philosophising is an integral part of the book and if you don't take the disjointed words as misprints - try `violin spiders' for example - you might still have to look to Doctorow elsewhere to understand. Is it Daniel's unhinged ranting or the author's cogent thinking put in the mouth of a intelligent but intellectually untamed twenty-something? You decide. But let's not dispute the stroke of genius which made Doctorow show the early cold war era through the eyes of traumatised children and then have them play out their neuroses and existential questioning as adults when America was divided over Vietnam.
I marvelled at how the prose seemed to improve yet further in the last third of the book. And if, by then, you find yourself wrestling with the meaning of it all, Doctorow has given you a direct experience of what Daniel's family and their real-life counterparts were up against.
moving in its account of the aftermath of the execution of the parents upon the children.
gripping, even though as it's based, loosely, on fact and you know what's going to happen - or some of what's going to happen.
surprising and deft in its jumping between time frames, which are never obscure or confusing.
brilliant in its writing, in the phrases, the beauty of the language and the grit of it.
there are some memorable analyses of the society in which the events unfold, and some unforgettable phrases.
on of my favourite paragraphs is when the narrator lists various "traitors" to the american ideal, putting at the top edgar allan poe who he describes as:"the master subversive who wore a hole in the parchment (of the constitution) and let the darkness pour through...."
the rest of the passage is too long to quote, but is brilliant ending:"it's poe who ruined us, that scream from the smiling face of america."
i would read this if i were you.
Doctorow's novel is a fictionalised account of the trial and execution of the Rosenbergs, an American communist couple who were found guilty of conspiracy to overthrow the U.S government by disclosing atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. The fictional counterparts to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg are Paul and Rochelle Isaacson. Apart from some minor differences, the events of the novel largely reflect those of the Rosenberg case. The Isaacsons, like the Rosenbergs, are put to death at the end of the novel, by means of electric chair.
Like the inevitable eruption of Vesuvius in Robert Harris's 'Pompeii', the impending doom of the Isaacsons is inevitable, and the tension is slowly elevated as the plot slowly unravels to this grisly denouement. Although we know throughout that the Isaacsons can not and will not be saved, the importance of the novel rests in how the novel's protagonist Daniel, the son of Paul and Rochelle, attempts to come to terms with the events of a case which becomes one of the most important political events of the 20th Century. The Isaacsons becomes objects in a political tug-of-war; to those on the right they are traitors to their nation, to the communists they become martyrs. Doctorow constantly reminds of this conflict between the human and the political; that the Rosenbergs were not just political symbols; they were human beings, and most importantly, parents.
Do not allow the explicitly political themes of the novel to put you off; the novel is accessible and the prose is exciting, witty, and concise. The dialogue is acceptable although not remarkable throughout, discounting occasional moments of truly superb dialogue, as shown in the eccentric hippie Artie Steinlicht's politically charged diatribes against Daniel's parents, who he believes `played the game' with the government by `wearing ties' and acquiescing. Doctorow brilliantly contrasts the ideals of the Old Left, represented by Daniel's parents, with Daniel and Steinlicht's disillusioned, disaffected generation of rebels.
While the novel does explore political issues, it is chiefly concerned with Daniel's humanity; he is a fragmented, disconnected individual, unable to love those close to him, and sometimes bordering on the sociopathic. Doctorow's characterisation is so subtlety effective, in the way the reader encounters Daniel in both his formative childhood years, and his adult years as a member of the `hippie' New Left movement, that the reader comes to feel profound concern for Daniel during his lowest moments, in the same way a parent would react to their child being sent to rehab.
The `Book of Daniel' should certainly not be limited to enthusiasts of American History; it is a vibrant, lively novel, worthy of a read by anyone with an appreciation for striking, visceral prose and excellent characterisation. The novel's political themes are particularly relevant today, as like the Cold War and the Vietnam Wars as shown in the novel, George W Bush's `War on Terror' has once more set the political Left in direct opposition to the agenda of a right-wing regime.