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The Fight (Penguin Modern Classics) Paperback – 27 Jul 2000
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"Entertaining... Mailer continues his familiar shadow-boxing with the ineffable." -- Time In 1975 in Kinshasa, Zaire, at the virtual center of Africa, two African American boxers were paid five million dollars apiece to fight each other until one was declared winner. One was Muhammad Ali, the aging but irrepressible "professor of boxing" who vowed to reclaim the championship he had lost. The other was George Foreman, who was as taciturn as Ali was voluble and who kept his hands in his pockets "the way a hunter lays his rifle back into its velvet case." Observing them was Norman Mailer, whose grasp of the titanic battle's feints and stratagems -- and whose sensitivity to their deeper symbolism -- make this book a masterpiece of the literature of sport. Whether he is analyzing the fighters' moves, interpreting their characters, or weighing their competing claims on the African and American souls, Mailer is a commentator of unparalleled energy, acumen, and audacity -- and su
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'To Foreman, Ali now said, "You have heard of me since you were young. You've been following me since you were a little boy. Now, you must meet me, your master!" ' --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.See all Product description
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So although many reviewers are giving him a hard time for this it should be remembered that any type of writing which challenges the norm and provides a novel way of storytelling must have some inherent value. Even if you don't particularly warm to it - although personally I found it interesting and unobtrusive - then at least it will have provided a break from the 'traditional' way of narration.
As this was essentially a sports book I didn't want to devote to much time to the more philosophical sections which are interspersed throughout the story. Because of my lack of effort I can't fairly criticize these sections; I found them to be vague and unengaging but quite possibly with a bit more concentration their value would have been revealed.
Philosophy aside the book was skillfully crafted with some unique and intelligent use of language. Although this was my first Mailer book, his idiosyncracies reminded me of Amis (Martin) in their salience compared to many authors. Mailer give some great insights into boxing life which are only available to someone who enjoyed such proximity to the two fighters; however the book also seems to spend a little too long in building up to the fight. In the three days it took to read the book, two were spent reaching October 30th, whilst only one was spent consuming the actual fight. The prelude was not unenjoyable but certainly more inconsistent that the final third was.
Having watched footage of the fight itself, I was struck by how Mailer managed to expand and excite the action where to an eye naive to boxing like mine couldn't tease such appreciation from it, at certain points I found the prose more interesting than the footage! I also noticed that Mailer seemed to struggle to suppress a slight bias for Ali in his fight descriptions. It is a boon of the internet that it is easy to follow the fight whilst reading about it.
Anyway; to be recommended.
But the bigger problem is that sport isn't art; if you try to explain one in terms of the other, you can end up looking like you don't understand either. When nights like this happen they can seem like a big deal - and maybe they are, though their significance in the grand scheme of things is so infinitesimally small. But you can't tell it, you can only experience it; you can communicate only a small fraction of what it felt like to you. Mailer takes his own excitement and objectifies it as Muhammed Ali's genius. Was he a genius? Was he a political hero, or even martyr, as someone else said? Or simply a boxer with talent, but also a big ego and a flair for self-promotion, who knew how to ride his luck? The fact that Mailer compares this fight, approvingly, to a book that was merely Joyce's 'prentice piece, makes you wonder whether he has an adequate yardstick by which to measure.
All the same, this book is just about worthwhile for its portraits of the fighters in their quieter moments; Ali particularly seeming far more interesting and sympathetic away from the cameras.
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