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Pygmy Hardcover – 4 Jun 2009

3.1 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Hardcover, 4 Jun 2009

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape; UK First Edition; 1st printing. edition (4 Jun. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0224087134
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224087131
  • Product Dimensions: 13.7 x 2.5 x 22.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 807,534 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description


'The boldest book in a long while from an author not exactly unaccustomed to boundary-pushing...ace.' -- Grazia

Book Description

The most ambitious novel yet from the author of Fight Club and Choke

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Customer Reviews

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Format: Hardcover
Imagine a country containing an amalgamation of all the worst attributes of North Korea, Communist China and Nazi Germany. Children are tested for their future educational and career needs at the age of four, and those who show high potential are whisked away from their parents into state institutions. There they are brainwashed into complete subservience to the state, using a curriculum involving extreme martial arts, political indoctrination, chemical warfare and urban terrorism.

Now move forward to a mid-Western church in America where a female missionary feels such concern for these children that she arranges an exchange visit for a number of them to stay with American host-families. The children arrive in America to have six months of respite from their harsh existence, and as the host-father puts it, to "to sing our songs and share the fellowship of our homes and church". However, unbeknown to these generous-hearted families, these children have been given a plan: their educators have shown them how to wreak "Operation Havoc", a terrible act of destruction on the evil American town in which they have come to stay.

This book is one of the funniest books I have read in a long time. The whole book is written in the first person by one of the children, Operative 67, using a sort of pidgin American which takes some getting used to but provides considerable insight into the regime they have been brought up in.

The book is a satire, but on both cultures. The host-family are a sort of Simpsons-like parody of the ideal American family, mixing a mindless involvement in their church community while indulging in all the excesses of American culture.
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Format: Paperback
Reading a review imagine if entirety was in bizarre sentence structure. This is exactly what you need do if you decide to try Chuck Palahniuk `Pygmy', a novel about a young foreign spy breaking into America in the guise of spending 6 months with a foster family. Each sentence is designed as a report back to his motherland and uses stilted sentences and confused structure to make the reader feel like the character is working in broken English. I have to say that it took be around 20 pages or so before I got the hang of the style, and the book felt a lot denser than it should have due to the necessity to concentrate on every word and syllable.

Beneath an alienating structure, Palahniuk is courting the type of controversy he is known for. The main character is from an unknown Socialist country and is living with a darkly stereotypical American family from the Bible belt. Palahniuk pokes equal fun at both parties and as usual looks at the sinister underbelly of America. There are scenes in `Pygmy' that are extreme, even to Palahniuk's standards, and it is not a book I could recommend to anyone with a sensitive deposition. At its best `Pygmy' is a scathing attack on the commercialism of America and some people's habitual racism. At worst the book is mere controversy fodder and does not actually have a real structure or purpose like in Palahniuk's earlier, and brilliant work, `Fight Club' or `Lullaby'.

There is no other author quite like Palahniuk out there and for that reason I continue to read his work. However, there are also few authors out there that have such a varied standard of output, from the sublime to the dull. `Pygmy' sits somewhere in the middle as an average book in the Palahniuk cannon. In the future Palahniuk is likely to be remembered as one of the most interesting authors of the late 20th and early 21st century, however, this book is unlikely to get a mention.
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Format: Hardcover
Reviewing a new Palahniuk is normally a pointless task; either you've read him once and been split into one of two camps (read everything else he does, or never touch his stuff again) or you have not read him, and really should start with "Fight Club" to see what all the fuss is about. A pointless task, yes, because this author hit on a formula and simply repeats it with minor variations... "Pygmy" is no exception; sacred cows are slaughtered wholescale by factoid spewing grotesques in a welter of body fluids, prescription drugs, and bland absurdity, wildly swinging between the satirical schools of Rabelais and Swift. To be honest, it had become dull and his last few books (including the self indulgence of two pointless non-fiction titles) felt like they had been produced by a machine that simply replicated his style.
But this book is different. The satire has its cutting edge back, no doubt due to the one thing that will polarize even die hard "Cult" members about this title; the prose.
Burgess wrote "A Clockwork Orange" in his infamous made up argot of nadsat, and Welsh wrote "Trainspotting" in accurately rendered working class Scottish, establishing a lineage in transgressive literature for telling a tale from the most extreme point of view intimately, and "Pygmy" takes up the baton by relating the usual Palaniuk tale of clockwork chaos in the broken English of an uber-foreigner.
Some people will find this an absolute joy (as I did) and others, missing the point, will complain that it was hard to read. But, just as Burgess's novel of brainwashing was constructed to peform its own kind of brainwashing on readers by forcing them to learn its bastardized Russian-English, so Palahniuk uses an outsider to dissect America by use of clever word twisting.
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