Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Topaz is a political thriller on a hot topic of the sixties: Russia’s attempt to put missiles in Cuba.Military dress hat and gloves adorn Topaz dust jacket of Topaz

As a dictator threatens the US with nuclear attack and the US investigates the Russians’ disinformation tactics in the 2016 election, Topaz seems timely again.


Topaz by Leon Uris
McGraw-Hill, [1967] 341 p. 1964 bestseller #4. My grade: B.

Leon Uris weaves a story that involves people at the highest levels of the diplomatic services in America, France, and Russia, including a fictionalized John F. Kennedy-like character.

The story begins when a KGB agent seeking to defect contacts Americans secret service agents in Copenhagen.

The US gives Brois Kuznetov and his family asylum.

Kuznetov insists André Devereaux, head of the French secret service in Washington, be present when he is interrogated.

Kuznetov revels he ran a secret department, code name Topaz, that specialized in disinformation.

Topaz accomplished much of its highly successful effort to mislead America by leaking information to their French allies who passed it on. The KGB’s work reached to office of the French president.

Characters interest Uris more than events: He makes opportunities to tell of their lives years prior to the story’s start.

His biographical sketches make his characters believably ordinary, despite their important political roles.

And political victories take a back seat to friendships.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

collage of photos of Hasidic Jews, a baseball glove, broken glasses.

The Chosen begins with Hasidic Jews, baseball, and broken glasses.

Chaim Potok’s novel The Chosen opens with a baseball game between two Jewish parochial schools.

The Hasidic school’s best player is Danny Saunders. Reuven Malter leads the orthodox school’s team, which the Hasidim consider as bad as Christians.


The Chosen by Chaim Potok
© 1967. Book Club Edition, 284 pp. 1967 bestseller #3. My grade: A.

Danny slams back one of Reuven’s pitches, sending shards of his glasses into his eye.

Later Danny comes to the hospital to apologize.

Reuven is smart, Danny, with his photographic memory, is brilliant. A friendship springs up between the boys who have no intellectual peers in their schools.

Through the boys’ friendship, Potok takes readers deep into the orthodox scene.

Reuven is very close to his scholarly father. He finds Rabbi Saunders’s refusal to speak to Danny on any topic other than the Talmud appalling.

Danny is hurt by the silent treatment, but loves and respects his father.

As the boys begin college, the question arises: What will happen if they want different careers than their fathers have chosen for them?

In Potok’s deceptively straightforward narrative, it’s easy to miss details that reveal motives deeply rooted in the two faith communities. Some readers will need to read the novel twice to grasp the faith context.

Others may read The Chosen twice because it’s worth reading more than once.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

In August, 1831, a few dozen slaves in Southampton, Virginia, revolted, slaughtering whites mercilessly.

The confession of the revolt’s leader, Nathaniel Turner, presented at his trial and subsequently published as a pamphlet, is the factual basis of William Styron’s novel.


The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron
Random House, 1966, 1967; 428 p. 1967 bestseller #2. My grade: A.

sketch shows Nat being captured by white man

Nat Turner’s capture.


Nat’s mother was a cook, so Nat became a “house nigger.” The Turner family taught him to read and figure, gave him carpentry training, bought a Bible, and promised he’d be given his freedom at age 25.

By the time Nat was 25, faced with dwindling income from over-worked land, Turner family had sold all their possessions—including Nat—and left Virginia for good.

Nat’s freedom disappeared with Marse Samuel.

Nat’s Bible reading and his ache for companionship with like-minded people, gradually twist into the conviction that God wants him to lead a slave rebellion.

Styron avoids the familiar clichés of slave novels. Characters, both black and white, are victims of conditions they can’t control. The worst physical and mental suffering among blacks and whites occur among those least affluent even at the best of times.

Styron’s tale could easily be moved to Baltimore or St. Louis in 2015.

His novel is a wrenching reminder that how we treat individuals matters more than our opinions about race.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Arrangement is The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit without any clothes on.

Elia Kazan’s story gets off to a fast and sordid start.


The Arrangement: A Novel by Elia Kazan
Stein and Day, 1967, 544 p. My grade: C+.

car hit by tractor-trailer truck

Who does this deliberately?

“Indispensible Eddie” Anderson, an advertising executive (also known as Evans Arness, muckraking magazine writer, and as Evangelos Arness, son of a bankrupt Greek rug merchant) is having an affair from a girl from his office, Gwen Hunt.

Helped by a psychiatrist, wife Florence has learned to not notice Eddie’s profligacy.

Eddie leaves nude photographs of himself and Gwen where they’ll be found and brought to Florence’s attention.

Florence convinces Eddie to try to repair their marriage.

Some months into the reconciliation, Eddie drives his car into the side of a trailer truck.

While Eddie’s body heals, his mind gets increasingly unbalanced.

He ends up in a mental institution.

When he’s released, Eddie moves in with Gwen. They both work part time at a rural Connecticut liquor store. Eddie starts writing to clear his mind, moves on to writing short stories.

Eddie and Gwen are repellent characters. They don’t grow up; they just grow tired.

In the end, Eddie wonders if all the drama was necessary.

I wonder too.

Is writing fiction more noble than telling stories about consumer products?

©2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Hold on to your dust jackets.

screen shot folders of book reviewsWe’ve just finished the 1927 bestsellers and now we’re going jump ahead 40 years to tackle the 1967 bestselling novels.

I’ve previously reviewed the bestsellers of 1937, 1947 and 1957 here at GreatPenformances. (The lists and links to the reviews are on the bestsellers 1930-1969 page accessible from the tab at the top of the page.)

I’m sure you’ll spot names of authors  on the 1967 list whom you’ve seen on other years’ bestseller lists. And there are some titles which are probably more familiar to us from movies and television than as books.

Here’s the list of the 1967 bestsellers and the dates on which you can expect to see my review posted:

  1. The Arrangement by Elia Kazan [May 13, 2017]
  2. The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron [May 16, 2017]
  3. The Chosen by Chaim Potok [May 20, 2017]
  4. Topaz by Leon Uris [May 23, 2017]
  5. Christy by Catherine Marshall [May 27, 2017]
  6. The Eighth Day by Thornton Wilder [May 30, 2017]
  7. Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin [June 3, 2017]
  8. The Plot by Irving Wallace [June 6, 2017]
  9. The Gabriel Hounds by Mary Stewart [June 10, 2017]
  10. The Exhibitionist by Henry Sutton [June 13, 2017]

The reader poll will be posted on June 17 and my picks on June 20.

Readers will still find entertainment in the 1927 bestsellers, but not much besides entertainment. There’s not one of the novels whose plot I can recall beyond a sentence summary, even though I enjoyed all of them but one of them when I read them.

Despite their less than memorable plots, three of the bestsellers are well-written character studies, each of which I may reread when I finish my year’s required reading.

A Good Woman by Louis Bromfield

original "Good Woman" cover with author's dedicationEmma Downs is a Depression-Era Pharisee. Louis Bromfield’s A Good Woman lays her soul bare.

Emma lives by a strict religious code; she has no idea that it’s even possible for religion to be anything other than a list of do’s and do nots.

Bromfield makes clear on the jacket of the first edition that he saw America as full of women like Emma. He doesn’t treat her with scorn, but neither does he excuse her.

After reading  Bromfield’s 1927 bestseller, readers may debate whether America has more or fewer good women today than it had 90 years ago — and whether any change is for the better.

Twilight Sleep by Edith Wharton

Edith Wharton’s Twilight Sleep is also a study in personalities but one with a generous helping of satire. Wharton’s satire comes awfully close to sarcasm sometimes, leaving the impression that she really didn’t like her characters.

Twilight is a story of a the family of Pauline and Dexter Munford, well-off New Yorkers of the jazz age. Pauline Munford fills her life with activities to improve herself and her world.

Twilight begins to settle in mountains

Pauline’s world is as far removed as this from those of most  in New York City.

Pauline keeps herself well insulated from the unpleasant real world, hence the title which plays off the popular 1920’s name for the drug combination that was given during childbirth to provide pain relief and induce amnesia about any unpleasantness.

Unlike Bromfield, Wharton tells her story in such a way that that readers have to put the pieces together, almost as if they were reading a mystery.

When Wharton’s pieces come together, they go off like a bomb.

To-Morrow Morning by Anne Parish

women in art class about 1900.

To-Morrow Morning‘s Kate Green might have taken an art class like this one.

Anne Parish’s To-morrow Morning is far gentler than the other two character studies. Her technique is more like Ferber’s than Bromfield’s: Parish makes readers work to piece together the story.

In To-morrow, Kate Starr, who becomes Kate Green, is a silly twit with a very modest talent for painting but neither ambition or discipline to do anything with such talent as she has.

Kate marries a man who is her mental and moral equal.

Having lost the money clients gave him to invest for them, Joe dies suddenly, thus escaping the consequences of his actions.

Creditors write off Joe’s debts in for “sweet Mrs. Green,” enabling Kate to avoid ever having to confront the consequences of Joe’s dishonesty.

Kate raises their son to be as undisciplined and purposeless as his parents.

If you have some time for reading, you’ll find any of these three 1927 bestsellers worth a couple evenings’ reading.


May 6, 2017 Corrected name of author of Twilight Sleep, which I had attributed to Edna Ferber in a blinding moment of stupidity while looking at the title page!

Here’s you chance to say which of the 1927 bestselling novels you think are best for today’s readers.

I’ll share my list the next time we meet.