"The End of the 19th Century" is the third in a quartet of novels starting with An American Memory (Algonquin, 1988), followed by I Am ZoŽ Handke (Algonquin, 1992), and leading to this present book, The End of the 19th Century. The fourth in the tetralogy will be The Decline and Fall of the American Nation. Together, the books tell the story of two American families, one with mid-nineteenth-century roots in Norway, the other in Germany. Malcolm Reiner is the central character in An American Memory" while the beautiful and grave young woman he marries, ZoŽ Handke, narrates the book that has her own name in its title. Both Malcolm and ZoŽ are lucky to survive childhoods and early adulthoods in dysfunctional and severely tortured families, a dysfunction that symbolizes the broader dysfunction of the larger American society and culture around them. The portraits of characters in the novels are detailed and close, while at the same time the settings Malcolm and ZoŽ live in are symbolic of greater themes-as with the "disappearing" farm that Malcolm Reiner lives on as he comes of age, a farm that suggests the change in America from a successful nineteenth-century agrarian society to a late-twentieth-century place that proves incapable of knowing itself "in the context of no context." The novels are sometimes closely analytic, sometimes sweepingly poetic, while both their author and their narrators remain determined to find and know the truths of their own lives and of the lives of those around them-both present and past-as well as the truth of the nation they live in. That kind of knowledge can become almost more than one can bear-and yet if people don't try to gain that knowledge, what will they be left with? Ignorance of self, nation, or the meaning of existence can lead only to the loss of all three.
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ERIC LARSEN is Adjunct Professor and instructor at the Department of International and Transcultural Studies at Teachers College, Columbia University.
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Book Description THE PROGRESSIVE PRESS, 2008. Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 930852532