Born in 1844 in bucolic upstate New York, Liberty Fish is the son of fervent abolitionists as well as the grandson of Carolina slaveholders even more dedicated to their cause. Thus follows a childhood limned with fugitive slaves moving through hidden passageways in the house, his Uncle Potter's free-soil adventure stories whose remarkable violence sets the tone of the mounting national crisis, and the inevitable distress that befalls his mother whenever letters arrive from her parents, a conflict that ultimately costs her her life and compels Liberty, in hopes of reconciling the familial disunion, to escape first into the cauldron of war and then into a bedlam more disturbing still.
Rich in characters both heartbreaking and bloodcurdling, comic and horrific, The Amalgamation Polka is shot through with politics and dreams, and it captures great swaths of the American experience, from village to metropolis to plantation, from the Erie Canal to the Bahamas, from Bloody Kansas to the fulfillment of the killing fields. Yet for all the brutality and tragedy, this novel is exuberant in the telling and its wide compassion, brimming with the language, manners, hopes, and fears of its time, all of this so transformed by Stephen Wright's imaginative compass that places and events previously familiar are rendered new and strange, terrifying and stirring. Instantly revelatory, constantly mesmerizing, this is the work of a major writer at the top of his form.
©2006 Stephen Wright; (P)2006 Recorded Books, LLC
"This book, rich in an appropriately fatuous, overblown period style, is the morbidly comic counterpoint to Doctorow's The March." (Publishers Weekly)
"An unusually captivating modernist novel set during the Civil War." (Booklist)
I do not understand why this book has a rating of only 3 stars (at this time). It has so much research and historicity behind it, and its character studies are vivid and lifelike.
Not only is there humor at certain points, there is also shock value galore. Not only is hatred portrayed in all its ugliness, but also love is portrayed.
I have not spent a long time thinking about it, but I have a feeling that Liberty, the main character, also forms a metaphor for America during the Civil War. I would be glad to write a term paper on that topic.
It does have some similar themes to Doctorow's recent book on the Civil War, but there is so much more "meat" here that this book stands on its own.
I usually enjoy historical fiction and find the civil war era fascinating but this book was sorely lacking. I needed to start it 3 times before I was even able to get into it. I didn't think the characters were alive and the story line was weak I only finished the book because I was on vacation and needed a book to exercise with.
Historical fiction well done is a favorite of mine. This is a very contrived tale that purports to report the anguish of slavery. The author's prose is elegant, but the dialog is very contrived, and the story line is as sad as the subject.
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