Books by Mark Helprin

Educated at Harvard, Princeton, and Oxford, Mark Helprin served in the Israeli Army, Israeli Air Force, and British Merchant Navy. He is the author of A Dove of the East and Other Stories, Refiner's Fire, Ellis Island and Other Stories, Winter's Tale, A S

Released: Oct. 3, 2017

"A masterpiece filled with compassion and humanity. Perfect for the pure pleasure of reading."
A modern-day story of love, music, and death, with echoes of the Nazi retreat in World War II France. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 2, 2012

"A fine adult love story—not in the prurient sense, but in the sense of lovers elevated from smittenness to all the grown-up problems that a relationship can bring."
Elegant, elegiac novel of life in postwar America, at once realistic and aspirational, by the ever-accomplished Helprin (A Soldier of the Great War, 1991, etc.). Read full book review >
Released: July 11, 2005

"A comic call for greatness in a mediocre era."
The Prince and Princess of Wales make a royal cock-up of the monarchy and as penance are sent on a daffy mission—to conquer America. Read full book review >
THE PACIFIC by Mark Helprin
Released: Nov. 1, 2004

"Helprin needs space to work his magic, room to build up steam, but even in these short bursts, he often accomplishes what others take hundreds of pages to achieve."
Sixteen tales of war, love, the achingly beautiful past and the fallen present. Read full book review >
THE VEIL OF SNOWS by Mark Helprin
Released: Oct. 1, 1997

The distinguished collaborators polish off a trilogy that began with Swan Lake (1989) and continued in A City in Winter (1996). Polish is the operative word; Helprin's unnamed narrator illuminates this dark, poignant story with characteristically refulgent prose, to which Van Allsburg's 13 color scenes of theatrically posed, golden-toned figures add sparkling elegance. A troubled peace follows the usurper's flight behind the remote Veil of Snows, and he soon returns to shatter the Queen's army, kill her husband (seemingly), and oppose her and her infant son with two million men. After a bitter siege, the Queen and her last 100,000 loyal followers escape the capital city and disperse into the mountains, where she is pursued and killed. Helprin injects a garishly satiric hue into this tale by filling it with corpulent, venial, opportunistic Tookisheims, a family whose government is headed by the Duke, a media mogul whose papers are relentlessly critical of the Queen, and Branco, who "makes the talking boxes that take the place of books." After 25 years of waiting beside the Veil, the narrator symbolically casts away the last of his hope—just as the Queen's husband and grown son march out of the' mists at the head of a new army. As with the previous books, the language, imagery, and wit are aimed at sophisticated sensibilities; Helprin's bottomless imagination and Van Allsburg's monumental visual style create a collaboration that glitters with star quality. (Fiction. 11-14) Read full book review >
A CITY IN WINTER by Mark Helprin
Released: Oct. 1, 1996

Two great fantasists weave threads teased from their previous collaboration, Swan Lake (1989), into a stylish tale of loyalty and rebellion set in a city of Brobdingnagian proportions. Having been raised in secret by her beloved tutor, a princess sets out to confront the brutal upstart who killed her parents and grandparents. She finds in his capitol a million loyalists and former soldiers, all united by an oath of rebellion, waiting for a leader whose coming, a prophecy claims, will be heralded by a dimmed sun and a burning angel. Helprin's whimsical tone and satiric character studies will appeal mostly to adults, but the sheer scale of the city he envisions will enthrall readers of any age; just to get into the palace, the princess becomes one of three thousand employees in the yam section (not to be confused with those for potatoes, rices, and meat pie crusts) of the starch kitchens, later working her way up to flower refresher in one of the smaller dining rooms (for "only a thousand guests"). Van Allsburg's 13 tableaux vary in style: Some are drawn and painted with exquisite precision, others a bit more free in line and composition. The usurper is a towering, scarred figure; the princess is a small, tidy child positively aglow with regal self-possession. As this is framed as a memoir, the outcome is never in doubt; readers will take the most pleasure here not from the plot, but from the richly imagined details. (Fiction. 10+) Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 1995

After the realistic Soldier of the Great War (1991), Helprin returns to the romantic fancy of A Winter's Tale (1983) for this achingly beautiful tale of revelation, revenge, and a magnificent obsession. Told as a memoir by an unnamed child of the century, this episodic but neatly circular story concerns the rise and fall of a crazed knight errant, a soldier in the services of memory and devotion. In his 80s, this former mental patient and investment banker spins a charming fable of his life, which begins idyllically along the Hudson in Ossining, N.Y., and ends in obscurity in Brazil. In between, we learn of his rise in the banking world, his heroic performance as an overaged fighter pilot in WW II, and his marriage to an heiress of unspeakable wealth. In his youth, he was institutionalized for inadvertently killing someone over a strange indiscretion: the presence of coffee. Throughout his long and marvelous life, this strange and wonderful man has loathed coffee. His physical revulsion, aesthetic disgust, and philosophic hatred of the bean have been at the root of all the most devastating events in his life: the murder for which he was punished; his divorce from his otherwise perfect billionairess; and the loss of his job at the house of Stillman and Chase. Not until well into this sprawl of a novel do we learn of his primal trauma. There may be justice in his crime of the century — stealing almost a billion dollars from his former employer and killing the bloodless capitalist who presides over the firm. But this elegiac and confessional narrator has no interest in abstractions; he simply tries to protect those he loves. Everywhere in this lyrical, funny, and fiercely imagined book, Helprin affirms the values that pervade all his fiction: the power of grace, love, and forgiveness. And, most of all, the magic of childlike innocence. Read full book review >
Released: May 1, 1991

An old Italian professor of aesthetics recounts his experiences in WW I to a young acquaintance as they trudge along the road from Rome to Monte Prato 50 years later—in this ebullient, elegaic novel of destruction and survival. "When I love someone, that person disappears," says Alessandro Giulani after having lost not only the objects of his expected early infatuations—the little girl, "whose name, of course, was not Patrizia," he meets in a fairy-tale encounter in the South Tyrol; high-spirited horsewoman Lia Belloti, whose father has bought some of his bourgeois family's land; Janet McCafrey, the Irishwoman who shares a sleeping compartment in the train that takes him to the front in 1914—but also his parents, most of his regiment, his beloved friend Raffaello Foe, and finally his lover Ariene, pregnant with his child, killed in a bombing run on the hospital where she's tending the sick. Ariane's death turns Alessandro's mission in life from survival (on the northern front fighting the Austrians, in Sicily fighting deserters, in Rome and the prison of Stella Marls after the murder of his colonel forces him to turn deserter himself, as a prisoner of the Austrians on his return to the front after a last-minute reprieve from execution) to revenge for Ariane's death, and then—when he suspects she may have escaped after all—to an impossible search through Italy for her. The fondness for magic realism apparent in Winter's Tale turns up in Alessandro's repeated confrontations with querulous old scribe Orfeo Quatta, whose terror of being replaced by newfangled typewriters led him to develop a weirdly beatific model of a universe held together by heavenly sap that turns diabolical when his mechanisms single-handedly unleash the war and all Alessandro's bereavements; but most of this story is in the more old-fashioned mode of the Victorian triple-decker. Tender, optimistic, and sumptuously presented: a feast of a novel, right down to Alessandro's tender lingering over the final course. Read full book review >
SWAN LAKE by Mark Helprin
Released: Oct. 1, 1989

An elaborate expansion and transformation of the ballet, by the author of a critically acclaimed fantasy/novel for adults, A Winter's Tale (1983). Helprin goes well beyond the familiar story. His narrator—tutor/father-surrogate to the prince—tells the tragic tale to a small gift who proves to be another pivotal new character. Additions to the plot include the murder by Van Rothbart of Odette's parents and the possibility that Odile is the prince's half-sister. And though his telling has the powerful appeal of a stark fairy-tale world, Helprin sets it in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and eliminates the literal magical transformations. His language is rich, ornamented, and full of ideas and images that are difficult as well as amusing, a playful mixture of whimsy and irony probably of most interest to adults—though capable young people may also find it fascinating. Van Allsburg's 14 elegantly structured paintings, spare and luminous, extend the aura of a world of the imagination, outside time. The beautifully planned book also includes Van Allsburg's ornamental designs on every page. Sure to appeal to the carriage trade, this should also win a small following well beyond this year's fashionable popularity. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1988

Helprin introduces his guest-selection with a John-Gardneresque screed ("Minimalists appear to be people who have not been forced to struggle, and who have not dared upon some struggle, to which they have not been forced. Thus, they have contempt for their own lives of mild discomfort—and who can blame them? They live in a strange, motionless, protected world")—a screed that's never especially arguable but also seems to lack a point. To make things worse, his choices sculpt no special shape to illustrate what he thinks fiction might better be doing. There are fine works here, sure—Mary Ann Taylor-Hall's perfectly textured story of marital patience, "Banana Boats"; Ralph Lombreglia's funny and a-world-apart story about life at a New Jersey suburban restaurant, "Inn Essence"; C.S. Godshalk's piteous and moving "Wonderland"; and Robert Stone's razor-like "Helping." But, although their languages are fully rather than emptily tense—very much unminimal—they don't seem all that out of tenor with most flat, exhausted, reverse-sentimental contemporary work. Of which, in its unvarnished form, there's plenty here as well: stories by Raymond Carver, Tobias Wolff, Will Blythe, Rick Bass. The perhaps most intriguing story of all is Lucy Honig's "No Friends, All Strangers," about city life—a story that keeps losing its thread and strength only somehow to pick it up again two paragraphs later, full of feeling and charming risk. Its imperfection is its greatest attraction, in fact—which may make it the closest exemplar of what Helprin tries to get at in his chuffing introduction. Read full book review >
WINTER'S TALE by Mark Helprin
Released: Sept. 20, 1983

From the very first sequence here (a white milk-cart horse bounds over the newly-built Brooklyn Bridge in a bid for freedom), Helprin makes it clear that he's out to conquer the Latin-American-style genre of magic realism—with splendid worlds of the impossible-made-possible, with concentrated storytelling designed to vibrate and shine on each page. The white horse effortlessly becomes mythic Athansor, who can also fly; he will rescue a virtuous young 19th-century burglar named Peter Lake from a mob of his evil ex-cronies, the Short Tails; Peter will later hide up behind the stars set into the ceiling of Grand Central Station, meeting newspaper-tycoon Isaac Penn's beautiful, dying daughter Beverly (who will become his Beatrice). And then a huge cloud-wall imprisons Peter and preserves him from eternal death. . . to spit him out nearly a hundred years later, near the millennial year of 2000—when New York City is facing destruction from its rampaging poor, from its corrupt power-brokers (e.g., a boobishly villainous newspaper publisher a la Rupert Murdoch), and from apocalyptic winters. There's a magic salver, a rainbow-tech bridge; there are valiant, virtuous heroes and heroines. And Helprin tirelessly, artfully strings variation upon variation—the fabulous recapitulating itself in different disguises and in lovely, serene yet vibrant, harmonic sentences. (Especially notable: the scenes involving travel or machinery.) Yet, for all this surface appeal, there's little substance here, with New York City's glories and injustices the only real subject-matter. If anything, in fact, the novel seems to be a celebration of Helprin's empyrean, breathtaking technique—his zeal for recapitulation, for enchanting the reader into timeless innocence and memory, for putting his sparkly material through hoop after hoop of painless fabulizing. And the result is talemaking of avid genius, rarely silly or cheap, frequently stunningly poetic—but also more than a little stupefying and show-offy, without the core of seriousness that gave focus and integrity to John Crowley's similar Little, Big (1981). Read full book review >
Released: March 2, 1981

Helprin (A Dove of the East, Refiner's Fire) has a disposition toward felicity, charm, elfin humor. His approach to fiction is picaresque and embroidered, heavily reliant on the artifice common to tellers of optimistic parables. Says one narrator here: "Perhaps things are most beautiful when they are not quite real; when you look upon a scene as an outsider, and come to possess it in its entirety and forever; when you live the present with the lucidity and feeling of memory; when, for want of connection, the world deepens and becomes art." So Helprin goes looking for just such not-quite-real situations—and sometimes he simply takes incompatible material and forces it into pleasingly artificial shapes. He's best suited, then, to such tintyped-atmosphere pieces as "Martin Bayer," "A Vermont Tale," and "Palais de Justice"—which make vague passes at transcendence. And it's hard to dislike "The Schreuderspritze"—the story of a grieving young man finding redemption simply by vividly dreaming of the Alpine climb he's training for, a story with a starry-eyed gaze that never drops. But if Helprin makes sure that his stories are always likable, he simultaneously makes it difficult to take him to heart. In the title story, for instance, a young, play-by-wits Jewish immigrant (from "Plotsadika-Chotchki") comes to New York in the early part of the century and immediately begins whirling through adventures that involve road crews, Hasidim, anarchists, and a beautiful young seamstress—and though the story ingratiates with its bounce, it disqualifies itself from seriousness with its relentless puppetry of characters and its dubious apothgems ("Everyone was in love with freedom, and it is one abstract quality which, somehow or other, always manages to love you back"). Finally, then: a collection of spun-sugar stories, artfully done but awfully fragile. Read full book review >
REFINER'S FIRE by Mark Helprin
Released: Oct. 4, 1977

With his subtitle, "The Life and Adventures of Marshall Pearl, a Foundling," Helprin winks at the picaresque, Torn Jones tradition in which this enormously ambitious, enormously talented, and enormously unsuccessful first novel is shakily grounded. Certainly Marshall's cosmopolitan odyssey has its picarequisite share of outlandish incident and ourtrageous coincidences: born to a dying Jewish refugee on a Palestine-bound ship in 1947; raised by a rich Jew in the Hudson Valley (where he wrestles with an eagle) and Jamaica (where, being a sharpshooter/genius, he leads an Anglo attack on Rastafarians); half-educated at Harvard; employed at a nightmare-like slaughterhouse; shipwrecked and happenstanced into the arms of his childhood sweetheart; propelled through Europe to Israel, where he serves—all unbeknownst—under his real father in the bureaucracy Israeli army, just in time to predict and survive (?) the October War. But neither Helprin nor Marshall has the high-spirited drive to send one set-piece snowballing into the next; we're constantly aware of the arbitrariness of the design and the sheer locomotive effort. And despite—or because of—his myriad endowments and extensive introspections, the mythic hero remains faceless, a distinct drawback when his fortunes swing toward the earthbound. Marshall's identity-search is clearly intended to work serio-comically on both personal (autobiographical?) and theme-dream/East-West levels—a tricky business. That it works on neither is no reflection on Helprin's basic narrative equipment, which, aside from slips into sophomorics (to an admiral: "Are you contemplating your naval problems?"), lyric pretensions, or New Yorker-ish listmaking, can dish up the ironies, dialects, and images needed to keep pace with his prodigious imagination. That imagination has been on better display in Helprin's short stories and will no doubt be on better display in sharper, less grandiose novels to come. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 1, 1975

A collection of short stories, often short short stories, which travel all around the world but retain the same timeless constants. Revelations, memories, or "moments full of cognizance and dream vision"—these are strong undercurrents while death is never far behind or ahead. In the title story an "ill-fitting refugee" serves as a patrol in Israel where he is spooked into shooting a dove—a dove that dies alone and unattended, perhaps like the wife he has lost. The closest to fable is "A Jew of Persia" who comes down from his clear mountains to be enclosed in the heat and filth of Tel Aviv where he waits silently to make his long-anticipated confrontation with the devil. The aged appear in more than one piece—the old man who affirms that the greatness in this world is God's doing; or the elderly Father Trelew who goes from Arizona to Rome to die, too quickly to achieve a perspective on his life. There's the commemorative "Katrina, Katrin," remembered by the young man who spent her last night trying to fulfill her last wish; of the woman in "Shooting the Bar" whose resentment of her husband who had sailed all over is only appeased when he crosses that bar for the last time. "On 'The White Girl' by Whistler" contains the lines which truly define Helprin's talent and intent: a "man who traded all for essences and captured everything in color." All Helprin's stories deal with essences which lead from the heart, and his images are clean and sharp and bright. Read full book review >