THE ASTONISHING WORLD by Barbara Grizzuti Harrison


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 Essayist, novelist, and travel writer, Harrison (Italian Days, 1989, etc.) here collects pieces drawn from such disparate magazines as Partisan Review and European Travel and Life. Together, they're meant to track her spiritual journeys through a world at once sacred and ordinary. But that asks too much from journalism and short fictions that are mostly just ordinary. Harrison's travel articles, though full of color and anecdote, develop no higher themes. Impressions of Morocco, Tuscany, Budapest, and Dubrovnik concentrate on bad odors and personal discomfort. Even in her profile of former gymnastics star Nadia Comaneci, Harrison seems obsessed with the athlete's rank smell. Portraits of Mario Cuomo and Gore Vidal succeed because the author allows these men to be themselves, witty and entertaining. On the set of The Godfather, Part III, Harrison discovers the remarkably obvious connections between Coppola's family and the Corleone saga. Equally unprofound is her essay on ``Women and Blacks and Bensonhurst,'' an attempt to contextualize the racial violence in her native Brooklyn, which includes the declaration of authority that ``My first lover was a black man.'' The two best articles return to the subject explored in Harrison's book-length study of Jehovah's Witnesses: cults. Here, she includes a chilling portrait of a dangerous messianic sect in northern Vermont. And a pilgrimage to a Yugoslavian shrine where the Virgin Mary purportedly appeared reveals the political agenda behind this recent Marian cult. The fictional pieces in this volume are the weakest: humorless bits about failed marriages, repressive families, and death. No Joan Didion, Harrison editorializes too much and edits too little.

Pub Date: July 14th, 1992
ISBN: 0-395-59105-8
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1992