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: A Discovery of America

by Jonathan Raban

Pub Date: May 8th, 1991
ISBN: 0-06-018209-1
Publisher: HarperCollins

 Can the US still produce ``some fantastic reversal of fortune, some miraculous transfiguration'' for those who migrate to its shores? In answering this question, graceful English travel writer Raban (For Love and Money, 1989; Coasting, 1987, etc.) finds cockeyed optimism to be unexpectedly resilient in today's seemingly inhospitable American soil. Department from Liverpool, Raban stayed for several months in each of four locations: a sublet Manhattan apartment, a cabin in the woods in small-town Guntersville, Alabama, an apartment in a former Seattle hotel, and a boat in Key West, where the living was easy and the restraints few. Half the enjoyment in following this journey consists of Raban's witty, visceral reactions to his new surroundings. He growls about Macy's switch from its old thrifty middle-class clientele to a more upscale, debt-ridden one; worries that he is drifting toward more instinctive, less rational thinking in the Calvinist-dominated South; and fantasizes about writing a novel about Seattle while brooding that it now has ``the dangerous luster of a promised city.'' Too jaundiced to overlook the instances of violence, greed, and indifference in the Reagan-Bush era, he is also swept along by ``the continuous motion of life in the United States, the striving and becoming.'' And the characters he meets along the way-a Liberian hoping for his own travel agency, a Korean owner of an auto repair shop, an old friend who's taken to shipping drugs in Key West-vividly illustrate the still-seductive allure of a new life in the New World. No Whitmanesque sentimentality here, but a jaunty, perceptive, and remarkably assured report on the American Dream today.