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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.
Pub Date: April 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-15-100097-2
Page count: 450pp
Publisher: Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1995


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