Direct, brief, well-informed, and polemical (``How will Americans respond to the news that Huck...was part black?''), Fishkin (American Studies/University of Texas, Austin) provides a questionable but dramatic genealogy of Huckleberry Finn's African- American ancestors as a gesture toward ``desegregating'' American literary history. Inspired by David Bradley's 1985 lecture, ``The First `Nigger' Novel,'' Fishkin argues that the prototypical American literary hero in what major writers have considered the archetypal American novel was based on a black child named Sociable Jimmy; that Twain's language (``raised to a level of literary eloquence,'' as Ralph Ellison said in 1970) is derived from African-American voices; and that his satirical social style was inspired by a black boy named Jerry whom he knew while still a child. But although Twain enjoyed black culture enough to appropriate it for his writings, he repressed the sources because, Fishkin says, he wanted to be respectable—and in the age of p.c. (of which this study is a monumental example), that makes Twain a hypocrite, a character-type that he himself found particularly contemptuous. To prove that an imaginary hero in a work of art (or even a popular commercial novel, as Huckleberry Finn was originally conceived) is multiracial, multicultural, even androgynous, would be to explain his perennial appeal. But Fishkin treats the novel and its lead character as a social commentary or textbook, referring often to its presentation in the classroom and shaping her argument for literary critics. Isolating Huck's African-American traits—some based on stereotypes, others uncovered through sophisticated linguistic analysis—seems to create its own form of segregation, to oversimplify a complex literary character, and to compromise the universality to which a wide range of authors (whom Fishkin quotes) have paid tribute—authors such as Ellison, Faulkner, Hemingway, Toni Morrison, and others, who claim to have learned their language and acquired their voices from Twain. In spite of the confused motives: an exhaustive and provocative work, already creating a stir. (Eighteen halftones)

Pub Date: May 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-19-508214-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1993

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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