Review by Booklist Review
The spectacular success of Proulx's Pulitzer Prize-winning Shipping News (1993) inspired high hopes for her new book, expectations well met with this compelling if harrowing cycle of stories about immigrant life in America. Proulx uses the fate of an accordion, built by an ambitious Sicilian immigrant in 1890, to connect colorful and hair-raising tales that ultimately span a century of American madness. The accordion maker had hoped to bring his entire family to America, but after his wife is struck by a mysterious malady--the first of many bizarre ailments that bedevil Proulx's unlucky characters--only he and his youngest son make it to New Orleans, where they discover a city seething with corruption, hate, and violence. Even music is subject to bigotry, and the accordion maker ends up dying in an anti-Italian riot. In what becomes a wildly ironic sequence of freak accidents, bizarre illnesses, weird suicides, odd coincidences, bad karma, dumb scams, and poor judgment, the accordion surfaces in North Dakota, Texas, Maine, and Chicago. It is coveted, held, and squeezed by people of Italian, African, German, Mexican, French, Polish, and Irish descent, giving voice to their laments and dreams. In each of the ethnic microcosms she so masterfully creates, Proulx presents us with bitter insights into the malleability and insidiousness of prejudice and the sorrow of lost pasts. As we keep our eye on that precious accordion, we're held rapt by Proulx's imagination, cultural and social perception, and fluency in absurdity. (Reviewed April 15, 1996)0684195488Donna Seaman
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
America's ethnic minorities have rarely been rendered with the insight, intuition and unsentimental candor that Proulx brings to the large canvas of characters and reaches of landscape in this ambitious new work. The narrative has eight parts, each composed of short vignettes that depict the cultural baggagethe attitudes, behaviors and social conditioningthat immigrants brought with them, and the ways in which they joined, yet held aloof from, American society. Beginning in the late 1800s and ending 100 years later, the novel follows a vividly realized cast of characters, whose names are as colorful as their stories: Ludwig Messermacher, Abelardo Relampago Salazar, Dolor Gagnon, Onesiphore Malefoot, Hieronim Przybysz. Their common bond is ownership of a green button accordion, which was brought to these shores by a Sicilian immigrant and, after his death at the hands of a lynch mob, was transported back and forth across the continent by various combinations of inheritance, violence and bad luck. With mesmerizing skill, Proulx summons up the attitudes and speech of her characters, vigorously detailing a formidable number of settings, including New Orleans, Hornet, Texas, Random, Maine, Prank, Iowa, and Old Glory, Minnesota. She can evoke a teeming, fetid slum as clearly as she can a Montana ranch. An invariable characteristic of these immigrants and their families is the tendency to think of others as "Americans.'' In their own minds, they are still Italians or Germans or Norwegians or Poles or French Canadian or Cajuns. Almost without exception, they express ancient prejudices and newfound racism: the New Orleans natives hate the Italians, who hate the blacks; Iowa's Germans hate the Irish. What makes all this so spectacular is th at Proulx is a master at incorporating potentially numbing detail and specificityfrom the components of an accordion to the bloodlines of Appaloosas and the stages of a Polish funeralinto her vigorous prose. Traditional ethnic musicplayed by various characters during their brief ownership of the increasingly derelict accordionis conveyed with impressive authority. The range of scenes, from a drunken birthday party that resembles an animated Booth cartoon to a brutal reaction to a civil rights sit-in at a lunch counter, bespeaks a brilliant imagination. Proulx makes grotesque accidents, bloody catastrophes and bizarre events seem an inescapable part of human existence. If eventually some sameness of mood occurs, and a resultant diminution of tension, this is balanced by the reader's interest in the accordion's odyssey and in the lives it touches en route. For this is a cautionary tale in which pride and greed and self-delusion vie with basic human needs for love, comfort and spiritual sustenance. BOMC dual main selection; author tour. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review
Proulx follows up her award-winning The Shipping News (LJ 2/15/93) with another show stopper. At its heart is an accordion made by an Italian who immigrates to New Orleans with his young son in the 19th century. The man is soon killed by an anti-Italian mob, but the instrument passes from family to family, all immigrantswhether German, Mexican, Polish, or French Canadianwhose lives are heartrendingly detailed. Proulx is clear-eyed and merciless in her description of their battle to survive hardship, prejudice, disease, and the death of loved ones for the chance to fulfill the American dream. Both beautiful and sobering, this book is highly recommended for all collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/96.]Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal" (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review
Proulx's third novel, and first since the spectacular success of her Pulitzerwinning The Shipping News (1993), is a panoramic mosaic of the immigrant experience in 20th-century America that confirms her oft-noted similarity to Steinbeck--and offers the most comprehensive survey of working-class life since Dos Passos's U.S.A. trilogy. It begins in 1890 with the passage to ``La Merica'' of a Sicilian accordion maker and his small son, and their ordeal in New Orleans, where the (nameless) father finds work on the docks and meets a violent fate that will become the pattern engulfing virtually all of the story's successive characters. Proulx then telescopes the lives of those into whose hands the Sicilian's button accordion passes--whether it's given, sold, or stolen- -through the next hundred years. Thus we observe the mingled passion for music and brute violence of a German immigrant family in North Dakota; a brawling Acadian clan and its Cajun relations; the Polish Przbyszes of Chicago; and many others. The sheer number of varied and vivid characters created, and the specifics of their lives, are enough to make this one of the most accomplished American novels of recent years. Proulx's angular, image-filled prose is tuned down a notch or two here; the demands imposed by the book's staggering content obviously required that it be somewhat more conventionally expository. The real fire is in her tone- perfect dialogue. Some may object to what seems an unrealistic profusion of melodramatic incident. But surely Proulx's point is that America's underclass--particularly its non-native one--is especially vulnerable and (here we see her daring) prone to angry confrontation and early death. She faces it unflinchingly, and the results are grim, depressing, and memorable. The popular-literary audience that loved The Shipping News will devour this big novel as well. (Book-of-the-Month Club dual main selection)
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