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Paperback The Amalgamation Polka Book

ISBN: 0571231128

ISBN13: 9780571231126

The Amalgamation Polka

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Format: Paperback

Condition: Very Good


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Book Overview

This description may be from another edition of this product. From a star of the first magnitude (The Washington Post Book World) comes a Civil War novel like no other: heartbreaking and bloodcurdling, comic and horrific, and shot through with politics and...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Both The Real Thing and A Merciless Parody

"Wright's title refers to a racist editorial cartoon of the period, which depicted "an amalgamation polka," where whites and blacks dance together in genteel costumes. This was meant to suggest, one presumes, that other mutually enjoyable physical activities might occur between the races later in the evening. Race mixing was the great shibboleth of slavery advocates and segregationists from the dawn of American history almost to our own time and many of the characters in Wright's novel are obsessed with it." Andrew O'Hehir Stephen Wright is one of my favorite authors. I was introduced to him by my best friend who recommended his book "Going Native". I read this book in almost one sitting ten months ago but left the last chapter until now. I wanted to be able to leave the last chapter for a time when I needed solace and understanding. Who else will tell you that our country is screwed, always has been and always will be. Who else, as in most of his novels, infers that this 'is both the real thing and a merciless parody'? And, who else writes such marvelous prose? Exactly, maybe no one. Liberty Fish, yes that is his real name, grows up in a house used as a station on the Underground Railroad, but his mother was raised on a large South Carolina plantation and his father is the son of a Northern industrial family that has profited greatly from the slave trade. Liberty's parents want to destroy the institution that made their families rich, and this perversity runs through the book. When Liberty visits the devastated Redemption Hall, his mother's birthplace, and meets his maternal grandfather, Asa Maury, the old man is a bitter, angry, hardened bigot. Yet, faced with the destruction of slavery, he is facing the racial dilemma, and is trying to solve it. Liberty survives the horrors of war at Antietam. He is taken prisoner by the rebels, then deserts from the Union Army to go find grandfather Asa. There he works with his grandfather to escape the collapsing Confederacy and hijack a ship for Brazil, where slavery remains alive and well. This harkens us back to Liberty's childhood where he is educated by a one-eyed former slave named Euclid, taken carousing by his Uncle Potter and sworn into the secret fraternity of pirates by a strange character Fife. Where does this all take us? That journey, my friend, is for you take. Stephen Wright may see bloodshed and tumult of the Civil War period as good examples of our American madness. Despite the parody or maybe because of it, Stephen Wright gives us a new vocabulary, 'sheconnery', 'buckra, and 'gallinipers'. Fitting words for the occasion. What do they mean? You decide. One of the characters, a southern lady sums this book up the best 'This war,'" she says to Liberty, "'this horrible evil war, it's never going to end. You do understand that, don't you? Even after it's over it will continue to go on without the flags and the trumpets and the armies, do you understand?' There is so much to say about

Another perspective of the Civil War

I enjoy historical fiction and the cover caught my eye in the book store as did the first line. After that, I admit, I had a bit of trouble getting into the story and getting used to the author's style; however, it didn't take long for me to realize what a skilled writer Wright is. His sentences are way long and sometimes had to be reread, but it was well worth it. The story has a slightly different look at the Civil War than most novels set in this time. Some of the characters are almost "over the top" but are always believable. The character of Asa Maury is one of the most dispicable I've ever encountered in a book. Having just read "Team of Rivals" the non-fiction account of Lincoln's cabinet; this book provided another look. "Team of Rivals" examining the "important players" in the War; "Amalgamation Polka" examining the "real people" -- those who only saw their viewpoint of the conflict. It's truly a wonder our nation survived that terrible wound which the Civil War caused. Even though "Polka" ends on a hopeful note, this book gives some insight as to why those wounds are still felt today. A good read -- highly recommended as thoughtful, interesting, and well written

"The bearded ladies were dancing in the mud."

With this opening sentence, the reader knows immediately that this Civil War novel is no Gone With the Wind. Dense, suggestive, and impressionistic in style, it focuses on the Fish family--Thatcher Fish, a traveling preacher and abolitionist from Delphi, New York; his wife Roxana, formerly of Redemption Hall in Charleston, South Carolina; and their son Liberty, around whom most of the action revolves. Dividing the novel into three parts, the author first shows Liberty as a child absorbing his parents' values, sometimes being ostracized by other children, and, in his loneliness, finding comfort with Euclid, an escaped slave who lives in the family's root cellar. Wright is particularly effective in revealing life from the point of view of Liberty, a child whose house is an "enchanted domain," filled with hidden passageways, sliding panels, floor traps, and peepholes, all part of "the train Mother told me about, that runs under the ground." Moving back and forth through Liberty's childhood and that of his mother, the narrative is filled with extravagant descriptions and quirky characters--Uncle Potter, who is always seeking excitement; Ma'am L'Orange, Liberty's mad teacher; Arthur Fife, aged 146, a former pirate who lives in a hole in the ground; Captain Erastus Whelkington of the canal boat Croesus; and Stumpy, the hoggee, a child who keeps the mules moving along the towpath of the Erie Canal. Liberty's enlistment in the Union army when he is sixteen begins the second part of the book, filled with the carnage of battle, the devastating accidents of fate, and the horrors of hand-to-hand combat. Following "Uncle Billy" Sherman, Liberty joins Major Pickles, who travels with his own casket (filled with whiskey). Liberty's discovery of the devastated Redemption Hall and his crazed maternal grandfather constitute the final section of this compelling novel, which achieves additional dramatic strength through the black humor and horror evoked by the unconscionable behavior of Asa Maury, Liberty's grandfather. Long a practitioner of eugenics, Maury has lost all touch with reality, and the torments he inflicts upon his slaves go beyond anything one may ever have read before. The energy of author Stephen Wright never flags. A parade of oddball characters engaging in wild episodes constantly entertains the reader, but Wright never lets the humor overshadow his serious themes and his message about the emancipation. His descriptions are brilliant and full of local color, and Liberty's emotional reactions to the physical details around him enhance the mood and intensity of each scene. Though the conclusion is a bit didactic, the moralizing occurs within the context of some outrageous concluding scenes, which soften the lesson and make it less obvious. Ultimately upbeat, the novel breaks new ground in historical fiction. n Mary Whipple

An American War And Peace

"The Amalgamation Polka" is for the reader who does not mind rambling discourses upon the Civil War era nor be dependent upon linear story-telling. In his own style, Mr. Wright resembles more of Victor Hugo or Leo Tolstoy with his digressions and views his novel as a journey through life and not as a destination narrative to be finished. It has the added attraction of being significantly shorter than, say, "Les Miserables" or "War and Peace." The unusual title and book jacket tells the reader that this historical novel is going to be different than other Civil War books like "The March" by E.L. Doctorow (2005). The title refers to a political cartoon of that period that has blacks and whites dancing the polka together (it was not meant to be a compliment either). Mr. Wright seems to have a copyright on eccentric characters and his protagonist has the unique moniker of Liberty Fish (in the context of the story, the name makes sense). Mr. Wright is an acquired taste and certainly not for everyone, but, for the reader who perseveres, "The Amalgamation Polka" is a delight.


Wow! Came home 2 weeks ago and this book was between my doors. I didn't order any books this week, I thought to myself. I opened it and immediately thought it was a book by the comedian of the same name. This will at least be amusing, I thought. But the insert provided from the New York Times book review caught my eye and tweaked my curiosity. Who is this guy? First let me say that for anyone who dreams of becoming a writer, this book will do one of two thing for you: it will inspire you to be the best possible writer you can be or it will totally discourage you from ever attempting to bring pen to paper. How the hell can anyone top this? Every paragraph is a carefully crafted work of art unto itself. His mastery of the English language simply defies description. The tale of Liberty Fish's coming of age in the time of the Civil War jumps off the page in a three-dimensional sensory onslaught that simply transcends the written word. Of contemporary fiction writers, only Anne Rice comes close; and she isn't even in this gentleman's league. How Mr. Wright breathes life and complexity into so many characters within the confines of a 300-page codex is something I'm sure that even he can't rationally break down and explain to the most cerebral listener. This man is the buried treasure for any reader looking to be entertained and inspired while vicariously living his characters' experiences. You feel the emotion, the happiness, the pain. You see and smell and hear and feel all of it. Not a word wasted. It's not so much where the book takes you as how it arrives there. I was reading it at a local pub where the patrons routinely share new books and authors with each other when I was asked about "The Amalgamation Polka". At this point, I was near the middle of the book. "What's it about?" I was queried. My answer? "I don't know yet, but it's phenomenal." My opinion carries much weight in this makeshift "book club" as I have been the one to introduce the likes of Christopher Moore, Joe R. Lansdale and Chuck Palahniuk (to name a few) to the mostly "best-seller" mind set that pervades the group. And introducing Stephen Wright has been an epiphany. Copies of his first three books are wildly making the rounds as I write this! A typical reaction to his work would be "How is it that I've never heard of this guy?" How is that, indeed. Writers come and go, but is seems that once or twice a generation a writer comes along whose work leaves us breathless and wanting more and more. Stephen Wright is that author for our generation. He is not Vonnegut, nor Steinbeck, nor Twain, nor Dostoevsky, nor Orwell. He is Wright. And he is sublime.
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