Mao II is about words and images, novelists and terrorists, and is haunted by the intermingled spirits of such diverse figures as Andy Warhol, the master of emptiness, and Mao Zedong, the icon of a world of revolution. The action unfolds around Bill Gray, a reclsuive writer who escapes the failed novel he has been writing for many years, to enter ...
Mao II is about words and images, novelists and terrorists, and is haunted by the intermingled spirits of such diverse figures as Andy Warhol, the master of emptiness, and Mao Zedong, the icon of a world of revolution. The action unfolds around Bill Gray, a reclsuive writer who escapes the failed novel he has been writing for many years, to enter the world of political violence, Semtex explosives and hostages. Stranded by Bill's dangerous passage are his brilliant, fixated assistant, Scott, and the strange young woman who is Scott's - and Bill's - lover. The novel's pages are filled with powerful explosions of dark imagery - the Hilllsborough football disaster, the funeral of Ayatollah Khomeini - and it begins and ends with two of the most extraordinary marriage ceremonies in contemporary writing. Mao II is no less than a book-length dispute between literature and political terror, a story that takes us from New York to London, to Athens, to the no-man's-land of Beirut - terror's modern republic.
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"Years ago, I used to think it was possible for a novelist to alter the inner life of the culture," says Bill Gray, DeLillo's protagonist. "Now bomb-makers and gunmen have taken that territory. They make raids on human consciousness."
Of all contemporary American novelists, Don DeLillo has his finger on the Zeitgeist, a spooky ear for the electronic static that clings to and distracts our minds, an unerring antennae for the hidden structures of power behind the throne. His 1991 novel Mao II is one of his finest and eerily predictive of the dark world to come. It concerns itself with the cultish massmind, the terrorist as agent of consciousness, our image-saturated world, and our apocalyptic moment.
Crowds are ubiquitous in the novel: mass weddings at Yankee Stadium presided over by Rev. Sunmyung Moon, Tiananmen Square's democracy students, the Ayatollah Khomeini's funeral, soccer riots. Bill Gray is a novelist in seclusion (Salinger? Pynchon?) who is drawn into a world of political violence and perhaps becomes a sacrificial victim of the world he is obstructed from rendering in words. The beautiful drifters populate the novel: Scott, the novelist's assistant, an escaped Moonie, a photographer of writers.
The novel's title refers to an Andy Warhol print and its endless multiplication of images in which we find ourselves awash. Read DeLillo for the way we live now.
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