Accordion Crimes follows the stories of America?s many immigrants from 1890 to 1996. The novel is split into eight sections and reads like eight short stories where the only connection is a green accordion and the suffering and hardship that the immigrants each suffer; Germans, Italians and Mexicans etc.
The stories traverse America, Texas, Iowa, Florida and Louisiana to name but a few. The green accordion that connects the lives of the novel?s characters is crafted by a poor Sicilian in the last decade of the 19th century. Through the novel the accordion is stolen, lost or bought by the novel?s protagonists.
The novel?s premise is striking, applaudable and its ambition is as vast as the country in which novel is set, America. The novel attempts to show a hundred years of American history through its poorest people, through ?foreign? eyes if you will.
The novel begins in Italy where a Sicilian decides to emigrate to ?La Merica? in the hope to start a business of making and selling accordions. As an example of his craftsmanship he creates a green accordion. The accordion is an instrument one associates with the working class. Felida one of the novel?s characters goes further by stating that, ?The instrument of unsuccessful men, of poor immigrants and failures.? The green colour of the instrument is significant as it relates to the nativity of its many owners and to the vast verdant landscape envisioned by immigrants who travel to America. The accordion is a complicated and elaborate instrument that belies its lowly ranking in music world.
Like the accordion of the novel?s title the novel is beautifully crafted and one can only admire the author?s in depth research. However, I found the novel dull, bloated and as dry as the paper it is printed on. The author details the making and workings of instruments and cars and sport equipment to the nth degree. After reading the book you will be able to build and create your own accordion and combustion engine due to the complete and minute detail written by the author on these subjects. I understand the author wanted to demonstrate the ingenuity and skills that many immigrants brought with them to their new homeland but it makes for a dry and tedious read.
I found myself having no connection, no sympathy and no empathy with any of the novel?s characters. This is not helped by the ludicrous circumstances they sometimes find themselves in but also the farcical deaths that befall many of the characters. One individual, the grandson of a German immigrant, dies when he loses his balance and falls into a hot spring in Yellowstone National Park. However, he manages to drag himself out of the spring with his flesh falling off his bones only for him to fall into another hot spring like a character from a Mack Sennett film.
Many of Ms Proulx?s references and analogies are pretentious, obscure and at times obtuse: ?leaving the door ajar like Richard Widmark.? I could make no sense of this simile. Only film aficionados? would be aware of the actor Richard Widmark and even some of those would be hard pressed to name any of his films.
One feels guilty at having to negatively criticize Annie Proulx?s novel as it is a worthy and ambitious piece of work about a country?s immigrants and their place in that country. To that end it is still relevant in the world today as we move toward the middle of the second decade of the 21st century immigration still high on the agenda of not just governments but the voters.
Originally posted at http://womensprizeforfictionbookreview.wordpress.com/
Publishers Weekly, 1996-04-15 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 baggageæthe attitudes, behaviors and social conditioningæthat 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 specificityæfrom the components of an accordion to the bloodlines of Appaloosas and the stages of a Polish funeralæinto her vigorous prose. Traditional ethnic musicæplayed by various characters during their brief ownership of the increasingly derelict accordionæis 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)
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