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Proulx, E. Annie., Scribner, 1996, c1996, 1st Edition, boards & cloth (hard cover), vg+ with vg dj (light wear, one minor edge tear), 381 pp, tall 8vo, ISBN: 06841954888, "Opens in 1890 in Sicily as an accordion maker completes his finest instrument"
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/
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