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Mao II af Don Delillo

Mao II (original 1991; udgave 1992)

af Don Delillo

MedlemmerAnmeldelserPopularitetGennemsnitlig vurderingOmtaler
2,392276,540 (3.58)71
postmodern America
Titel:Mao II
Forfattere:Don Delillo
Info:Vintage (1992), Edition: New Ed, Paperback, 256 pages
Samlinger:Dit bibliotek

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Mao II : roman af Don DeLillo (1991)


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This novel is a highly atmospheric, almost surreal world that's eerily reminiscent of the one we live in. Sometimes the prose hits you like a stream of consciousness with no apparent end, immersing you in all the mundane, the nitty-gritty, the bustle of human life - and it's hard to separate one thing from another, or maybe you were never supposed to in the first place, simply absorb what you see as it happens.

One of DeLillo's main motifs seems to be images and how we are constantly bombarded by them, to the point where everything but violence and death ceases to have impact... and even these sometimes lose their meaning for us as well, if they are repeated enough for us to see. It's illustrated sharply in some of the characters' experiences. Brita, a self-made photographer, used to take pictures of city underworlds until she realized even the graphic nature of those images faded into the background compared to their tragic beauty. Bill, the reclusive writer who is being stifled by his latest book, abandons his quiet, structured life for a nightscape of terror and violence, perhaps because that's the only place he feels alive, an active contributor to events he used to merely write about. Scott, the reclusive writer's fiercely loyal assistant, leads a mundane life dealing with copies upon copies of Bill's past work, work-in-progress, letters, etc. until he becomes somewhat of an automaton. At one point, he views an exhibit on Chairman Mao comprised of so many versions of the same portrait that it's rendered almost harmless, a mere fancy for the eyes, though at the same time it is an image that cannot be forgotten.

Karen, our final main character, is a particularly unique person and I can't decide how I feel about her, or even if I understand her completely. She experiences firsthand the mindless mass multiplication of a specific image - that of marriage, where thousands of couples are paired together under the religious cult leader Master Moon. She later escapes both the cult and her own family, wandering through life on her own terms. Karen acts like a sponge for all things human, to the point where she loses nearly all individual expression and identity - almost dead to the world, as it were, but her actions speak differently. She seems to consciously seek out human images, with a special focus on anything grim and bleak - from peddling flowers and peanuts on the road to wandering among homeless people, many of them shadowy and dangerous, listening to their stories and foraging items for them that can be exchanged for money. To me she represents the deeply buried longing in all of us to just get out there, to do something to combat our apathy and insulation, to see the world for what it really is and feel like part of something bigger, to feel alive even if it's in the most unlikely situations. And maybe it's those unlikely situations, those in-between places, those dark and bleak surroundings that truly awaken us, that tell us what we've been blind to all along.

At first, when I reached the ending I was disappointed that Bill never seemed to work up the courage to make a stand against the terrorists, or finish writing something about the hostage that would give him meaning and identity, or turn himself over to save the hostage writer's life. His lateness to act struck me as extremely selfish. Instead of doing any of those things, Bill gets himself hit by a car (seemingly on purpose), refuses to get treatment, and ends up dying alone and anonymous on a ferry, after finally making the vague impulse to meet the terrorist leader Abu Rashid. It's a sad and meaningless end, one which he may have wanted all along - to disappear forever from the public eye and human consciousness, all on his own terms. I didn't understand at first why he had to die that way, why DeLillo chose that route and not some meaningful struggle against the terrorists. But it brings back another of DeLillo's recurring themes - "the future belongs to crowds."

Here, the terrorists are one of many crowds in question, but they represent the main threat to Bill's purpose as an author because of their ability to "make raids on human consciousness" - shaping the world and controlling its people's minds through violence. So in reality, Bill has been fighting them all this time using the power of his words alone. And now that he has lost even that - his ability to influence through his novels - there is no other reason for him to fight on, or even live on; the battle has already been lost. Thus, when it comes to individual vs. the crowd, the individual inevitably takes the loss. And that's the major tragedy of our time - when individualism and freedom of expression, things that make us human, are erased in favor of mass-mandated conformity for the sake of the vague feeling of "belonging." And even meaning itself fades into obscurity, as our lives are inundated by images and news to which we become increasingly desensitized. DeLillo illustrates this with depressing accuracy and heart-wrenching eloquence - and for a book written decades ago, it was startlingly prophetic in its telling.
( )
  Myridia | Jan 19, 2024 |
A thoughtful, engaging, relevant book.

"Mao II" (1991), by Don DeLillo (b. 1936), is the story of Bill Gray, a reclusive novelist. He lives off royalties, supporting Scott, a live-in secretary, and Karen, a young woman with whom both men have a comfortable relationship.

Bill is a recluse, supposedly working on a new book, but never appears in public or contacts anyone. Scott is his household helper, but also cajoles him when he gets lazy. Karen is a credulous and sensitive person who was a Moonie in the past, and finds individual life difficult.

Bill's agent tells him he has been asked to meet a terrorist group in Beirut, which has taken a hostage. He is to read a statement of support, at a London press conference, and the hostage will be released. He goes to London, but after some difficulties, steals away to Cyprus, unbeknownst to his agent, or to Scott and Karen. He accompanies a sympathizer of the Maoist group, hoping to meet the leader himself, perhaps in Beirut.

Will he make it to Beirut? Will he return to America? Will he meet the terrorists? Will he free the hostage, or will he be taken hostage himself? The book will answer these questions eventually, but more interesting are the deeper challenges DeLillo poses.

The book makes much of Chairman Mao throughout. In London and Cyprus, Bill converses at length with the terror group's sympathizer, arguing over the nature of terrorism, socialism, totalitarianism, and other such matters. The book discusses such organizations as the Shining Path, such world leaders as Khomeini (who died in 1989), and such events as the Tiananmen Square massacres (which occured in 1989).

DeLillo seems to ask, what makes a leader? What makes a follower? Why is Karen so credulous? Will she get caught by another cult? Is Scott a leader, perhaps a frustrated one? Why is Bill interested in these matters? Why is a terrorist leader interested in him? Does Bill remain an outsider just so he won't get inadvertently influenced by society's inevitable groupings?

Like a contemporary artist, DeLillo doesn't provide a didactic guide, but a curious exploration. He studies crowd behavior and credulity, as well as those (always men?) who manipulate others, or perhaps only superficially attempt it. Most remarkable that he addressed an issue in 1989 which is so relevant today, post-9/11, and did so before Saddam Hussein, another manipulator, became such a household name. It reminds us that history progresses from one manipulative despot to another.

DeLillo remains artistically neutral, but seems to have more sympathy for freedom and individuality than for group behavior of any sort, even though he understands the reasons for it. Readers may decide for themselves.

The prose is lively. The dialog is interesting and idiomatic, if awkward at times, but most often clever. The tone is hustling and bustling, scrambled and chaotic, and contrasted with the literary seclusion of the countryside. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys contemporary American fiction, or wants to reflect on the nature of crowd behavior, manipulative leaders, or terrorism. It will engage curious readers, and provoke you to thought. ( )
  jvhovig | Aug 25, 2023 |
Maffig läsupplevelse. Knivskarp och rätt hård. Ibland svävar det ut lite väl mycket för min smak och det är det enda som drar ner från högsta betyg. Läs! ( )
  Mikael.Linder | Feb 7, 2022 |
Here's Don Delillo in all his frigid glory. It starts with a mass wedding and ends with a terrorist photoshoot.

"Terror makes the new future possible. All men one man. Men live in history as never before. He is saying we make and change history minute by minute. History is not the book or the human memory. We do history in the morning and change it after lunch."
  trotta | Mar 4, 2021 |
Pretty good, but less so than I had hoped given the talk about art and such toward the beginning. He really roped me into thinking this was going to be a great novel of ideas, but it meandered a bit and seemed pretty uneven. On the whole a worthwhile read. ( )
  dllh | Jan 6, 2021 |
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