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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Armies of the Night

Norman Mailer is one of these numerous figures whom I have heard more about than I actually know or have read (if that makes sense). Noam Chomsky, who appears in this book, is another. I did read The Naked and the Dead is the, seemingly, dark ages, when I was too young and read too fast (I have virtually no recollection of the book anymore). So, I had no idea what to expect of The Armies of the Night, yet Mailer still managed to surprise me.

History as a novel, the novel as history. The book is split in two parts, the first one consisting of Mailer's experiences (recounted in a third person narrative, quite disconcerting throughout the book I found) attending an anti-Vietnam protest (the March on the Pentagon) in the fall of 1967. While the content of this part is quite factual, he lived all of it after all, Mailer tells it like a novel. The second part of the book is a recount of what happened in the lead up to the March and during the following 48 hours, while Mailer was in jail. It is the journalistic or historical part, but really the novel since Mailer wasn't actually present. This made for a very intriguing concept and split I found.

What is fascinating besides the story which is amusing, captivating and informative at once is to see Mailer portray himself as egocentric and selfish at the same time that he goes to jail for a cause and pokes fun at his persona's need to be the center of attention. He manages to step away from himself and provide the reader with an objective description of himself even while it remains clear that Mailer considers himself no slough.

It might be argued that the book today is more interesting because of its stylistic audacity as well as the author himself than the very journalistic and micro-orientated coverage of one demonstration against the Vietnam War, but I felt that the book is worth it out of all three counts. One not necessarily overwhelming the other and a glimpse into the war's opposition at the same time proved instructive as well.

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