Stephen Wright
The Amalgamation Polka
March 21, 2020 Comments.. 990
The Amalgamation Polka Hailed by the San Francisco Chronicle as a bright star in the literary sky Stephen Wright now extends his astonishing accomplishment with a Civil War novel unlike any other Born in in bucolic up

  • Title: The Amalgamation Polka
  • Author: Stephen Wright
  • ISBN: 9780679451174
  • Page: 370
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Hailed by the San Francisco Chronicle as a bright star in the literary sky, Stephen Wright now extends his astonishing accomplishment with a Civil War novel unlike any other.Born in 1844 in bucolic upstate New York, Liberty Fish is the son of fervent abolitionists as well as the grandson of Carolina slaveholders even dedicated to their cause Thus follows a childhooHailed by the San Francisco Chronicle as a bright star in the literary sky, Stephen Wright now extends his astonishing accomplishment with a Civil War novel unlike any other.Born in 1844 in bucolic upstate New York, Liberty Fish is the son of fervent abolitionists as well as the grandson of Carolina slaveholders even dedicated to their cause Thus follows a childhood limned with fugitive slaves moving through hidden passageways in the house, his Uncle Potter s free soil adventure stories whose remarkable violence sets the tone of the mounting national crisis, and the inevitable distress that befalls his mother whenever letters arrive from her parents a conflict that ultimately costs her her life and compels Liberty, in hopes of reconciling the familial disunion, to escape first into the cauldron of war and then into a bedlam disturbing still.Rich in characters both heartbreaking and bloodcurdling, comic and horrific, The Amalgamation Polka is shot through with politics and dreams, and it captures great swaths of the American experience, from village to metropolis to plantation, from the Erie Canal to the Bahamas, from Bloody Kansas to the fulfillment of the killing fields Yet for all the brutality and tragedy, this novel is exuberant in the telling and its wide compassion, brimming with the language, manners, hopes, and fears of its time all of this so transformed by Stephen Wright s imaginative compass that places and events previously familiar are rendered new and strange, terrifying and stirring Instantly revelatory, constantly mesmerizing, this is the work of a major writer at the top of his form.

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    1 Blog on “The Amalgamation Polka

    1. Adam says:

      Like the similarly named deadpan comic the author Wright is bizarre, comic, grotesque, and sometimes beautiful and brilliant. Written in dense sometimes stunning prose with the ability to switch from slapstick to profundity and tragedy without jarring the tone and mood, Wright examines the incredibly important years before and during America’s civil war without reducing it to banalities seemingly acted out by museum reenactors that a lot examinations of the era proffer us. Our failed revolutio [...]

    2. Jason says:

      Absolutely stunning novel. Why I have put off reading it so long would perplex, if not for the somewhat dubious title and the general abundance of books ever penetrating my sphere. I truly believe that Wright's Going Native is one of the very greatest American post-war novels, especially of the relatively unsung variety. The Amalgamation Polka resembles it not a jot, save its also being eminently American. It is a novel of horror, beauty, and great robust humor. Imagine if Mark Twain had written [...]

    3. Derek says:

      A largely successful but imperfect historical novel, The Amalgamation Polka offered a colorful and convincingly violent portrait of a Union soldier's journey "home" during the American Civil War. The plot was an interesting one, relaying the protagonist's (groaningly named Liberty) abandonment of his soldierly duties and his efforts to locate the Southern slave-owning grandparents he never knew. The author's voice, leaden with appositives that stretch sentences to the length of paragraphs and pa [...]

    4. Brian Kim says:

      Okay. I can pinpoint where this book went wrong for me. When you name a mulatto character SLAVERY and place her in a room completely painted WHITE where she has been held captive all her life by her slave master who is also her father, and she is being forced to have sex with a white man named LIBERTY in order to rid her body further of black skin color and this all takes place in a plantation called REDEMPTION HALL, where LIBERTY ends up not having sex with her but attempts to FREE her Yeah. Wa [...]

    5. Alia S says:

      A random read: I pulled it off the library shelf for its title, kept it for the cover art and the Civil War setting. The story was engaging but the writing is intolerable. "Be prepared for a lot of rereading,” warns the jacket copy, “due to the vibrant beauty and savory brilliance of every paragraph.” What? I don’t know what all these gushing reviewers are talking about: Rushdie is “rich”; Wright is overwrought; Diaz is “idiosyncratic”; Wright’s just a dude with a thesaurus and [...]

    6. Tom says:

      An unusual book, not in the plot or story, but in the vocabulary used. It was both fun and frustrating to sift through the unusual "amalgamation" of words.

    7. Caryn says:

      hard book to get into.

    8. Cheryl Gatling says:

      It has been said by a number of people that the institution of slavery damages everyone involved in it. The slaves, obviously, are brutalized, but slave-owners suffer, too, whether they recognize it or not, for they must become brutes, and lose their humanity. This book is, among other things, an illustration of the long reach of the many-tentacled institution of slavery, destroying lives willy-nilly. Roxana Maury is the daughter of a South Carolina plantation. She doesn't have the stomach for i [...]

    9. Pris robichaud says:

      Both the Real Thing and A Merciless Parody, 1 Feb 2007 "Wright's title refers to a racist editorial cartoon of the period, which depicted "an amalgamation polka," where whites and blacks dance together in genteel costumes. This was meant to suggest, one presumes, that other mutually enjoyable physical activities might occur between the races later in the evening. Race mixing was the great shibboleth of slavery advocates and segregationists from the dawn of American history almost to our own time [...]

    10. Maduck831 says:

      It’s a boy,” Aroline declared flatly, thrusting into dramatic view a wailing, wriggling, shimmery thing of mottled red and blue that Roxana recognized instantly as a glistening piece of her own heart.” (15) “One idle afternoon, several months after Liberty’s passing under the tutelage of Ma’am L’Orange, Thatcher – curious as to the health of his son’s academic life – inquired casually, “Who is the president of the United States?” / “Jesus Christ,” Liberty promptly ans [...]

    11. Rick says:

      The most recent novel by a gifted writer, The Amalgamation Polka channels Mark Twain with mixed results. There are brilliant set pieces and bizarre misfires, particularly at the end. Wonderfully rich dialogue and descriptions—you can’t beat the opening sentence: “The bearded ladies were dancing in the mud.”--but a sense that all characters share the same speechwriter. Freedom Fish is the son of a daughter of the South who, because of her abolitionist-leanings, fled north as a teenager. R [...]

    12. Ellis says:

      This book was pretty annoying to me. I sort of glossed over the beginning of the book because nothing seemed to grab my attention. The protagonist’s parents were involved in the Underground Railroad, and, early on, I thought that was what this book would be about. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Instead, this fine young man, Liberty Fish, joined the Union army when he was almost 17. Apparently, this was done because of his great desire to bring the slaves their due freedom. After Liberty [...]

    13. Wu Ming says:

      WM4: "Le donne barbute ballavano nel fango". Sembra il verso di un pezzo punk rock, invece è l'attacco di Amalgamation Polka (Einaudi Stile Libero, euro 16,50), quarto romanzo dell'eclettico Stephen Wright e già caso letterario negli Stati Uniti. Incipit straniante per un titolo ancora più strambo, tratto da una vignetta satirica di metà Ottocento che rappresenta la danza dei bianchi abolizionisti insieme ai neri vestiti a festa. Sì, perché il romanzo parla del conflitto politico che ha sp [...]

    14. Curt Buchmeier says:

      This is "an acquired taste" read, I'm pretty sure. Started out rather slowly; for me the first 75 pages I'd guess. Once the hero, Liberty Fish (I know; that's his name), takes a trip on a boat as a young boy with his father down the Erie Canal to an abolitionist meeting, at which point Wright does a masterful job with dialogue and setting and the plot picks up significantly. Wright's style and pacing are unique, humorous and familiar all at the same time. This was my first read of Stephen Wright [...]

    15. Ruth says:

      323 pages.Race relations before and during the civil war.Hailed by the San Francisco Chronicle as “a bright star in the literary sky,” Stephen Wright now extends his astonishing accomplishment with a Civil War novel unlike any other.Born in 1844 in bucolic upstate New York, Liberty Fish is the son of fervent abolitionists as well as the grandson of Carolina slaveholders even more dedicated to their cause. Thus follows a childhood limned with fugitive slaves moving through hidden passageways [...]

    16. Tung says:

      The latest novel from the author of Meditations in Green (my top book of the year for 2003), this book is based on a picture drawn during the 1800s that shows African-American men dancing with high society white women with the caption “The Amalgamation Polka”. But this book is less about one picture, and more about America during the Civil War and its struggle with the issue of slavery. The novel focuses on Liberty Fish, the son of abolitionists, and it traces his time as a youth growing up [...]

    17. Louis says:

      Mes contacts avec Stephen Wright sont le fruit du hasard. Il y a vingt ans, mon ami Pierre Lemieux m’avait incité à m’abonner au Quality Paperback Book Club, où l’un de mes premiers achats fut Going Native, un recueil de nouvelles déguisé en roman, choisi dans la liste sur un coup de tête, lu, apprécié, puis oublé. Puis, cet automne, Hélène m’accompagnait dans une de mes expéditions au 3e étage du Bonenfant quand elle a choisi, un peu au hasard, un roman de la collection «D [...]

    18. Jenny says:

      The tone in this is quite uneven, starting as a humorous and richly-detailed coming of age tale, transitioning into a more straight-forward Civil War narrative, and then going off the rails in the last 100 pages in a grotesque depiction of a fallen southern plantation family. Despite the unevenness, I was happy to go along for the journey up until that last third because of the beauty and inventiveness of the author's use of language. My attention strayed in the last few chapters, though, becaus [...]

    19. Elaine says:

      Stephen Wright is, if not THE best, certainly one of THE best 21st century writers. His verbal pyrotechnics amaze. You hear, smell, see, and feel what is going on, both through a child's sensory input, and then an adult's. At other times, he allows you to sit back and just listen and watch. The plot takes place between the 1840's through The Civil War, which is presented both through Northern and Southern eyes. People often think of that war starting with the firing upon Fort Sumter, but the fig [...]

    20. Charlaralotte says:

      Another great story along the lines of "The History of the Known World," though a bit less tremendously depressing. Well-researched story of family in North with ties to the South and horrors of Civil War. Started a bit slowly, though once Liberty & his father take a trip up the Erie Canal, there's great pleasure in the details of travel, strange characters met en route, wonderful descriptions of diversions of the time period. Liberty's experiences on the battlefield not weighed down by usua [...]

    21. John says:

      I might revise my rating on further reflection, but he is possibly my favorite modern author, and I went in with expectations the book didn't meet. Not that it wasn't good; a Civil War story written, for the most part, in the style of the period, which doesn't sound like my thing, but it was a surprisingly easy read. Maybe too easy; after three novels of poetic darkness, full of hallucinatory imagery, this was shockingly simple and direct. Oh, it started off with a gang of bearded ladies and inc [...]

    22. Bookmarks Magazine says:

      Is it a curse or a blessing that the work of idiosyncratically original writers prompts the most divisive reviews? There's no preordained slot for Steven Wright (Going Native; Meditations in Green), so his fictions have to be read with an open mind and, perhaps, a predisposition for his "dark, hallucinatory world" (New York Times). The main point of dissension centers on whether Wright has balanced the strains of parody and the grotesque carefully enough. Critics also disagree about whether the [...]

    23. Ckbiffster says:

      i haven't read any other civil war novels, so i can't compare this one in context--but i feel confident in saying that there probably aren't any other civil war novels like it. i am a big fan of wright's previous work, which is about as postmodern as it gets. so i was curious how he would handle such weighty and thoroughly-covered territory. i really liked the way he appropriated certain stylistic aspects of 19th century literature--most prominently baroque, complex sentences/paragraphs in a way [...]

    24. Kurt Gottschalk says:

      This was a hard book for me to read. There is some deep cruelty in the storyline and readers should be prepared for more darknesses than the Civil War setting would suggest. But that wasn't my problem - I'm able to withstand more than many people in books and movies. My problem was more in caring. The book can roughly be divided into four parts and it's rare in any part for their to be more than one character the elicits any empathy. The story is inventive, unpredictable and (otherwise) well tol [...]

    25. Joanna says:

      This book started out as nothing less than fabulous storytelling about an era of American history (prior to and during the Civil War) that I actually know very little about, and I adored Liberty Fish from the moment of his birth. However, the story took a decided turn towards the bizarro the moment that Liberty set foot on the grounds of his ancestral plantation, Redemption Hall. Of course it was simply lovely to share my commute with Michael Emerson's phenomenal acting (he makes an excellent sm [...]

    26. Kilean says:

      Devilishly talented writer that reminds me a lot of Pynchon but he's pretty damn distinct in his own right when it comes to story/characters/ideas. Loads of extravagant prose on display here. Whole thing is set during the time of the civil war and follows the life of Liberty Fish, son of abolitionist parents from upstate New York. And it's entirely unlike anything I've ever read that has anything to do with the Civil War. I'd probably give this more stars but I personally like a few of this auth [...]

    27. Jeremy says:

      This book really deserved all the praise that sparked my initial interest. It's a good story. It's well-, if over-, written. I'm sure that it's full of deep meaning and symbology and bears up well upon repeated readings.However, all the verbage - while unique, exquisitely correct, and often beautiful - serves to obfuscate the story rather than elucidate it. The story also seems a bit thin and is not particularly compelling.I'm glad I read this book, but it's not one that I'll likely find myself [...]

    28. Kirby Gann says:

      I can only strive to be as wild and visionary a writer as Stephen Wright—a novelist who should be heralded with the other big names of his generation (Pynchon, DeLillo, Denis Johnson, etc). A criminally undervalued artist whose work appears about as often as an eclipse. Depending on one's taste as a reader, I'd say start here, then go to Meditations in Green, then Going Native (one could start there, too), and then M31: A Family Romance.

    29. Hannah says:

      I wish this book was a little bit better. It's a Faulknerian romp through the civil war, with a decidedly contemporary sensibility. It's funny, hyperbolic, and spot-on in some of its observations and fascinations. But it's the sort of book you'd write about in your dissertation because it's interesting, not because it moved you.

    30. Alison says:

      I loved this book and I don't often like novels about the US Civil War. Wright's language is extravagantly lush and gorgeous. The plot is rollicking, occasionally grotesque and at its best when it deviates quite far afield of what you might expect (and believe me, it does) into absurd picaresque. It's also very, very funny.

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