Sunny Days in Heaven
Spiritual/Political/Philosophical Blog on the Nature of Truth and Falsehood and Heaven

Saturday, July 02, 2005  

Mark Helprin

I've only read one of Mark Helprin's books, Winter's Tale, which was a marvelous as the critics said. It's prose is gorgeous, yet the fact that it is a fantasia set in a real epoch of American life left me puzzled. I just couldn't suspend my disbelief although I enjoyed the journey for the most part.

The Harvard Magazine has a fine article on Helprin, his conservative mind, his writing, and his life experiences which are extraordinary along with mental abilities which are unique.

. . . But many critics place Helprin’s oeuvre on a lofty perch indeed, comparing novels like Winter’s Tale (1983), A Soldier of the Great War (1991), and Memoir from Antproof Case (1995) to the likes of Kafka, Mann, Hemingway, and Tolstoy. In artistic terms, Helprin is the real thing: an immensely talented, dedicated author who aims for the highest literary goals.

I think I will want to read his next book, though.

No living authors influence his writing, Helprin says. Instead, his lodestars include Dante, Shakespeare, Melville, Mark Twain. There are indeed echoes of Twain in his new novel, Freddy and Fredericka, due out this summer. It narrates the journey of a wayward British royal couple rusticated to America, where they travel incognito and survive hilarious adventures that read, as the dust jacket has it, “as if de Tocqueville had been rewritten by Mark Twain (with a deep bow to Harpo Marx).”

Despite his distaste for politics, Helprin publicly demanded the impeachment of President Clinton, long before the Monica Lewinsky scandal; he says he was the first to do so. Helprin based his case primarily on Chinese officials’ donations to Clinton’s presidential campaign, and Clinton’s waiving of restrictions that limited China’s offensive military capacity.

Consider the following collection of snapshots from Helprin’s unwritten memoirs. His godfather was the celebrated photographer Robert Capa; Helprin served briefly in the British Merchant Navy and the Israeli army and air force; he can voluntarily raise or lower his pulse, he says, by 20 beats per minute; he met Malcolm X twice, and Martin Luther King Jr. once—the latter at Christmastime, alongside an enormous bowl of shrimp (“We talked about shrimp,” Helprin says). In Copenhagen, a violent, screaming Judy Garland occupied the adjoining hotel room; in Montreux, his balcony was next to that of a gentlemanly Vladimir Nabokov. In 1987, Helprin was in Los Angeles to sign a motion-picture deal for Winter’s Tale with Columbia Pictures president David Puttnam. He let Jane Fonda go in before him and lost the deal because Puttnam was fired just as Fonda left the office.

in 1973 he warned, through channels, of the impending war against Israel, but Moshe Dayan wasn’t listening to an enlisted man. He disarmed a huge, drunken, knife-wielding lout on the New York City subway. His languages include Latin, French, Italian, Hebrew, Arabic, and German. Helprin’s hero is Winston Churchill, and in 2001, when he and family traveled to London, within 15 minutes of arriving in South Kensington they found themselves waiting to cross a street alongside Winston S. Churchill III, the hero’s grandson and namesake. Helprin used to do dangerous things, like mountain climbing, parachute jumping, and running along the tops of moving freight trains. He once ran a double marathon of more than 50 miles. In addition, “He attracts madmen,” says his wife, Lisa. “If we were separated while shopping and there was a commotion somewhere in the store, it always involved Mark. Horses will rear up when they see him.”

There's much more in the article and it is all interesting.

posted by Mark Butterworth | 6:52 PM |