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Being Polite to Hitler: A Novel Hardcover – January 6, 2011

17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

National Book Award–winner Dew wraps up the trilogy she began with The Evidence Against Her by considering, in ways both joyful and elegiac, the juxtaposition of the profound and the mundane through the years 1953 to 1973 in smalltown Washburn, Ohio. Long-widowed schoolteacher Agnes Scofield, 54, reflects on her identity against the distant backdrop of polio scares, epic baseball games, nuclear threats, the space race, and civil rights strife, as everyday life in Washburn continues unabated. Prompted by a health scare and by passions and desires in her own and her children's lives, Agnes must decide whether to perpetuate convention or to choose the change swirling all around her, to embrace a "season of carelessness": what about that much younger suitor? Agnes is clearly a literary heir of Mrs. Ramsay, and the narrative, ranging freely not only among Agnes's sprawling family but also throughout her political and cultural milieu, owes a debt to Woolf. Particularly when read in conjunction with her other novels about Washburn, Dew's latest is an impressionistic portrait of a family and an age striving for clarity and understanding. (Jan.)
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From Booklist

In the third book of her trilogy (after The Evidence against Her, 2001, and The Truth of the Matter, 2005), Dew again visits the Scofield clan of Washburn, Ohio. As in the previous novels, the comings and goings of the extended family have a somewhat muted, anticlimactic feel to them. Couples fight but don’t break up; people fall deathly ill, then survive. The most startling part of the novel is a late-in-the-book chapter that attempts to consolidate the 1950s Asian flu outbreak, scientist Werner von Braun, and the popularity of a new china pattern. The chapter winds up with a self-referential breaking of the fourth wall so bizarre that one wonders if Dew threw it in just to make sure her readers were paying attention. This is a calm, gentle read for those who already know and care about the Scofield clan and a detail-rich slice of life for those interested in midcentury Americana. Perhaps like her characters, Dew also longs to burst forth into something new and will do so in her next novel. --Marta Segal Block

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1 edition (January 6, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316889504
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316889506
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,070,574 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Ruth on April 20, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Although this book is full of descriptions on who did what and when, there is no logical development of characters or plot. There is nothing that ties one description or incident to the next. It is a description of a family and a place and a time period of 1950's thu 1970's, with short descriptions of historical events that just happen in that time period, events with little impact on anyone. As the characters age, the family dynamics stay the same, nothing is ever resolved, the drunk is still a drunk, the nice guy is always the nice guy, the 70 yr old is as physically active as she was at 50. The characters are superficial and without depth.
I read this without having read the earlier books, so I did not have a prior knowledge of the characters.
There were a few pages in the book that were exceptionally well written, but there was no subsequent connection to what follows. There was no continuity.
It was boring!
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Mary Kirtz on January 20, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This final book in Dew's trilogy rounds out the life of Agnes Claytor, bringing her to her 74th year as the novel explores the impact upon her and her extended family of both fictional and historical events occurring between 1953-73 as well as the impact of memories accumulated from the distant past. As in her earlier novels, the author presents the story entirely through the characters' own thoughts and responses to the events impinging on their lives. By presenting everything through the minds of Agnes and others in her large extended clan, readers can gain a profound understanding of how we each create our own reality as we go through life, a reality so unique to each individual that no other person, no matter how loved or how familiar, can transcend the barrier created by our singular minds' interpretations of the world around us. We love our children, our spouses, and our friends, but we don't really 'know' each other except through our own responses to their behavior. In spite of this human limitation, we continue to form bonds, repeat rituals, and interact with one another to the best of our abilities. Through multiple generations of this extended family, Dew's trilogy plays out this paradox of human existence in a well-written, quiet, thoughtful, and heartfelt set of books. Each book can stand alone, but the richest benefit comes from reading all three, itself an example of the separateness/togetherness we experience as human beings.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 31, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Robb Foreman Dew's final book in her Washburn, Ohio trilogy takes place primarily in that mid-Ohio city, with side stories from other places in the US. Real characters as well as fictional ones react to real events - Sputnik, the Kennedy assassination, the polio epidemic, the Rosenberg trial, the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School - which make those "cozy" and yearned- after years seem not so great in retrospect. But the main events take place in Washburn, Ohio, home of the Claytor, Scofield, and Butler families Foreman Dew has introduced the reader to in her first book, "The Evidence Against Her" and followed up with in her second book, "The Truth of the Matter".

Agnes Schofield, a long-time widow, has raised four children (three of her own and her younger brother) and in 1948, all the children have returned to Washburn with families of their own. Some are getting along better than others, but all share a love and affection for both Agnes and the town that nurtured them. Agnes sees her children and contemporaries through loving, but realistic, eyes. As national and world events occur, these events are played out against the home scene in Washburn. They are played out, and both individuals and families are affected by varying degrees. Robb includes, as I wrote before, some real figures of the time - Wernher Von Braun - among others, though there is little, if any, connection between real and fictional characters.

Foreman Dew's book is a little exasperating because it is so well written in its spareness that it begs to be expanded to - say, "Gone With The Wind" - length. Her fictional characters are so well drawn that I was left with wanting more. I wanted more story and I wanted to know what happened to the characters. If I can be left with that hankering-for-more, then I consider the novel to be a great read.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Roger Brunyate TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 31, 2011
Format: Hardcover
The title phrase occurs about halfway through the book. The year is 1953. Lavinia Alton, who has married into the close-knit family of Scofields and Claytors in the mid-Ohio town of Washburn, has committed the cardinal sin of expressing her political opinions (in this case, outrage at the execution of the Rosenbergs) in the midst of a Christmas gathering of relatives and neighbors. She has already offended their dress code; now she flouts their conversational norms that involve, among other things, turning a blind eye to bigotry.

The moment is emblematic of Robb Forman Dew's approach, as she structures her book in expanding circles. At the center are a few independent individuals like Lavinia and, even more so, her feisty mother-in-law Agnes, a widowed schoolteacher nearing the end of her patience. In the middle are all those relatives and neighbors, so intricately interknit that I needed to spend half and hour drawing up a family tree to keep them all straight. [I now learn, however, that this book is the third in a trilogy with THE EVIDENCE AGAINST HER and THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER, so presumably the author's followers would have less trouble.] Beyond this circle are the events of the outside world: memories of the War, of the first atomic bombs, Eisenhower-era politics, the threat of polio, the doomsday clock, and fallout shelters. Indeed, the fallout shelter is a good metaphor for the community itself, as it tries to maintain an oasis of cheerful normality in a world with a traumatic past and uncertain future.
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