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Cities of the Red Night: A Novel Paperback – May 4, 2001

3.9 out of 5 stars 43 customer reviews
Book 1 of 3 in the Red Night Trilogy Series

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Editorial Reviews


Cities of the Red Night is Burroughs's masterpiece. In it, the world ends with a bang--and a barely perceived whimper, disguised by the wicked smile of one of the most dazzling magicians of our time.” ―Los Angeles Time Book Review

Cities of the Red Night is not only Burroughs' best work, but a logical and ripening extension of all of Burroughs's great work.” ―Ken Kesey

“One should approach Cities of the Red Night as the Wagneresque capper of all the five or six homosexual planet-operas Burroughs has scripted since he found a genuine new style in Naked Lunch . . . It's as if we had gotten hold of a black ticket to his unconscious, and anyone who makes the trip will see sights and feel feelings that are unique and mind-bending beyond anyone else's description” ―The Washington Post Book World

Cities of the Red Night is the most complete and most devastatingly sardonic statement of William Burroughs's apocalyptic vision. Through his mordant satire of cultural aspirations, homosexual eroticism and political power, he focuses our gaze into the abyss. His cold, surgical language creates beauty through a terror that we are just able to bear . . . A modern Inferno.” ―Newsday

About the Author

William S. Burroughs was born in St. Louis in 1914. He is best-known work is 1959's Naked Lunch―which became the focus of a landmark 1962 Supreme Court decision that helped eliminate literary censorship in the United States. Described by Norman Mailer as one of America's few writers genuinely "possessed by genius," he died in 1997. His many other works include Junky and The Place of Dead Roads (Picador).


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 1 edition (1981)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312278462
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312278465
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #409,151 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Of Burroughs' later work, this is possibly the most readable in conventional terms. Originally sub-titled "A Boy's Book", it was molded by the adventure stories he read as a boy in the 1920's and 30's, and uses the genres of the detective story and the pirate yarn to give its shape.
Typically for Burroughs, the novel begins with several false starts before a narrative begins to emerge - two stories, two centuries apart, being told simultaneously. Magic plays a key part in the plot, making some events and actions mysterious, not to say incomprehensible, but helping to unite the two tales.
Eventually the two stories meet in the mythical Cities of the Red Night, where the theme of rebellion against total oppression is enacted in a series of vivid, dream-like episodes. His idealized youths fight the good fight against mutants and matriarchs, until victory seems within their grasp...
This book is part of Burroughs' so-called Late Trilogy (being followed by The Place Of Dead Roads and The Western Lands) and includes characters and events from these later books and from previous works, but this novel can certainly stand alone as well. A rich and disorienting experience.
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Format: Paperback
I first read this ten years ago, as my first introduction to Burroughs. I have always recommended it to folks who have never read Burroughs before, remembering it to be accessible and devoid of most of Burroughs more off-putting stylistic experiments (the cut-ups in Nova Express, the weird place/time shifts and unconnected narrative stream of Naked Lunch, etc) while still containing all that is great about his work: shocking and surprising imagery and a pure, sharp understanding of language. Surprisingly, despite the narrative accessibility, my recomendation has had a very low rate of success; it rarely results in new Burroughs-philes. Now, re-reading it, I think I know why. The stylistic simplicity disguises all the stuff going on underneath which is obvious to those who already know Burroughs.
If someone didn't know better, _Cities of the Red Night_ might come across as a simplistic homosexual pornographic pulp space-opera, Mappelthorpe meets Edgar Rice Burroughs. The interwoven plot lines (homosexual pirate communes? a psychic private detective? an invading radioactive mutant virus?) come across as emotionally distant and vacuous, borrowed from pulp novels and used as a simple excuse for episodes of vivid sci-fi imagery and descriptions of boys with erections. While interesting, they don't seem to be the work of genius touted on the front cover.
In the end, however, this book is hopeful and passionate, complex and absolutely unique. Burroughs is trying to both conjure up the conditions for a perfect utopia, a world free of all interference and control, as well as give a mythic explanation for the horrifying state of existence. Burroughs is trying to save us, explain us, destroy us, free us.
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Format: Paperback
At one time I thought Burroughs was a total fraud. It was my opinion that he was laughing all the way to the bank at the dupes who bought his books- and paid for his habit. Then I sat down and read this book, and _The Place of Dead Roads_, and The Western Lands. I was dead wrong. This is an unique and valid vision. This is modern art in print, designed to rip the mind free from its habitual sleep walking. And that is strange, for this is one prolonged nightmare, or bad trip.... yet, while I was reading this I got this sense of deja vu, like the Cities of the Red Night and a Place of Dead Roads actually exist-somewhere- perhaps on the threshholds of hell, or limbo, or.... even "heaven." Where ever it is, it is a place on the border where only dreams, drugs, or black magic can take you.

Moreover, I think I understand Burroughs place in the beat trilogy. Kerouac was the holy fool who had the capacity to touch on direct union with the Divine. Ginsberg, was the secular humanist, a good man well grounded in the world. Burroughs, however, walked the left hand path, the shadow. Taken together, all three, the holy trinity, were the composite soul of an age.
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Format: Paperback
Burroughs knew what he was talking about. This book along with the Place of Dead Roads was the final, most complete and coherant summation of the Burroughs vision/nightmare. Just by virtue of his personal style these books mix utopian essay, apocalyptic nightmare, gut wrenching horror, and valid cultural criticism. As far as experimental fiction goes, you won't find any more readable, in the Burroughs canon or anywhere else. A word of caution: these books are for thinking people; they are not brain dead entertainment with cutesy characters or happy endings. It is not easy reading. Burroughs regards the natural condition of humaity and civillization as ultimately dark and depraved. Few people want to believe that, and those who do may have a hard time coming to grips with such a pessimistic conclusion about human nature. Such a vision provokes and challengues us all. Those brave souls who, though cold, disoriented and terrified choose to light a candle with trembling hands and willingly descend the staircase into the forsaken cellar of Burroughs' mind will not return unscathed or unrewarded.
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