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Cities of the Red Night [Paperback]

William S. Burroughs
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 1995 0805039554 978-0805039559

While young men wage war against an evil empire of zealous mutants, the population of this modern inferno is afflicted with the epidemic of a radioactive virus. An opium-infused apocalyptic vision from the legendary author of Naked Lunch is the first of the trilogy with The Places of the Dead Roads and his final novel, The Western Plains.

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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
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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).
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 332 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt & Company (March 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805039554
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805039559
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,544,689 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Review of Cities Of The Red Night July 12, 1999
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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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The paradox of a post-modern classic... July 21, 2001
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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63 of 75 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Somewhere on the threshold.... February 15, 2002
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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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A true vision of the future or past December 2, 2005
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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars If you want Burroughs at his best this, along with 'The Western Lands'...
If you want Burroughs at his best this, along with 'The Western Lands' and 'The Place of the Dead Roads', is the book for you. Funny, insightful and brilliantly written.
Published 2 months ago by Sue Lang
3.0 out of 5 stars Disjointed in a good and bad way. Thinly veiled bizarre genius? Drug...
Many nice passages written, and some of it seems very collage-like. When one recognizes this technique, it's cool to be able to assemble it all. Read more
Published 3 months ago by A. Nye
1.0 out of 5 stars An entirely incomprehensible book
I actually couldn't finish the book. It is not clear how the story lines in this book, and the progression of the book is totally inexplicable. Read more
Published 5 months ago by urikahan
2.0 out of 5 stars Opium and Literature Sometimes Works..and sometimes NOT!
Holy crap! I am not often left perplexed and confused by a book. After some rave reviews, AND a recommendation off Christopher Hitchen's book list, I bought it. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Catwhisperer
5.0 out of 5 stars Foam from the mouth
Great book. In good condition. Obviously not for everyone. Received at an reasonable time. Then I danced with my skin off, into the mountain light.
Published 20 months ago by Ashley Capri
1.0 out of 5 stars Cool premise... that's about it
There are times when you know something is probably good and you know others think its probably good and for some reason, you should probably read that something but no matter how... Read more
Published on June 24, 2012 by mikedoeseverything
2.0 out of 5 stars strange incomprehensible mess
I've never read anything by William S Borroughs, and after finishing "Cities Of The Red Night" I don't believe I ever will again! Read more
Published on March 12, 2012 by DJ MichaelAngelo
5.0 out of 5 stars Burroughs is a master of allegory
Burroughs is a master of allegory. His rich imagery and mysticism are unequaled. Be prepared to let your mind wander and be open to new ways to tell stories basic to who we are.
Published on January 28, 2012 by Rich F
5.0 out of 5 stars A warning of the Faustian decline to come...
I'm not sure why but this was a really enjoyable book to read over the summer.
Many criticisms have been levelled at this book. Read more
Published on December 14, 2011 by Mr. Matthew Mclaughlin
1.0 out of 5 stars wow, what a mess
If you read the Beats and about the Beats, you're eventually going to come to William S. Burroughs. He's very much a voice of the 1950s, post World War II. Read more
Published on April 21, 2009 by LeeAnn Heringer
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