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Dead Languages (Graywolf Rediscovery Series) Paperback – May 1, 1998


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My Struggle: Book Four
Eighteen-year-old Karl Ove moves to a tiny fishing village in the Arctic Circle to work as a school teacher. As the nights get longer, the shadow cast by his father's own sharply increasing alcohol consumption, also gets longer. Read the full description
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The story of a boy who stutters, at war with, yet entranced by, language, Shields's ( Heroes ) second novel is a bitingly funny cry from the heart and a mordant paean to the power of words. "Sometimes my childhood seems . . . an endless series of . . . overwrought attempts to get beyond a voice that bothered me," reflects Jeremy Zorn, victim of a speech defect that becomes his life's animating principle. Snared by sibilants, reduced to social helplessness, like a modern-day Demosthenes he resolves to use language to "rearrange the world." His handicap comes to seem emblematic of obstacles to communication in general, and helpful in dramatizing them: "I thought it was my duty to insert into every conversation the image of its own absurdity," Jeremy contends, and his coming-of-age requires a comprehensive survey of the available means of verbal rebellion. They include ghetto slang; sign language; singing in the school chorus; debating; and Latin (which "existed only on the page. . . . was always silent"). However, Jeremy's fitting, final choice of existential weapon is fiction. Shields flexes substantial intellectual muscle, yet powerfully sympathetic portraits of Jeremy, his family and their friends also account for the novel's vitality; all and sundry invite effervescently sarcastic comment from the stutterer. The frustration bred by his "neurasthenic self-consciousness" commands Jeremy to let off steam of a high order of hilarity, while driving him to search for his place in the world with uncommon, compelling ferocity.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

In a novel originally published in 1989, Jeremy Zorn has words thrust upon him by his family almost from the moment of his birth. As he grows, a stutter prevents him from correctly pronouncing any of them. His impediment, however, is a metaphor for emotions he is unable to verbalize.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Series: Graywolf Rediscovery Series
  • Paperback: 246 pages
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press (May 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1555972748
  • ISBN-13: 978-1555972745
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.7 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #783,199 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

David Shields is the internationally bestselling author of sixteen books, including Reality Hunger (named one of the best books of 2010 by more than thirty publications), The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead (New York Times bestseller), Black Planet (finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award), and I Think You're Totally Wrong (published in January 2015 by Knopf and forthcoming as a film later this year). He has four more books forthcoming over the next fifteen months: Life Is Short--Art Is Shorter (Hawthorne Books), That Thing You Do With Your Mouth (McSweeney's), War Is Beautiful (powerHouse Books), and Other People (Knopf). The recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship and two NEA fellowships, Shields has published essays and stories in the New York Times Magazine, Harper's, Esquire, Yale Review, Village Voice, Salon, Slate, McSweeney's, and Believer. His work has been translated into twenty languages.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 23, 2000
Format: Paperback
I bought this for cheap when on holiday in Florida - I know it's silly but I liked the cover. Thankfully, the contents also made my hair stand on end...I have never read a more realistic tale of human emotion and communication. I read it years ago, but I can still remember the sadness and lonliness of characters whose intelligence was little compensation for their sheer inabilty to convey their emotions, through the fear of appearing weak. It left me with a cold chill that will linger for my lifetime - or at least until I learn not to fear rejection.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 9, 2000
Format: Paperback
For anyone who has experienced frustration in the area of communication, this book makes you feel as though you are not alone. It is written in a manner that makes it seem as though the main character, Jeremy, is talking to you. You feel as though you are allowed into his private world; A world which has been profoundly shaped by his feelings of inadequacy surrounding verbal communication. There are funny moments. Moving moments. It's a great read.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Kristen Coates on February 13, 2003
Format: Paperback
David Shields' novel explores the meaning of language and its strong influence on the main character of the story, Jeremy Zorn. Vividly described scenes of Jeremy's childhood guide the reader through his struggle with language, both in his stuttering and in his writing. Jeremy desires to subdue words, to communicate through a form at times most elusive. In contrast, his mother tames words and people at will. It is this contrast that Jeremy seeks to overcome. Jeremy discovers that stuttering is not simply a lapse of language, but also an effect of his acute awareness of the words he attempts to utter. His speech therapist tells him: "If you're ever going to gain complete control of your communicative skills, you have to pay attention to each successive moment of utterance--now and now and now; in other words, the continuously moving present, not previous moments of poor performance and certainly not upcoming feared words." Thus language and life intertwine, each influencing the other.
I highly recommend this novel to any audience.
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