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Four Freedoms: A Novel Hardcover – May 26, 2009

4.4 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Although nominally about life at an American aircraft factory during World War II, Crowley’s complex and subtle novel is much grander. He explores the minds and hearts of people compelled by history to radically change their lives. Unaccountably optimistic Prosper Olander, orphaned as a child and crippled by a failed surgery, discovers that even he can find important work at a distant aircraft company in rural Oklahoma. Connie Wrobleski, frightened of nearly everything except her infant son, also travels to Oklahoma to reunite with her domineering husband, only to see him desert his family by enlisting. Prosper, Connie, and half a dozen other characters are developed in intricate detail and used as lenses on the massive relocation, dislocation, and societal change caused by the war. Crowley’s characters offer depth, nuance, and pathos to the traditional image of Rosie the Riveter. Four Freedoms is also a triumph of both research and imagination. Crowley’s aircraft company is an invention, but his detailed descriptions of sights, smells, and sounds in the plant, and his evocation of everyday life at home during WWII, are compelling. A wonderful novel that readers won’t soon forget. --Thomas Gaughan

Review

“Ultimately, the significance of Four Freedoms lies in its thoroughness, the sheer specificity. . . . The result is an accessible, painstakingly crafted work that offers many pleasures and rewards. It could be the novel that finally brings Crowley the wide attention he has long deserved.” (Washington Post)

Four Freedoms.perfectly captures an era—WWII America—when the chosen are overseas and the left-behind are granted a rare moment of possibility. Crowley’s extraordinary characters and the poignant, funny, disturbing ways they find to connect with one another make you wish this war would never end.” (San Francisco Chronicle, Top-Shelf Fiction Pick)

“John Crowley is a virtuoso of metaphor, a peerless recreator of living moments, of small daily sublimities. And his latest novel, Four Freedoms, is in many ways his most unguarded and imaginative work.” (New York Times Book Review)

“Brilliantly realized .... More rich, satisfying food for thought from one of America’s most imaginative and accomplished novelists.” (Kirkus Reviews on FOUR FREEDOMS)

“In a tricky narrative that weaves in and out of the novel’s present (1942–5) and lavishly detailed flashbacks to the characters’ earlier lives, Crowley creates a fascinating microcosm....More rich, satisfying food for thought from one of America’s most imaginative and accomplished novelists.” (Kirkus Reviews (pointer) for FOUR FREEDOMS)

“Although nominally about life at an American aircraft factory during World War II, Crowley’s complex and subtle novel is much grander. . . . Four Freedoms is also a triumph of both research and imagination. . . . A wonderful novel that readers won’t soon forget.” (Booklist (starred review))

“One gets the feeling that Crowley loves observing women because he captures them so precisely and so intimately....FOUR FREEDOMS goes back in time... bringing us stories filled with love, loss, integrity, and heart.” (www.about.com)

Four Freedoms is so rich and so evocative and so authentic.” (Tom Brokaw)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; 1 edition (May 26, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061231509
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061231506
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,235,458 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Crowley was born in the appropriately liminal town of Presque Isle, Maine, in 1942, his father then an officer in the US Army Air Corps. He grew up in Vermont, northeastern Kentucky and (for the longest stretch) Indiana, where he went to high school and college. He moved to New York City after college to make movies, and did find work in documentary films, an occupation he still pursues. He published his first novel (The Deep) in 1975, and his 14th volume of fiction (Lord Byron's Novel: The Evening Land) in 2005. Since 1993 he has taught creative writing at Yale University. In 1992 he received the Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. He finds it more gratifying that almost all his work is still in print.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Place "Little, Big" away on some high shelf of literary magic; perhaps put "Aegypt" there as well. Then dash for a copy of Crowley's "Four Freedoms" ... and let him bury you in a history (his own) of WWII, and the real lives (his own creations) of characters who lived, worked and grew and changed in a bomber-building community in an almost-real Oklahoma. This is Crowley's finest novel.

Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms" speech of 1941 with its: 1. Freedom of speech and expression 2. Freedom of religion 3. Freedom from want 4. Freedom from fear ... may underlie the targets towards which Crowley's characters reach, but the personal problems that each of the so-sharply described women bring to the story -- and the crippled Prosper Olander, in braces like Roosevelt, who loves and befriends each in his own innocent way -- will grab the reader with the intimacies of their stories and how they live in the confines that the War forces on them -- while Prosper must deal with the stringencies of being "crippled" during that time of no ADA, but free to share the beds, the perplexities, the successes of these women-in-wartime with whom it is so easy to relate.

Crowley has always been able to create women characters at their fullest. That is especially true in this novel, and it is a special treat that he is able also to feature Prosper, this man with useless legs, who does not dilly dally like Pierce in the Aegypt series (who is never certain what he is doing) but almost through the magic of his braces slips into the most detailed sexual relations (that Crowley has ever written) with the women characters, into their confidences, and the lives of Crowley's other fully realized characters, and help move them on through the demands of the War and their personal dilemmas.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
FOUR FREEDOMS is brilliant. crowley writes like a dream; the novel is about the human capacity to overcome the most degrading and terrible blows, to find the best in each other, to transform suffering into grace. it's funny and sexy and true and beautiful; by the end i was so choked up my throat hurt. (the end reminds me a little of 100 YEARS OF SOLITUDE). maybe it is his best novel, but it's so unlike, say, LITTLE, BIG, or BEASTS, that i don't see a way to compare them. certainly it's his most accessible novel, and i hope anybody reading it goes on to the other wonderful books in this resourceful and gifted writer's list because he is simply an american treasure. thanks, john. i needed that.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Crowley has put together a fictional microcosm of Brokaw's "Greatest Generation". We follow the lives of some folks as they served at home through the years of World War II. Crowley put together a cast that includes those who aren't heroic or particularly noteworthy - but are way too real. These are the people of cities and small towns who, for whatever reasons, served to the best of their abilities.

My father served during WWII in the Army Air Corps and my mother made aircraft parts. The stories Crowley tells are the same as those I grew up hearing. It was a time when people came together to do what needed done.

I wonder if my children's generation will get as much from this book as I did. Unless they really listened to the "war stories" they heard their grandparents tell, I doubt this will be more than just another WWII era book to them. Hopefully, they'll read this and learn.

The product description tells, in my opinion, way too much. If you have not read John Crowley before, this is a great place to start. He demonstrates an ability to make words flow smoothly and a tell a story without gimmicks. If you have read Crowley, why are you reading my review? You know you're going to read it.

I would love to know what happened later in the characters' lives; but I also wonder if a sequel is a good idea. If Crowley writes it, though, I promise I'll read it!
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Format: Hardcover
The title of this book is a reference to FDR's 1941 State of the Union speech, where he set forth four freedoms that people everywhere in the world should enjoy: Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want and freedom from fear. As the war economy gears up, Americans find themselves struggling to secure the final two for themselves on the heels of the Depression. Here we have the stories of a number of ordinary Americans as they try to do their part to help the war effort while also making a better life for themselves. Their stories are woven together to give us a portrait of what America was like in the middle of the last century, as it was engaged in the largest war the world has ever seen.

Each individual in this story is well characterized and completely believable. Their individual stories show how the war effort allowed people to step outside of the roles society otherwise would have dictated for them. They each find ways to redefine their own lives, new talents or skills that allow them to become something more than society expected. This novel does an excellent job in showing how the Second World War set the stage for the immense social changes that were to follow through the second half of the century.

While the stories and the characters were compelling, there was something about how this book was written that made it a slow read for me. The book is well written, but it simply didn't draw me in and keep me reading straight through to the end. I enjoyed the book, but, for me, it wasn't one that I couldn't put down.
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