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His Illegal Self (Vintage International) Paperback


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More from Peter Carey
Peter Carey has garnered critical and commercial praise for his ingenuity, empathy, and poetic ear. Visit Amazon's Peter Carey Page.

Product Details

  • Series: Vintage International
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (February 10, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030727649X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307276490
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,366,315 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Carey, who has made a career out of boring into the psyches of scoundrels, delivers a cunning fugitive adventure set largely in the wilds of Australia. Raised by his boho-turned-bourgeois grandmother on New York's Upper East Side, Che Selkirk, seven years old in 1972, hasn't seen his Weathermenesque parents since he was a toddler, but when a young woman who calls herself Dial walks into Che's apartment one afternoon, he believes his mother has finally come. Within two hours, Dial and Che are on the lam and heading for Philly as Che's kidnapping hits the news. Unexpected trouble strikes, and soon the boy and Dial, who doesn't know how or if to tell Che that she is only a messenger who was supposed to escort him to meet his mother, land in a hippie commune in the Australian outback. The novel sags as Dial, with the help of local illiterate feral hippie Trevor, tries to make the primitive living situation work; the drama consists largely of commune infighting and the travails of living without running water, but the narrative eventually regains its thrust and barrels toward a bang-up conclusion. While this novel lacks the boldness of Theft or the sweep of Oscar and Lucinda, it's still a fine addition to the author's oeuvre. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School—It is 1972 and seven-year-old Che Selkirk, the son of radical parents he has never met, lives in isolated privilege with his well-to-do grandmother. Denied access to television and the news, he picks up scraps of information about his outlaw mother and father from a teenage neighbor who assures Che that his parents will come and "break you out of here." When a woman named Dial arrives at the boy's Park Avenue apartment to take him on a day excursion, he assumes that she is his mother. Unfortunately, things go terribly awry and Che becomes a fugitive himself. He and Dial end up in the Australian bush in an inhospitable commune. Carey uses a stream-of-consciousness style that poignantly communicates Che's confusion about his life on the lam and what he really wants. The explosive conclusion is worth the wait as the author vividly portrays the hardscrabble, primitive life of a group of hippies in his native Australia. Young adults will appreciate His Illegal Self for its main character-an orphan by circumstance-who struggles to understand his predicament and ultimately gains not only wisdom, but also the love he has sought.—Pat Bangs, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

I felt an affinity to the main character.
Amazon Customer
The great strength of the book is in Carey's ability to create characters we can fully believe in and want to root for.
Sharon
I finished it because I finish all books I start, not because I couldn't put it down.
laurie Massa

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Jill I. Shtulman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 18, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This novel has a lot to recommend it: original, compelling, descriptive writing, a unique plot, and characters that are distinctive and memorable.

But in the midst of the story, there's a gap -- one that was too difficult for this reader to navigate. We are to believe that "the mother" -- aka Anna Xenos -- who is on the cusp of academic success decides to take a huge risk in bringing Che, the young boy, to visit his birth mother. But why? The motivation is never explored. She is treated as a peripheral member of the underground, as an inferior being by the boy's grandmother, and in essence, seems to have moved on from the passions of college years. Why risk it all without an internal motivation? And why go to Australia when there are certainly many countries (Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica) that are closer and also provide anonymity?

Carey is far better in his lush descriptions of nature in the communes of Australia. He devotes page after page painting a fine portrait of the wild natural beauty of the land. What I wanted him to do was spend equal time in descriptions of the inner life of Anna; for that, there were broad strokes. He does do that admirably for Che; it's difficult to create a plausible child who is not too cloying or too mature or too naive. Che is none of these things; he is truly an original.

In short, this is a fine book with some flaws that make it less than an extraordinary one.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on February 25, 2008
Format: Hardcover
For the portion of the United States population under the age of 30 or so, the anti-war activism of the 1960s and '70s probably seems as remote as some obscure medieval conflict. In recent novels like Dana Spiotta's EAT THE DOCUMENT and Neil Gordon's THE COMPANY YOU KEEP, talented authors have given us glimpses of that era in the form of middle-aged fugitive radicals who surface in the present and now must come to terms with the consequences of their youthful actions. Now, two-time Booker Prize winner Peter Carey thrusts us into the heart of the era, with the profound and moving story of a young boy and his protector forced to face those circumstances in real time.

The year is 1972, the end of the Vietnam War almost three years away and Richard Nixon, the President first elected on a cynical promise to end it, on the verge of re-election. Seven-year-old Ché David Selkirk, under the care of his maternal grandmother after his radical activist parents are arrested following a violent demonstration, divides his time between a luxury apartment on New York's Upper East Side and a rustic lakeside retreat in upstate New York. His privileged, sheltered life changes abruptly when a woman by the name of Anna Xenos, known only to Ché as "Dial," takes him one afternoon for what his grandmother believes is a brief, clandestine reunion with his mother. Instead, the outing turns into a trip across the United States, shepherded and financed by members of "the Movement," from bus station to safehouse to motel and ultimately to Queensland, Australia. Ché aches to be reunited with his parents and fantasizes about the possibility that Dial, an English professor and friend of his mother, may even be her.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Ken C. TOP 1000 REVIEWER on February 26, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Anna Xenos, a.k.a. Dial, was supposed to perform a simple task -- deliver a 7-year-old boy named Che (but called Jay by his guardian/grandmother) to her old friend in hiding, his mother. Why is Che's mum hiding, you ask? A Weatherman. SDS, you see. Think 60's. Think hippies. Think things going terribly wrong on the way to Che's Mommy, Susan Selkirk. And the next thing you know, a simple escorting favor for an old friend turns into a full-blown kidnapping, landing the hapless Dial and the excitedly bewildered Che in the Land Down Under (Carey's home turf).

The book contained some beautiful excerpts and turns of phrase. At times, in fact, I stopped and reread odd but compelling lines like "Trevor turned and saw Dial running at him, her yellow hair rising in snaky waves, her titties like puppies fighting inside her shirt." It's clear you are in the hands of a real "writer's writer," a man whose poetic license will never expire.

But alas, there were problems, too. For one, Carey hitched his star to that scourge of modern writers', dialogue without quotation marks. Ignoring this convention means readers often have to reread NOT because they want to savor a beautiful expression, but because they are unsure about who is talking. Also, once the book hits the badlands of Oz, it mucks down a bit. Carey's staccato sentences and short, punchy paragraphs go on and on, deep as the verdant landscape he describes. We see how a 60's-style commune operates in Australia, we meet some organic consumers unlike the kind you find pushing carts in Whole Foods, and -- like it or no -- you get to know Trevor, the feral grown-up orphan who both attracts and repels Dial and Che. Meantime, the game is up on Dial playing Mom. The boy learns more and more. Trevor gardens. Dial mopes.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Ethan Cooper VINE VOICE on February 29, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
HIS ILLEGAL SELF (HIS) is my fifth Peter Carey novel. (The others were Jack Maggs: A Novel, True History of the Kelly Gang, My Life as a Fake, and Theft. They're all terrific.) While the stories in these five novels are very different, the narratives are alike in one respect: Carey establishes his stories quickly; then, his narratives become totally engrossing sprints. While the novels are spotted with wonderful metaphors and lyricism, they mostly have great pace. They are riveting rushes--like the beautiful Australian bird in HIS that Carey captures jetting over a remote stream. There is little navel gazing in these novels.

Another element in some of Carey's books is the offbeat, somewhat quirky, dynamic of his narratives. To make my point, think of Philip Roth, sort of Carey's narrative opposite, who brings the awesome power of his analysis to the subjects of aging in Everyman or the relation of the ill and elderly to youth in Exit Ghost. In those books, Roth takes common experiences head on. But Carey? Well, he finds a twist so that the situation he explores does not require power so much as narrative talent. Carey's approach to the familiar is subtle.
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