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In the Land of Oz Paperback – December 10, 2013

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; New edition (December 10, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1608198952
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608198955
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.6 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,518,679 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Originally published 25 years ago in the U.K., this travelogue recounts the author&'s time in Australia in the mid-1980s. Jacobsen, a 2010 Booker Award winner Jacobson (for The Finkler Question), certainly knows how to turn a phrase. His probing descriptions often capture the splendor of first encounters, as when he describes the Margaret River estuary: I like the idea of waters meeting, a current having its way against a tide.... If the sea is death then an estuary is a way of dying of peaceably. As an outsider, Jacobson excels at capturing the idiosyncrasies of life Down Under and astutely delves into the downtrodden yet esteemed place that Aboriginals command among Australia&'s white society. Known for his comic writing, Jacobson indeed works best with a light tone. Regrettably here, many gags create the impression of an imperialist poking fun at the colonials for the amusement of those back home. Jacobson, a novelist at heart, likes to control the story and place himself front and center, but is at his best when he steps aside—following his wife on her return home to Perth, or when their would-be safari guide drags them willy-nilly around the Northern Australian bush. It is then that he discovers the real Oz and the work becomes worthy of a writer of Jacobson&'s ability. Agent: Jonny Geller, Curtis Brown (Dec.)

From Booklist

When he won the Booker Prize, Jacobson acknowledged his debt to Australia, where the writer sometimes labeled the British Philip Roth was a “boy lecturer” in Sydney in the 1960s. In this travelogue, originally published in the UK in 1987, Jacobson narrates a grand circular tour around Australia during which he “gave himself up to continuous discomfort” in an effort to understand a land that was simultaneously “magnanimous and cruel, sophisticated and suspicious, self-righteous and free-spirited.” Staying in motels and traveling primarily by public transit, Jacobson and his then wife, Ros, discover provincial attitudes, racial tensions, and hints of impending apocalypse but also spectacular, desolate beauty and a panoply of fascinating people. Though his narrative sparkles with the same delightfully dry humor that defines his fiction, much of its comedic tension arises from Jacobson’s somewhat complicated position as a weary outsider who is both smitten and painfully perplexed. Today’s readers are left to determine for themselves which of Jacobson’s observations continue to ring true and which have faded in the past 25 years. --Brendan Driscoll

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Luke T. Evans on June 9, 2014
Format: Paperback
I'm midway through Mr. Jacobson's trek of Australia, in which he and his wife begin in Darwin and move counterclockwise around the continent. We just got through Western Australia and I'm throwing in the towel. I'm not sure what the point of travel is if your principal intent is to find fault and criticize everyone and everything you run into. If the intent is to prove your superiority, it gets really tedious, really quick.

To be sure, some of the writing is witty and well-crafted, but the content itself is largely without merit. The book is generally his opinion about, well, everything, and you know what they say about opinions. And his opinions aren't based on any particular facts, but instead seem to derive from his general contempt for anyone who is not like himself. If I had to go on a roadtrip with this guy, I'd shoot myself. Everybody knows a person who is always negative, all the time. Take the perfect situation and they'll find something wrong with it. They're a blast to hang out with, right? Well, here's 400 pages of it.

You're much better off reading Bill Bryson's "In a Sunburned Country." Bryson is a much better writer, is more than happy to poke fun at himself, and isn't out to prove his superiority. Far from it. You'll actually learn something from Bryson's book, as he is interested enough in his subject to learn about it and share what he knows with you, with a very well-crafted delivery. Not so with Mr. Jacobson. The only thing you'll learn from him is that no one in Australia even remotely measures up to his standards. He reminds me a bit of the stuffy English explorers from the old days who regaled their readers with tales of the backward savages they encountered in foreign lands. He'd fit right in with that crew. Personally, I prefer the savages. Thankfully, Australia has plenty of them!
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(This is one on the books I’m reading on Australia to live up to my post-cvancer vow to see the country)

If you went to Australia with a brain and no heart, and only disparagingly talked about everyone else, but made many allowances for yourself, and dismissed and accepted your personality flaws as quirks, Howard Jacobson is the person you are traveling with In The Land of Oz, a 1995 work, where Australia is reduced to a dysfunctional personality and Jacobson’s ego is inflated to a continent.

I’ve been researching Australia because I plant to go there in September, this book has none of the warmth, charm, or interesting information Bill Bryson writes about in Sunburnt Country, a book that’s a good primer for the trip, which I will also talk about. You have to grade Bryson on a curve, Bryson’s a bit of a physical geek, bookworm, and a guy who grew up in the Midwest but lives in England and speaks with a British accent, which is the only trait Bryon and Jacobson share: they’re Anglophiles.
I’m reading these books to get an angle on the country. Jacobson traveled throughout Perth and the Margaret River, Derby and Broom, then Darwin, Ayer’s Rock, Port Augusta,, Cairns, Daintree, Brisbane, Sydney. He took a camper van, bus and train through the Outback, interview various personages, and spent some time with aborigines.
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