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Matters of Honor Hardcover – January 23, 2007


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New Adult Fiction by Rainbow Rowell
Acclaimed author Rainbow Rowell's latest book, Landline, offers a poignant, humorous look at relationships and marriage. Learn more

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (January 23, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307265250
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307265258
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.2 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,234,240 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The author of About Schmidt and Shipwreck, Begley returns with an elegant novel of enduring friendship. Sam Standish, the adopted son of an alcoholic banker, arrives at Harvard in the early 1950s in genteel poverty, but with an unexpected trust fund to finance his education. His roommates are the incongruously named Archibald P. Palmer III, an army brat who goes by Archie, and Henry White, a rough-edged, fiercely smart Jewish refugee (born Henryk Weiss in Poland). Sam, who achieves a measure of success as a literary novelist, narrates their 50 years of friendship. His opaque romantic life suggests he may be gay, but the heart of this tragedy of manners is Sam's compelling assessment of class and social cachet in America, and of the ambient anti-Semitism that nearly drives Henry crazy, as he makes and abandons a fortune. Archie drops out of the narrative after he dies in a drunken car accident months after the Kennedy assassination, but Sam and Henry reconnect many years after Henry's disappearance for one last reunion of old friends. It's a story covered by everyone from Cheever to Roth, but Begley finds new and wonderful nuances within it. (Jan. 29)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Begley continues his sojourn among the elite with this absorbing novel about the nature of identity and the costs of assimilation. The novel's narrator is Sam, whose murky parentage and alcoholic parents have tainted his standing among his status-conscious Harvard classmates in the early 1950s. His two roommates are also outsiders--Archie, the spoiled son of an army officer, has a taste for the high life, while the brilliant Henry, a Polish refugee whose family survived the war in hiding, must constantly negotiate the fraught terrain between his devoted parents and his anti-Semitic classmates. Sam and Archie are eager to help Henry fit in, carefully schooling him on manners, clothes, and the right connections. Over the next decades, through, Henry is the one who achieves the greatest worldly success, making his fortune as an international investment banker. But a career snag provokes a much larger crisis, and Henry cuts off all previous ties. In full Henry James mode, Begley uses a lucid prose style to dispassionately eviscerate the upper classes even as he illuminates the true meaning of friendship. Joanne Wilkinson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on May 25, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This remark by Henry White, a Jewish survivor of World War II from Poland, could have been made just as easily by either of his two Harvard roommates. Sam Standish, the book's narrator, from Lenox, Massachusetts, is the adopted son of an old family, though his side of the family has little money and a dubious reputation. Archibald P. Palmer III, the third roommate, and son of an army man, has traveled the world and speaks many languages, and though he is not part of the "Chicago Palmers," he does not mind being considered one of them. The boys meet as freshmen in the 1950s, each determined to take advantage of Harvard's possibilities for forming new friendships, discovering new interests, and "connecting."

Through Sam, the narrator, we see the boys developing and dealing with the age-old issues of college boy-men. Henry, whose family has never been observantly Jewish, discovers prejudice because of his ethnic background. Archie cultivates the Latin-American ultra-rich, his facility in Spanish and his living experience in Argentina giving him entrée into a world that few non-Latinos can breach. Narrator Sam suffers a breakdown but turns his sensitivity and new insights to his own advantage by becoming a writer.

Begley traces the lives of these men separately and together from the age of eighteen through their seventies. The novel is a generational study, and the beginning is especially effective as the students each exceed their parents in education and opportunity.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Dragana Djordjevic-Laky on May 30, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I was awaiting Louis Begley's latest impatiently, having relished in the pointed yet elegant prose of his past books. For the most part, it was worth the wait. The story of three, intermittently four 1950's Harvard buddies and their on- and off-campus antics did not seem all that engaging to me from the outset, but in true Begley style, he had me at the first few sentences. For anyone to make you actually like a bunch of preppies living off their parents' (and grandparents', and great-grandparents') deep pockets, whom you'd rather see with a "kick me"-note stuck on their navy-blue blazers, is some achievement; but to create a page-turner out of WASP routines, particularly in the middle part of the book, is high art. In fact, Begley could be writing about the Democratic Convention and it would still be beautiful. Readers may have been conditioned not to interpret novels as tinkered-on autobiographies, but it is hard to dismiss the the idea that Henryk Weiss/White's search for identity is, in large part, the story of Louis Begleiter/Begley's Americanization and temporary de-judification.

Ah, to be young and rich and admitted to Harvard in the days when undergrads still dressed and behaved! Like in his previous novels, we get a sniff of the rarefied air of high society, in a skilled mix of mockery and admiration. This time it's the picture of the jeunesse dorée and their delightfully old-fashioned college life that has us wishing our grandfathers had invested in J.P. Morgan stock at the right time. Of course there are skeletons in the polished dark-wood closets in the exclusive world exempt from material worries, the biggest being the nagging doubt about one's place in that world.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Hendon Chubb on February 25, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The novel charts the life of Henry Weiss, a Jew who survived the war in Nazi-occupied Poland, from his awkward arrival in Harvard through his rise to become an immensely able and successful partner in the Paris office of a "white-shoe" New York law firm, as seen by a writer friend who is the adopted child of a couple who are marginal members of the Lenox, Massachusetts squirearchy. Among its major themes are the experience and meaning of being an outsider and the complex relationship that can exist between parents and children. Begley pictures with equal skill the awkward life of young people in the fifties and the complexities of a legal opinion that is in its consequences the climax of the book. Of all of his books, this may be the deepest and most rewarding.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By J. Bennett on July 13, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I have enjoyed some of Begley's other novels (including the Schmidt books and Mistler's Exit), but this latest one just lies there on the page. The idea that the narrator could become a famous best-selling author is undermined by the narration itself, which always feels about three steps removed from actual human existence. Almost nothing ever happens just by happening. We learn things when the narrator recounts how some other character told him about what some third character did (or said about some fourth character).

Begley went to Harvard, but even the Harvard scenes feel artificial and mannered. Times change, of course, but has any Harvard undergrad in recent decades referred to libraries as "the Widener" or, ludicrously to anyone who has spent time at Harvard College, "the Lamont," as Begley's characters do? And "porter's lodges"? Maybe the term was used at Harvard in the 50s, but it sounds more British to me. In general, the narration suffers from what I think many Americans would find to be excessively British diction. Characters find themselves "at table," for example.

I imagine that part of what Begley was after here was a narrator who could have been created by Henry James, including the sexual ambiguity that many modern readers and critics associate with James. However, Begley's sentences---while often convoluted like James's---too frequently have the qualifications and elaborations of a corporate lawyer, not of an artist or storyteller. While reading the novel there were many times I said to myself something along the lines of, oh, here is where Begley realized on his nth re-reading of the draft document that he had not explained why this particular character had money at this particular time, so let's just add another clause to this sentence.
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