Northern Lights
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on October 28, 1999
A fascinating look at the complex relationship between two brothers, one of whom fought in Vietnam, Northern Lights also examines other issues. I enjoyed this book a lot, but O'Brien's other works are better. After all, this *was* his first published novel. In fact, O'Brien himself has said that he wishes he should have made intense revisions to this book. Regardless, read Northern Lights only after you have read O'Brien's other books. I am a true O'Brien fan who has read ALL of his books, and I DID enjoy this book. But save it for after you have learned to appreciate O'Brien and his literary style.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on December 19, 2002
Excellent debut novel, but Tim O'Brien only got better. All of his tension and emotion in present in this novel, but he still had yet to develope his style and language that has made him, in my opinion, one of America's best writers today.
It's a story about privacy. Private lives at home and secret romances of sorts and the return of a Vietnam vet who has a constant reminder of his time In Country, but he never tells the secret of how he received the injury to his ear.
It's an excellent debut novel, but don't be discouraged if this is the first Tim O'Brien novel you read, he only get's better. I give it my highest recommendation.
It's adventurous and tense when the brothers are lost in the woods. O'Brien paints an impressive picture of the Minnesota woods when these brothers travel at the feet of these enormous snow covered trees in awe and reverence of nature.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Tim O'Brien is an award-winning writer and I have really enjoyed some of his other novels. This is his first, written in 1975. I recommend reading Tim O'Brien, but don't start with this one. You may get turned off early and miss out on something really good. After slogging through the first half of this book, I almost pitched it. Nothing happens, even when there is a big buildup to make you think something is finally going to happen. The writing style is poor. There is endless repitition, uninspired description "It was very hot," bad grammar and other irritants.

THEN, I read the second half and was plunged into an action-adventure-survival drama with two brothers fighting for their lives in a whited-out northern Minnesota forest in January. The style didn't improve, but I didn't care. In many ways this book seemed to me the forerunner of his bestseller In the Lake of the Woods, which I highly recommend. Don't pass this one by, either. Skip or skim the first part if you feel the way I did. He gets a lot better as he goes along.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on October 21, 1999
O'Brien presents the tension between brothers in layers beginning with the vitnam war. As the story unfolds, O'Brien challenges the reader to think about their pasts and pending futures. The book kept me thinking long after I put it down. Even as I write this reveiw, I am considering new implications to their realtionship. Nothern Lights is a very thoughtful and enjoyable read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon October 19, 2006
Through more recent critically acclaimed works, Tim O'Brien has established himself as an author to be reckoned with; he is able to craft stories that are beguiling and sobering, hooking readers from the very start. "Northern Lights" is O'Brien's debut novel, published originally in 1975, and it reads like a first novel, raw with possible revision needed. Yet for those who have read other O'Brien works it is still a fascinating and telling look at the voice he would later develop.

As usual, the undercurrent of Vietnam is present in "Northern Lights". It is the tale of two brothers and how they disconnect and reconnect after one returns home from war. Harvey Perry, the soldier, was always the beloved son; the youngest child, seemingly revered by their father. Paul Perry, the older son, was always the beleaguered son; meant to follow in his father's footsteps, but not wanting to be like the old man. The brothers consistently found themselves at odds with each other, especially when it came to their father. When Harvey returns from Vietnam, the brothers are forced to confront the differences they had, and the false impressions they have grown up believing to be true. This happens while the brothers are trapped in a blizzard during a ski trip through the Minnesota north woods; lost for weeks on end, they must rely upon one another to make it out, and roles easily become reversed.

O'Brien is a master storyteller; his novels are full of poetic observations about the miniutae of everyday life peppered with dialogue and characters that are vividly realistic. It is easy to see "Northern Lights" as a first novel; the blizzard that traps the brothers in the woods also traps the readers. As Paul Perry blunders and wanders about, the narrative is rambling and unfocused. There always seems to be hints at great revelations to come, but O'Brien fails upon the delivery of such secrets; more seems to remain hidden than is revealed. However, ever-present is the voice with which O'Brien infuses his creations. These characters are living, breathing beings, whose lives are haunting depictions of what lies within every man's soul.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 2, 2006
Northern Lights by Tim O'Brien was not the most exciting novel I've ever read but worth reading nonetheless. It is a story about two brothers, one who is adventurous and athletic and eventually serves in the Vietnam War and the other who chooses not to participate in any physical or outdoor activities. As adults the brothers decide to take a cross-country ski trip and end up lost in a blizzard in the remote woods of Minnesota. The plot sounds like a story of great excitement and suspense. As a matter of fact, the front cover of the book says `The suspense is spellbinding", so why would I think otherwise? In my opinion it really isn't a suspenseful story at all. It is much more a story of the relationship between the brothers than a story of survival in the woods of Minnesota. O'Brien's slow and calm tone throughout the story eliminates any suspense caused by the drastic circumstances the men find themselves in. The brothers overcome several grueling situations, but the tone O'Brien uses minimizes the danger compared to the unfolding relationship between the brothers. I believe this was O'Brien's intention from the start. Instead of a story of survival, he wanted to tell a story of two brothers. He exemplifies this lifelong journey by the use of irony. Harvey, being the outdoorsman, controls the ski trip from the beginning much like he did every adventure in their childhood. The introverted Perry effectively steps into the role of `big brother' once Harvey becomes too ill to survive on his own. Perry is ultimately responsible for their survival.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon July 30, 2012
I have loved most of what Tim O'Brien has written during his career, but have been procrastinating about reading this one. While "Northern Lights" seems to have a sense of direction, it never goes anywhere.

The book starts out with a favorite son returning home as a wounded war veteran. In these earliers chapters, there are elements of the story that remind me of "The Deer Hunter". Small town decay is coupled with a general sense of apathy in a well imagined portion of the book. Harvey, the returning war veteran, finds his brother Perry haunted by the past and crippled by past decisions.

Perry hopes to help his brother find something he lost in the war by acccompanying him an a winter wilderness ski-trek. Getting lost amid a blizzard occupies much of the rest of the story. The pace of the book goes from "The Deer Hunter" to "The Call of the Wild". Flashbacks are scattered among the stories of survival in the snow.

At some point, the reader may find his/herself being less than sympathetic to the protagonists. Aside from putting themselves in a bad situation, Perry and Harvey's self-loathing can be tiresome even after an apparent resolution. As a read, it made me wish the book would end sooner.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
i just read that this book is going to be republished in england. for those who read o'brien's more popular and critically acclaimed works like going after cacciato and the things they carried, they will appreciate this novel, o'brien's first. i felt that o'brien hid a lot more than he revealed in this story and the spectre of vietnam lurked beneath the surface from page one. was he being cautious? not necessarily daring but very subtle and enjoyable. until it gets reprinted, find it at a library.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on November 22, 2011
Interesting book in that it was both hard to pick up at times and hard to put down at others. I felt it was somewhat long and slow moving while at the same time the writing was, in my opinion, excellent. How can that be? The dialogue was written so well I could hear my spouse, brother or friend saying the same thing. I "felt" the blizzard (based years of camping with the scouts), but the problem I had is that the end of the book came and I didn't really understand where it left me.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 3, 1998
Paul Perry drags through life, ignoring his wife, nagged and cajoled by his Vietnam-vet brother, and haunted by the memories of his evangelist father. Searching for a source, for something to believe in, Paul embarks on a cross-country ski trip with his brother, and finds their survival depends on him alone...
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