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Oswald's Tale: An American Mystery Paperback – June 25, 1996

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 864 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (June 25, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345404378
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345404374
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,013,971 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Mailer opines that Lee Harvey Oswald was a sincere Marxist, a nihilist and an inveterate liar who was motivated to assassinate John F. Kennedy in order to shake up the world, to create the conditions for a new kind of society superior to American capitalism or Soviet-style communism. Oswald, he suggests, was quite possibly the lone gunman, or at least may have thought he was?in Mailer's scenario, there may have been other assassins present, unbeknownst to Oswald, conspirators working for some other group. His unconvincing analysis emerges from a labyrinthine pastiche of KGB and FBI transcripts, recorded dialogues, speculations, Oswald's letters and diary excerpts, and government memos. Mailer interviewed Oswald's widow, Marina, and also spent months in Minsk interviewing Oswald's Russian acquaintances and co-workers as well as KGB officers. Pretentiously applying the novelistic techniques used to better effect in The Executioner's Song, Mailer ploddingly recreates Oswald's day-to-day existence in the Soviet Union, then in New Orleans and Dallas in the months leading up to Kennedy's assassination. He hypothesizes that Oswald was a provocateur playing a double-edged game with the U.S. and Russian intelligence communities to further his own self-styled mission. Author tour.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Mailer here explores not only the mysteries surrounding the murder of JFK but those involving the personality of the alleged assassin, Oswald. Employing the same technique that was so successful in The Executioner's Song (1979), Mailer arranges a vivid mosaic of hundreds of moments in his subject's life, recalled by scores of people and interspersed with extracts from his diary and from various official documents. In doing so, he gives us the daily textures of Oswald's life as vividly as he did that of Gary Gilmore. This is an impressive artistic achievement that offers irresistable, hypnotic reading. A substantial contribution to Kennedy assassination literature, it is, like Armies of the Night (1968) and The Executioner's Song, an essential book for comprehending American life in the second half of the 20th century.
-?Charles Michaud, Turner Free Lib., Randolph, Mass.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on January 14, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Mailer's "non-fiction novel" of Lee Harvey Oswald is stunning, not just for the new information he has uncovered about Oswald's life in Russia between 1959 and 1961, but because Mailer has ordered this information to provide true insight into Oswald's psyche. At nineteen and just out of the Marines when he flew to Moscow, Oswald intended to apply for Soviet citizenship, believing that Marxism was "purer" than capitalism. Remaining in the USSR for two and a half years, he married Marina and fathered a child before becoming disillusioned with his poverty and deciding to return to the US.

In the USSR, Oswald was under constant KGB surveillance, and Mailer's first-ever access to the KGB files and his effective use of them give the reader a sense of who Oswald was between the ages of twenty and twenty-two. All the everyday aspects of his life, his constant fights with Marina (and his eventual physical abuse of her), his belief that he is meant for "high destiny," and his inability to find success and purpose in his Russian life, despite his high ideals, show a young man frustrated in every aspect of life.

Using files from the KGB, Warren Commission, the House Select Committee on Assassinations, and books written about Oswald by Gerald Posner, Priscilla McMillan, Jim Marr, and Carl Oglesby, Mailer presents an astounding amount of historical data. Keeping his prose style journalistic and factual, Mailer uses his talents as a Hollywood script-writer to create dramatic dialogues appropriate to the facts, bringing events to life and making this long novel move quickly.
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18 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Harry George on February 26, 2000
Format: Paperback
Mailer is a skilled writer and thanks to him being allowed access to thousands of KGB surveillance files compiled on Lee Oswald he is able to paint an almost human picture of Oswald's time in Russia and one almost forgets the crime he is accused of commiting.
I do believe though that the charting of Oswald's life when he returns to the USA is perhaps tainted by the opinions of people who did not have any respect for him prior to his infamousy and this may be why the book cannot be wholly trusted as a truthful study.
Furthermore, he relies too heavily on the work of Pricilla Johnson, the biographer who had met Oswald in Moscow and became a so-called confidante to Marina Oswald after the assasination, a friendship she exploited to write a best selling story of Marina's time with Oswald.
Clearly, Marina does not know what she believes as over the years her account of life with Oswald has changed as often of as the weather.
Mailer himself does try to keep away from the controversy surrounding Oswald's possible guilt and gives little away as to what his own opinion is in this matter.
For this reason he does redeem the book coming across as a genuine story teller in this regard.
In Mailer's own words the subject remains as great a mystery as it was all those years ago.
Worth buying to read about Oswald's time in Russia.
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21 of 30 people found the following review helpful By John David Ebert on May 8, 2007
Format: Paperback
Anyone who has read Owen Barfield's classic "Saving the Appearances" knows what happened to the Ptolemaic cosmology during the Middle Ages, a cosmology in which it was propounded that the sun and all the other planets revolved about the earth. To bolster the equations which attempted to prove this mathematically using geometry, all sorts of weird and artificial props were used to account for the mounting anomalies in this paradigm: eccentric orbits to account for the erratic motions of planets like Mars, which appeared to move forward and then go backward. Arthur Koestler has called this Ptolemaic cosmology as it was received by Copernicus, the man who changed it all in the sixteenth century, "the ferris wheel cosmos." Copernicus's act of simply throwing out the cosmology as wrong, and instead assuming--correctly--that everything orbited about the sun and not the earth solved most of the problems.

Thus, Mailer's overblown inflated windbag of a book could be likened to one of these attempts at saving the appearances of an outmoded paradigm that has long since been ripe for discarding. Mailer's book is a confused, and confusing, mess: a montage of huge chunks of text clipped and spliced together largely from the Warren Report and a few other texts in order to bolster his view that Oswald acted alone.

Here are some examples of Mailer's muddle-headedness: he makes the case that Jack Ruby did not act alone in shooting Oswald, but was probably given the assignment by the Mob for some convoluted reason in which the Mob desires to take credit for an assassination that it did not order. Maybe.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Joel Marks on January 13, 2012
Format: Paperback
Of course I cannot fault Mailer for his ambitions. The task he has taken on here is herculean. Alas, I found his style leaving much to be desired -- often little more than (sometimes kooky, sometimes insightful) annotations of admittedly fascinating excerpts from various sources. As a "read" it would of course have been vastly better to have a narrative, however frequently "interrupted" or supplemented by excerpts. But given the sheer volume of available material, perhaps this is the best that could be done and still do justice to that material.

And what material it is! The KGB had Oswald's rooms in Russia bugged, so that we have a verbatim account of much of his private life during his two years there, including his early married life. I'd had no idea "we" knew so much. Adding excerpts from interviews by the author and his assistants with many of the principals, there and back in the U.S., and from other books, and of course from the voluminous Warren Commission Report, gives us an extraordinarily rich picture of the man Oswald.

And I must say that it is impossible to know this much about a human being, even warts and all, without becoming sympathetic to him ... even identifying with him! For example, who could not yearn that things would go better for Lee and Marina when we are "overhearing" their newlywed bickering? And -- most astonishing of all -- who could not shed a tear for Oswald -- and not just for the Kennedys and the Tippits and Marina and their baby daughters -- when his literally eleventh-hour attempt at reconciliation with Marina is rejected?
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