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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 (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #351,041 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.

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 37 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 22 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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By L. Power TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 13, 2011
Format: Paperback
This is my first Norman Mailer, but not my first book on the Kennedy Assassination, and not the only resource on Oswald. I have also watched the pbs frontline documentary which is very good, with firsthand accounts and interviews, and read many other books not to reinforce a belief, but to find the elusive truth.

What I like the most about Mailer's approach is that he allows you to form your own conclusions. He does not attempt to inlict a lone gunman theory, or a conspiracy theory. If you're like me what he does do is fill in gaps in the story, and help to answer many questions. We know for example that Oswald had the means and the opportunity, but what was his motive?

If he did not have a motive, could he have actually assassinated the president? Or was that act, if he did it, the final nail in the coffin of an unavoidable destiny?

The book starts not at the beginning but in the middle, and not with Oswald or Marina but with some of the characters he will meet in the Soviet Union. The KGB made their files and their officers available to Mailer, and we get a complete story of Oswald in the Soviet Union, and even transcripts of his conversations and arguments with Marina. He was under surveillance virtually the entire time. As far as I know nobody has published such a complete research of this part of his life.

In fact, the Soviet Union was probably the most normal part of his life, getting married, having a kid, his family well provided and having a good standard of living by Soviet standards.

What I glean from this is a pattern, and you may glean something else entirely, a pattern of someone who did not fit in. Not all of this is his fault.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By givbatam3 on November 22, 2004
Format: Paperback
Ever since the Warren Commission published its findings in 1964 on the murder of President Kennedy, the true essence of Lee Harvey Oswald and his motivation in carrying out the "murder of the century" have remained opaque. The Warren Commission drew a picture of a "frustrated loser", who probably due to feelings of jealousy and inadequacy, decided to kill the "young, handsome, rich, popular President". This seemed unsatisfactory to many people, providing a fertile ground for the spawning of the myriads of conspiracy theories that have flourished since then.

Fortunately, the fall of the Communist regime in the Soviet Union, which occurred while many of the people who knew Oswald during his sojourn there were still alive, shed much new light on Oswald. Norman Mailer took advantage of this to get much new information on Oswald's stay there which played a crucial in the development of his distorted personality. This work, in addition to new interviews conducted by Mailer with people in the US who had contact with him led Mailer, who originally believed that JFK's murder was probably part of a conspiracy, finally to come to the conclusion that Oswald was not just some ultimately unexplicable "nut" or "patsy", but that Oswald viewed himself as an international revolutionary, a potentially major figure in history (which he did indeed become for the wrong reasons), similar to the "international terrorists" plaguing the world today. Oswald had much in common with the murderers who perpetrated the atrocities of 9/11, i.e.

rage against humanity, ideological fanaticism (whether "religious" or "secular"), sexual frustration, etc. This helps to clear up the problem that was raised after the assassination in which people who knew Oswald said he "liked" the President.
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