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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. Making frequent use of flashbacks, he fills in background detail, recreating Oswald's life as a young boy in New York--his truancy, his assignment to a youth center (where he was picked on), his relationship with his overbearing mother, and his constant loneliness.

When Oswald returns to Dallas in 1963 with his wife and daughter, he still has dreams, still sees himself as "an instrument of history," and is still frustrated and unhappy. His claim of responsibility for the April, 1963, assassination attempt on Gen. Edwin Walker, a John Birch Society supporter, whether or not it is true, shows him acting out his belief that he is an instrument of history in the months leading up to Nov. 22, 1963. Six months after the assassination attempt on Walker, Oswald takes advantage of the accident of history that has brought the JFK motorcade past the window of the Depository where he works, and he acts out his self-declared destiny.

Presenting all the information available to him, Mailer maintains a balanced point of view. Though he mentions contacts Oswald made with the FBI, his attempt to go to Cuba, Mafia attempts to kill Castro, and Oswald's strange connection with Baron George De Mohrenschildt, a Russian emigre with some CIA ties, he draws no conclusions due to lack of evidence, leaving those to the reader. This fine novel organizes mountains of raw material, some of it new, to provide glimpses of who Oswald was and what may have motivated him. n Mary Whipple
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on February 26, 2000
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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on February 20, 2014
This is an interesting take on Oswald, his life and motivations. More engaging than a dry history Mailer brings Oswald to life in a novelistic way. In the end Mailer can't make any conclusive judgment on Oswald or the possibility of conspiracy but he does produce a more three dimensional view of the assassin. Mailer was the first to get access to Oswald's time in Russia where previously had been a vague gray blank in his life. Mailer was allowed to view KGB files on Oswald and talk to anyone still living who had known LHO during his time in the Soviet Union.
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on September 10, 2014
LHO

It is worth to read this book since it helps understand one of the worst moments in the history of the American presidents. It will not solve the mysteries or doubts around the assassination of JFK, but, after reading it, and considering all sources are credible, the book may help you arrive to a conclusion. The journalistic investigation is a solid part of the book and it is reliable since it cites its sources, which are valuable as in the case of the KGB. Will we know everything after reading this book? It's hard to tell.

The life of LHO was short, but he really disturbed governments in his last years of life. With his "all or nothing" attitude and boldness was able to stay in the USSR, after an intent of suicide, and he affected the lives of whoever he spoke to, either in the USA or the USSR.

His life could be compared to other violent and bold men like Hitler and Che Guevara since ideology and violence were behind their actions. But LHO was not in the right place (country) or the right time to enjoy victories, though temporary, the other two mentioned men had. Any good ideological intention gets dissipated by the fact that LHO was abusive with his wife to the point of hurting her.

This book is not a brilliant literary work, but it may help clarify the facts surrounding JFK assassination. From what I read in the book, the conspiracy theory is weak, everything points to this unbalanced human being. He bought a rifle, he practiced, he tried to kill another man and he had motives, which were to go against capitalism, and Kennedy was the symbol and he was a self declared "socialist". Mailer will give you the facts (in depth) and you can be the judge.
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on February 20, 2015
I really enjoyed this book. I've read many JFK assassination books and this ranks at the top of my list so far. Lots of facts and detail without too much persuasion to either side - lone assassin or conspiracy.
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on January 13, 2012
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? Knowing as we do not only what Earth-shaking events will immediately ensue but also that Oswald is here being human oh so human in craving a simple human happiness that can never be his because of his character flaws, we must conclude, with Mailer, that this was indeed an American tragedy ... for all parties concerned.

Oswald was also intelligent to a degree of which I'd had no conception. He was a voracious reader and an independent thinker. If he had had a university education he might easily have ended up a member of the "progressive" professoriate. One might conceive Oswald's story, then, as of a kind of intellectual Billy Budd, who for lack of acquaintance with or access to an institutional outlet for his various idealistic (and egotistic) yearnings, resorts to the "inarticulateness" of a violent act. Of course revolutionaries on the world stage, such as Castro and Mao, might see nothing to despise in his more active project ... except for its being relatively scattershot because conducted as a loner, as much in service to his ego as to his cause.

Oswald was also courageous, soft-spoken, and decidedly cool. Not always but enough to be impressive. He was also a colossal sexist, in keeping with the era. So in many ways he was very ordinary - but so I assume is every extraordinary person. This is what enables us to make common human cause with people who are in other respects, by their nature or their acts, completely different from oneself.

Indeed, Oswald's ordinariness is one of the extraordinary things about him. Consider that this one man and his mail-order rifle could plausible have played a role like that of the assassin of Archduke Ferdinand in igniting a catastrophic war -- in fact, World War III and the end of mankind. For there was circumstantial evidence in abundance to implicate the Soviet Union in his deadly deed. Perhaps all that prevented retaliation and Armageddon was the U.S.'s acute awareness of our own involvement with Oswald. Essentially his whole adult life was spent under the surveillance of the KGB and the FBI. That fact plus countless others equally suggestive, such as Oswald's seemingly by sheer chance winding up with a new job on the route of JFK's motorcade, and having the sixth floor all to himself at exactly the right moment, and being assassinated in turn by Jack Ruby, have of course made his life fodder for everyone's favorite conspiracy theory. Yet, I repeat: Even if the truth is only that Oswald acted by himself for his own semi-obscure reasons, this too is extraordinary.

And so I do recommend this extraordinary book, warts and all.
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on August 21, 2013
Mailer is brilliant here, with a thorough examination of Oswald's life as it can be known through documents and interviews with those who knew him in the U.S., the U.S.M.C., and the former U.S.S.R. The Russian interviews are especially interesting because the memories there are untarnished: all of those who were interviewed there were instructed by the KGB to keep silent about Oswald, so their thoughts and words are pristine.

Mailer comments and provides conjecture and only reaches too far when there is no documentation or other evidence to account for Oswald's mysterious whereabouts on a few occasions, and the mystery of his finances. Mailer also asks some very interesting and intelligent questions about what might have happened that day, including scenarios that are never considered by other investigators, however likely or unlikely they may be.

This is for everyone who is preoccupied with one of the greatest mysteries of the 20th century. You will enjoy all 850 pages.
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on October 2, 2013
Very informative (actually a bit too much so concening Marina's extended family). I enjoyed a book which presents "known
facts" about Oswald (parentheses for the conspiracy community of which I was myself at one time "it was Fidel").
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on November 20, 2000
Mailer is always entertaining -- no matter whether you agree or disagree with him.
Oswald's Tale presents a new take on Lee Harvey Oswald. Here is the approach: What if Lee Harvey Oswald was not some incomprehensible (no-talent) societal outcast, but rather, a somewhat talented loser who had great skill in jerking around bureaucratic systems? As evidence of this thesis -- LHO was able to defect to the USSR and then get back to the U.S. Not really an easy task.
Could such a man successfully kill a president and NOT be part of a larger conspiracy? Perhaps...
And what about those conspiracy theories? Mailer gives a few plausible insights into why some the of the evidence of conspiracy may be happenstance and wishful thinking.
It is completely unfulfiling and base to think that our president was killed by some dispossessed nobody. From this springs our need to find a dark conspiracy. Perhaps LHO was of large enough stature (be it negative) to be considered man enough to have done it alone. Perhaps...
Entertaining and worth reading. Mailer does not answer the questions, he just asks them. And quite well.
The profile of Marina Oswald is to die for. You read about her and wonder what it would be like to actually be the world's most notorious bystander.
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on May 1, 2016
I did not read this book, but wanted to comment after reading what Mailer's conclusions were regarding Oswald. First, Oswald was NOT a Marxist. He was a former Marine, honorably discharged, who was trained by the Office of Naval Intelligence as part of its "false defector" program. When Oswald "defected" to Russia, the KGB kept tabs on him, knowing he was with American intelligence. They allowed him to return to American because they realized he had no important information to give to the CIA. Oswald's wife, Marina, who Mailer interviewed, stated that her husband was a patriot who loved his country. She was very dismissive of Mailer's view of Lee.

Oswald worked with the FBI and the CIA. His CIA handler in Dallas was George de Mohrenschildt. Shortly after agreeing to talk to the House Special Committee on Assassinations, de Mohrenschildt was found dead from a shot gun blast, another of the many people who had knowledge of the conspiracy to assassinate the President who died mysteriously in the years after November 22, 1963.

There is NO evidence that even places Oswald on the sixth floor of the Depository building. A Dallas police officer who was a weapons expert identified the rifle found on the sixth floor as a Mauser. That gun mysteriously disappeared. Multiple witnesses identified men who did not match Oswald's description, who they saw standing at the easternmost and westernmost windows of the sixth floor shortly before the assassination. They were mostly ignored by the FBI, and the Warren Commission attempted to discredit them. The only fingerprints found in the "sniper's lair" on the sixth floor belonged to Malcolm Wallace, a man LBJ employed as his personal assassin when Johnson's corruption threatened to get him into trouble.

Oswald DID NOT shoot Officer Tippet. A witness who saw the shooting, Acquilla Clemons, identified two men, neither matching Oswald's description, who had shot the police officer. Shortly after, law enforcement figures told her to quit telling people what she knew, in an obvious attempt to preserve the conspiracy. Tippet was shot by an automatic weapon. When Oswald was apprehended in the Texas Theater, he had only a revolver in his possession.

Jack Ruby can be seen in a videotape made shortly after he'd killed Oswald stating that "the world will never know" what went on in Dallas that weekend, and what his motives were, an obvious reference to the JFK killing having been a conspiracy. He also said "people that had so much to gain" from the killing of JFK were behind the assassination, and named LBJ as one of them. That video is available online.

Also available online are videotapes made by former CIA agents E. Howard Hunt and Tosh Plumlee, who both state that the CIA planned and carried out the assassination. Hunt implicates LBJ in the killing, and also names "Sturgis and Morales" as two of the CIA-connected men who were involved. Plumlee states that Oswald was a patsy in the assassination, who had been betrayed by American intelligence people he'd been working with and had placed trust in. Plumlee reveals that the decision to make Oswald the fall guy for the assassination had been made months before the murder occurred.

It is a tragedy that an innocent man like Lee Harvey Oswald was set up to take the fall for a murder he had no part in, and was then murdered himself to keep him from identifying the killers of JFK. Oswald was, exactly as he said, "just a patsy" in the killing. By perpetuating the lie that a great President was murdered by a "lone nut", rather than by criminals who were part of our own government, "Oswald's Tale" denies both men the justice they are due.
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