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Season of Ash Paperback – October 15, 2009


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 413 pages
  • Publisher: Open Letter (October 15, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1934824100
  • ISBN-13: 978-1934824108
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.5 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,544,906 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

At the heart of this wide-ranging epic is a murder, though it's not initially clear who the victim is, and the narrative goes on to take the form of a confession that weaves historical and scientific turning points into the crime. There's a huge cast of characters (and an appendix to help keep track), some famous, but mostly Volpi (In Search of Klingsor) presents everyday people whose lives eventually have as large an impact as dictators and Nobel Prize winners. Taking center stage are three mercurial women: Soviet biologist Irina, International Monetary Fund economist Jennifer and Hungarian scientist Eva; their personal and professional stories commingle as they are brought together by fate. A generous helping of racy material keeps the narrative from reading like a history book, though the many plots jumping between a dizzying cast can overwhelm. Volpi's style of storytelling is about understanding history not through wars or elections but through people. His portrayal of humanity is rewarding and, by the end, shattering. (Oct.)
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About the Author

Jorge Volpi is the author of nine novels, including In Search of Klingsor, for which he won the Spanish Premio Biblioteca Breve prize and the French Deux-Océans-Grizane-Cavour Prize. Volpi is one of the founders of the "Crack" group—a prestigious Mexican literary movement.

Alfred MacAdam is a professor of Latin American literature at Barnard College and the translator of novels by Carlos Fuentes, Mario Vargas Llosa, José Donoso, Juan Carlos Onetii, and Julio Cortázar, among others.


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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Posey on January 7, 2010
Format: Paperback
Jorge Volpi's "Season of Ash" is a difficult book to review. While reading, I kept trying to push it into any of a number of simply shaped categories. For long stretches, the novel feels strongly like straight historical fiction. It follows the paths of three women, spread across the globe, through many of the major events of the 20th century. The book then flips into murder mystery; although "mystery" is too strong a word as from the earliest chapters we know both victim and culprit; perhaps murder procedural would be a more apt term. Finally, all these events are couched in a not too clear metafictional universe where the murderer, and sometimes narrator, authors a book titled "Season of Ash" that also recounts many of the events of the book. Which leaves the reader to ask: just how much of Jorge Volpi's "Season of Ash" is really the narrator-murderer's "Season of Ash."
Although this book is composed of several styles it uses a well established story telling method as its core structural device. I am not sure if there is a name for the genre but one name for the tradition might be "Epic Historical Fiction." In this genre the writer places a small group of characters lives head long the paths of a number of either true historical events of near simulacra. Upton Sinclair's "Oil" is the more recent entry in this genre I recall reading. In the case of "Season of Ash" Volpi has chosen to place his characters in later two thirds of the 20th century.
The story is contains three major plot lines, following the lives of Jennifer Moore financial wizard of the International Monetary Fund, Irina Nikolayevna Sudayeva Russian biologist, and Eva Halasz Hungarian child prodigy turned computer scientist.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By las cosas on February 5, 2012
Format: Paperback
This is the final volume of Volpi's loosely connected trilogy that started with In Search of Klingsor and continues with Le Fin de la Locura (not available in English translation). In each Volpi explores 20th century history.

For those who were around and reading newspapers from 1985 to the end of the century, but particularly in the late 1980s, this novel feels like a slightly expanded addition of year in review summaries: Challenger, French intelligence officers blowing up Greenpeace ship, Chernobyl, Berlin disco bomb killing Marines, San Francisco during the AIDS epidemic, etc. etc.

I'm sure Volpi read copious amounts in order to get these historical scenes correct, but one simply can't cover that much of the world and be spot on. His descriptions of San Francisco during that era contain several factual errors, as do descriptions of particular financial instruments and US Government agencies and programs. Minor in a book of this size, but annoying.

Into this newsreel are woven a few characters, each of whom is larger than life. Eva and Jennifer, brilliant, gorgeous, with hearts of ice. Allison, who incorporates every annoying characteristic of a clueless do-gooder; Jack, avaricious for absolutely everything that exists (particularly money and women); Oksana the doomed poet, and a few other two-dimensional characters. While all are stereotypes, there are gradations of evil, and the worst most despicable characters are exclusively from the United States or, like Arkady and the narrator, ruined after being tainted by that country and its evil capitalism. This is so much the novel written by a 1980s UNAM trained lawyer!

Throughout this novel Volpi employs the most annoying tick I have ever encountered in a novel...
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Season of Ash is a very dense novel. The language is poetic and precise and it cannot be read quickly or comfortably. I liked it tremendously. I put it down regularly to look up a name, a noun, a reference because each word matters and each metaphor is important. For example, the word chimera is used often. I learn this has both a mythological definition ( being made up of three different animals) and a genetic definition ( a being composed of two different kinds of DNA) and both, I believe, apply to this story.
Volpi's incorporation of the lives of his fictional characters into the history of the past 75 years forced me as his reader to examine the inevitable consequences of greed, power, alienation, and the limitations of love in the human animal. This is not a happy book, most of his characters are born into pain and live their lives in faint hope, separation and loss, but the story is absorbing and demands examination.
The murder (if that is what it is) is almost irrelevant, and is much less affecting than the death of the daughter, introduced at the beginning and then expanded on at the end. There is nothing hopeful in this novel, the characters are flawed and largely unlikable, but they are also sympathetic and that is perhaps the book's strength. If we can understand them, perhaps we can forgive ourselves.
I found this a brilliant book but not an easy one to read.
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