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Surveillance Paperback – February 12, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Raban (Waxwings) explores the current political climate in this clever, unsettling novel set in a near-future Seattle. Freelance journalist Lucy Bengstrom has been hired by GQ magazine to write a profile of August Vanags, the bestselling author of Boy 381, an account of his childhood as an orphan making his way through the charred landscape of WWII Europe. As Lucy researches Vanags's life, she begins to suspect he has falsified the entire account. When she receives a picture that purports to show the author as a child safely ensconced on an English chicken farm during the war years, she's almost sure he's a fake. Almost. Meanwhile, Lucy's daughter, Alida, struggles with being raised by a single mom; the gay man next door may or may not be dying of AIDS; Vanags's wife is in the early stages of Alzheimer's; and a grim U.S. government escalates its police-state techniques to defend against the terrorism threat. An air of suspenseful dread hangs over every page of this intelligent, provocative book, and when the end finally rolls in, readers will be stunned and, in some cases, outraged. 7-city author tour. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Jonathan Raban (Bad Land; Passage to Juneau; Waxwings, ***1/2 Nov/Dec 2003) uses a what-if scenario in his latest novel to examine our nation's most pressing concerns and vulnerabilities. While most critics enjoyed Surveillance, a few noted some problems: the characters that serve as mouthpieces for various political views; the preachy dialogue about freedom, democracy, and civil liberties; and the heavy-handed themes. Still, critics found the characters and their relationships convincing (Tad especially) and the exploration of fiction, truth, and lies in our post-9/11 landscape provoking. The book's ending is a dramatic shocker—for better or worse.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (February 12, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400033659
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400033652
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,356,794 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Lynn Harnett VINE VOICE on February 5, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Best known for his thoughtful and beautifully written non-fiction - "Old Glory," "Bad Land" - Raban's second foray into fiction captures the reader instantly.

Partly this is because the Seattle-based, day-after-tomorrow novel starts with a horrific explosion involving a children's school bus. But mostly it's because Raban's characters are so instantly, engagingly human.

There's Tad, an actor reduced to playing the victim in Homeland Security drills like that exploded school bus. Unemployment runs rampant in this brave new world of checkpoints and paranoia. He lost his partner, Brian, to AIDS six years earlier. Tad himself is HIV positive, but healthy. Railing at the world, but healthy.

Tad's all-consuming anger - focused on the government - feeds on late-night scarfings of Internet blogs and outraged news. He no longer reads the tame and cowardly "New York Times."

His neighbor and closest friend, Lucy, is a journalist whose specialty is profiles for magazines like "The New Yorker." She has just gotten an assignment from GQ to do a profile of August Vanags, an elderly Latvian academic who has published a blockbuster memoir on his orphan boyhood among the Nazis and in their labor camps.

Lucy is an "on the one hand" and "on the other hand" kind of thinker. Her horrible mother once told her she had blotting paper for a personality. Lucy acknowledges some truth in the statement. And she digs in her heels when Tad rants. Lucy hates the "spreading rash" of sirens and surveillance nearly as much as Tad does, but she hates his obsessional anger more.

"So far as she was concerned, the worst thing they'd done was turn dinner with Tad into a conversational minefield."

Her own anger is largely on her frightened daughter's behalf.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By E. Bukowsky HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 31, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Jonathan Raban's Seattle-based novel, "Surveillance," is an amalgam of disparate elements: It shows a post-9/11 world whose inhabitants are living in a perpetual state of anxiety. Terrorism is an ever-present threat and government leaders are scrambling to be "prepared," as if this were even remotely possible. A second element is the touching relationship between a journalist and single mom, Lucy Bengstrom, and her eleven-year-old daughter, Alida, who is math genius. Lucy and Alida are very close to their neighbor, Tad, a gay actor who is keeping his AIDS under control with medication. Tad is a paranoid left-winger who trolls the Internet for evidence that America's freedoms are being undermined by right-wing megalomaniacs. He and Lucy often argue vociferously about politics, but Tad loves Lucy and he takes his role as Alida's surrogate father very seriously. The final element is Lucy's encounter with an elderly man named August Vanags, whose blockbuster bestseller about his boyhood during World War II is about to be filmed. Lucy snags an in-person interview with Vanags at his island home, and she soon develops a warm friendship with August and his wife, Minna.

Raban's handles the Lucy plot line perfectly. She is a fiftyish single mother who adores her daughter but fears that her child is starting to drift away from her. Tad and Lucy's new landlord, Charles Lee, is a slimy, greedy, and insensitive boor, and he makes for a loathsome villain. Lee considers himself a businessman on the rise, and he listen obsessively to self-help tapes about how to become rich and masterful. Yet, he is completely clueless about the social niceties and lives a pathetically lonely and isolated existence.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By John L Murphy TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 8, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Finally, a novel in which the protagonist checks Amazon reviews as part of her research. Lucy Bengstrom, a Seattle journalist interviewing a Holocaust survivor and wondering about the veracity of his best-selling memoir, thinks as she skims its nine hundred Amazon reviews: "It seemed to be part of the house rules that to praise a book you had to manifest an exaggerated response-- laughing until you cried, cracking up, or, as a woman from Akron, Ohio, claimed, wetting yourself, choking for breath, depriving yourself of sleep, as if readers were competing for some emotional dysfunction award." (204) I admit only to staying up late last night, and reading the book thus in two sittings. It flowed faster than I'd expected, and as I had only eighty pages to go at the point I had briefly separated my awareness from the page, I finished it summarily.

Emotionally speaking, happiness remains a will-o'the-wisp for Lucy and her daughter Alida, their neighbor Tad a bitter aging gay actor, August Venags the memoirist and his wife Minna, and Charles Lee-- an Asian immigrant, half-comic and half-sinister as his attempts to woo Lucy as he buys the apartment flat she, Alida and Tad occupy. Without giving away the climax of the novel, he puts notices in the tenant's mailboxes: "Notice of Demolition," and this phrase can stand for this story, set about five years from now. Lucy happens to be the same age I am, so reading this caused me a considerable amount of identification with her! Often, the travails of a writer make for thinly disguised agonies of the real writer of a novel.
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