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The Angel of History Paperback – Unabridged, February 3, 1995

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Though Forche's ( The Country Between Us ) previous books have been groundbreaking works of political and moral depth, this new volume may be the most remarkable. Ambitious and authentic, The Angel of History is an overarching book-length poem, composed in numbered sections, that invokes the horror of contemporary times in a mode reminiscent of Eliot's "The Waste Land." Much as Eliot's poem refracted WW I, the vacuity of culture and the fragmentation of modern life, Forche considers the Holocaust, Hiroshima and genocide in Latin America--the dismal past that predicates the chaotic present. Her vehicle is the Angel of History, who confronts human cruelty and misery but can do no more than record them, as explained by Walter Benjamin in an epigraph: "The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But . . . the storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward." Though the poetry is powerful, it is not always easily understandable; one must follow the Angel through serpentine lines, a disjointed and oblique nightmare whispered by an indeterminate narrator, and a splintered pastiche that borrows apocalyptic phrases from Elie Wiesel, Kafka, Canetti, Trakl, Char and Valery. But the journey ventured is well worth the occasional wrong turn: Forche has not only created poetry of consummate beauty, but has borne witness to the wounds of our collective history, fulfilling the conviction that "surely all art is the result of one's having been in danger, of having gone through an experience all the way to the end."
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"A dark, richly textured, complicated work...[The Angel of History] is that great rarity, an altogether new thing." -- Liz Rosenberg, Boston Globe

"I don't think I have ever come across a poem of such length that is nevertheless so beautifully transparent and haunting." -- James Merrill

"Poetry of consummate beauty...reminiscent of Eliot's "The Waste Land." -- Publishers Weekly

"Poetry of consummate beauty...reminiscent of Eliot's 'The Waste Land.'" -- Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"The Angel of History is instantly recognizable as a great book, the most humanitarian and aesthetically 'inevitable' response to a half century of atrocities that has yet been written in English." -- Calvin Bedient, The Threepenny Review

"The poignant cri de couer of this singular work most affect all who have an integrity still possible in this painfully despairing time." -- Robert Creeley

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (February 3, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060925841
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060925840
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #464,853 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By acohn@knox.edu on February 9, 1998
Format: Paperback
This book demands all the mental stamina, literacy, and spiritual powers of endurance, that a reader can offer. The images and fragmented narratives resonate immediately, but there is enough to keep you re-reading, finding new connections, for years. The century's worst atrocities: Hiroshima, the Holocaust, World Wars, are right next to the century's highest intellectual achievements: Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Walter Benjamin. If you get the references, if you understand the history--or even if you don't (Forche is that good)--The Angel of History will be transformative reading.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 28, 1998
Format: Paperback
This book is the work of a genius which demands to be read and reread time and again. A heir to the tradition of Anna Akhmatova, Paul Celan and Edmond Jabes, Carolyn Forche is able to create a work that once read will never be forgotten. This is not just the major book -- this is the very best. If the Lord Almighty lives in our prayers, this poetry is precisely his own, clear speech. It is a crime not to read this book.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By "hirofantv" on May 23, 2002
Format: Paperback
This book is just so brilliant. The poems are all terseness, & their lyric integrity & elliptical masonry demand very close attention of the reader. This is avant-garde poetry written by the fists of genius.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth Mourant/Loalay@aol.com on April 12, 1999
Format: Paperback
In the interstices of the times we are living in. A book of poetry like this demanded to be born, and Carolyn Forche was elected parent. Like all great art: political, personal. The epitome of intimacy provides the koan of the distance of being human. This may be the defining poetic book of the nineties, and the end of the century. It is certainly one of those books, and by a poet who doesn't cease to fulfill her "vocation" as poet with great humanity and dignity.
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Format: Paperback
Forche's ability to engage politics and history in her poems always impresses me. In particular, Angel of History represents a kind of sustained political argument against violence, and especially the violence created in war, that poetry is uniquely capable of making. What I mean by this is that it doesn't descend to grandstanding or the rhetoric you might hear in a Democratic candidate's stump speech. The poems, in their ambiguous identity of speaker, in the way their setting is unencumbered by either geography or chronology, in their assembly of the various theaters of war (post-Europe World War II to 1980s Middle East, for example) find a greater voice in the implicit than the explicit. Yes, this should be the natural distinction between literature and political rhetoric, where literature relies upon imprecise, yet unmistakable, references to actual historic events.

What I think distinguishes The Angel of History from Blue Hour, Forche's next book, is the reliance on concrete narrative for each of the sections. There is lyrical ambiguity, but I'm also aware of which time frame the speaker is in, and I can then use that to understand the book's larger argument, which is that any criticism of war can't be tied to chronology. Blue Hour has a similar aim in my mind, but the abecedarian form of the long title poem relies too much on incidental associations that would tie the sentences together. It makes for pleasurable poetry, but I think it loses the larger impact accomplished by The Angel of History.
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