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The Friends of Freeland Paperback – September 8, 1998

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Frigidly tucked between Iceland and Greenland along a volcanic archipelago, fictitious Freeland is a tiny nation trying to maintain purity through isolation from the madness infecting the rest of the world--but with little effect. At least that's the situation according to Hannibal Hannibalsson, Freeland's 20-year president, renowned orator, and a hopeless drunk. Despite having promised to give up the office, he decides to run for another term after a vision calls him to fulfill his nationalistic duty. Without the support of the populace--or even his wife--Hannibalsson must rely on his old friend Eggert Oddason, Freeland's preeminent poet turned political guru. Together, they hire spin doctors from the United States to give Hannibal an electoral edge. Against this backdrop, The Friends of Freeland launches into a parody of the election process and its undesirable byproducts, as well as the aggressive enterprise of exporting materialism. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Two wildly idealistic main characters?Eggert Oddason and Hannibal Hannibalsson?propel this grand, sprawling, satiric novel (Leithauser's fourth, after Seaward). Eggert and Hannibal are, respectively, the ad hoc minister of culture and the president of the imaginary nation of Freeland, a lava-crusted, storm-lashed cluster of islands located between Greenland and Iceland ("what green is to Ireland, gray is to Freeland"). Rivals as schoolboys, the two now tilt their lances at the same windmill, namely the creeping modernization that threatens to reduce their fellow citizens from a nation of proudly self-sufficient Norsemen to a gaggle of Walkman-wearing milksops. As Hannibal tells his countrymen, Freeland is "the one true good hope of this troubled planet" where "madness reigns, ever more brutal wars are waged, and ever more destructive forms of leisure are conceived." To preserve their country's purity, the duo has tried everything from a ban on frozen waffles to strict quotas on American pop music, but time, and the patience of the electorate, is running out. Matters come to a head as an election looms between the aging Hannibal and the bland, modernizing Nonni Karlsson. But this novel's appeal lies mostly in the pleasure of watching Leithauser's extraordinarily rich imagination at play as he conjures an entire people out of the frigid waters of the North Atlantic, ranging from the furtive narrator Eggert to the handsome, larger-than-life Hannibal, who "in his straight-shouldered, red-gold-haired, strong-jawed splendidness... is as perfect a Viking as ever navigated by instinct up a rocky, fog-clamped fjord." Leithauser's is not a subtle portrait; nor is his prose always for the fainthearted. But the novel is such good, catty, generously proportioned fun that the persevering reader will be more than inclined to forgive its missteps.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (September 8, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679772707
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679772705
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,227,406 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Haarsager (h2a@moscow.com) on August 23, 1998
Format: Hardcover
First, the amazon.com review of this book contains two errors. The American spin doctors were hired by Hannibal's opponent, not by Hannibal. And, although Hannibal certainly likes his Brown Death and "strong coffee," I would hardly call him a "hopeless drunk."
Although I was less interested in Eggert's past affairs than the author seemed to be, I really enjoyed this book. Set in the fictitious island nation of Freeland, it is in many ways a good metaphor for politics in small U.S. states and cities and for the sad struggle against the popular uniculture many small traditional cultures face. The book is anything but sad, however. Lots of wit and humor. Rut (Freelandic for Ruth) is one of the more appealing female characters I've read. Some nice nods to Icelandic Nobel laureate Haldor Laxness (author of my favorite novel of all time, Independent People, for which Leithauser wrote an intro to the new English-language printing).
Highly recommended.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Pete Kloppenburg (pkloppen@certicom.com) on September 4, 1998
Format: Hardcover
I note with despair that most of the reviews for this book thus far are wholly neglectful of the most charming qualities of "Friends of Freeland." The book chugs along on a number of levels: political satire, character portrait, humour. I first came across this book at a reading at Toronto's Harbourfront Reading Series, where Leithauser read the first two chapters. I had never heard of Leithauser before, but by halfway through the first chapter, I decided I was going to buy the book. Got it signed, too. I was absolutely delighted with the rest of the book when I got it home, and I recently read it a second time. It was just as wonderful. How many books can you say that about? While it is true that parts of the novel dwell on the less appealing aspects of the narrator's life and character, Leithauser's brilliant use of the first person (and occasional flights into the ironic third) carry it off magnificently. If you can't care about these characters, you're simply not hearing what they have to say. Ranks among my three all-time favourite books.
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2 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 9, 1997
Format: Hardcover
This is a long, long book about a little imaginary country (a sort of like Iceland on acid). Since Leithauser is a good poet (read "Hundreds of Fireflies"), with an admirable talent for compression, you have to wonder why he would blather on about so little. Actually his other novels ("Equal Distance," "Hence") weren't long on plot; but the eye was sharp, the writing, well, poetic. "Freeland" just doesn't have music, or life, or lift. Did an editor at Knopf see the MS
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2 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 11, 1997
Format: Hardcover
I have to confess that, even though I used to be a fan of the author's writing, I couldn't finish this book, probably because I kept waiting for something to happen, or for there to be a payoff. Is Leithauser getting paid by the word these daze? If possible, "Friends" is less interesting than Ishiguro's "The Unconsoled," which is saying something. I think the problem lies in a tremendous straining to be entirely original and "creative" in a nouveau belletristic way. Sorry, Brad
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3 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Arlene Shuman shuman@inlandnet.com on July 15, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Wanders aimlessly from subject to subject.Could not establish affection for any of the characters.
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