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Time's Arrow Paperback – September 29, 1992

4 out of 5 stars 103 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amis attempts here to write a path into and through the inverted morality of the Nazis: how can a writer tell about something that's fundamentally unspeakable? Amis' solution is a deft literary conceit of narrative inversion. He puts two separate consciousnesses into the person of one man, ex-Nazi doctor Tod T. Friendly. One identity wakes at the moment of Friendly's death and runs backwards in time, like a movie played in reverse, (e.g., factory smokestacks scrub the air clean,) unaware of the terrible past he approaches. The "normal" consciousness runs in time's regular direction, fleeing his ignominious history.

From Library Journal

For decades, writers have been striving to comprehend the Holocaust, and while its horror remains indelible, readers may wonder if there is another way of going over this relentlessly examined ground. In this swift, incisive little book, Amis succeeds in rendering the shock of the Holocaust wholly new by traveling backward in time. At the end of his life, the German-born American doctor Tod T. Friendly suffers a paralysis from which emerges "the soul he should have had." This innocent soul follows "time's arrow" back through Tod's stay in America and his flight to Germany, finally arriving at the concentration camp where Friendly, as Odilo Unverdorben, served as a doctor of death. Trying to discover "when the world is going to make sense," the confused if patient soul watches as the doctor injures the healed, revives Jews who have been gassed, and grows closer to his estranged wife. It concludes, "We all know by now that violence creates, here on earth . . . it heals and mends." Amis's device, which at first seems merely a clever conceit, is handled so skillfully that living backwards becomes not only natural but a perfect metaphor for the Nazis' perverted logic. If he can't finally probe to the bottom of a mind that embraces atrocities, Amis has nevertheless written a thought-provoking, compelling book. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/91.
-Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More from Martin Amis
At once poetic and cynical, bestselling novelist Martin Amis is known for his unflinching critiques of modern life. Visit Amazon's Martin Amis Page.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (September 29, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679735720
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679735724
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (103 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #29,362 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
From beginning to end, Amis has managed to sustain a wonderful conceit: the inversion of time. The idea isn't original but this execution is complete and nearly perfect. Yes, the story somewhat pays homage to Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five but it is a weak parallel. Slaughterhouse-Five is a book where time is treated non-linearly and yet the narrative follows more or less the conventional marching forward. A better example really is T.H. White's The Sword in the Stone where a major character lives backwards in time. Merlin comes from the future, converges towards the age of young King Arthur and sweeps past into the past.
In Time's Arrow, the narrator from the very first words "I moved forward, out of the blackest sleep, ..." experiences time inverted. From death to birth, the narrator must learn of the past by experiencing the world - he is naive as to the events of the past - day-by-day inside Tod's body (growing younger). Tod is the Nazi war criminal whose secret life unfolds - backwards. Oddly, the narrator appears naive has he is forced to speculate on the past based only on his knowledge of the present and future. He does not know the past. And he is often wrong, just as we are in predicting the future.
Perhaps the most puzzingly aspect of the novel is the identity of the narrator. The narrator may be the protagonist or may be not ...It is ambiguous. Certainly, the narrator "rides" in the head of Tod Friendly (and his aliases) but he experiences the world mechanically like a closed circuit security camera. The narrator can only see and smell and hear what Tod sees and smells and hears. The narrator can not experience the thoughts or emotions of Tod. Strange but very rewarding. The narrator does see Tod's dreams.
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Format: Paperback
At the moment of Dr Tod T. Friendly's death, a consciousness is born and then witnesses the doctor's entire life - lived backwards. The voice trails the doctor through his early retirement, his last years of work and degenerating relationships, then back through his heyday as a surgeon, his life in New York, various name changes, and then back via ship to postwar Europe. At first nothing seems to make sense for the narrating consciousness: people are talking and walking backwards; relationships begin with tearful meetings and slapped faces and end with coy moments in hospital corridors; mysterious, coded letters emerge from the flames of the fireplace; and the doctor and his colleagues work passionately at making healthy people sick, or wounding them and throwing them into ambulances to be taken back onto the streets. But finally, when we follow the good doctor back to his time at Auschwitz, life begins to make sense at last. There, he and his colleagues are doing something wonderful: they are creating the Jewish race. Pulling smoke and ashes from the sky, assembling the debris into human beings, bringing them to life with gas, letting them work their way into health, then uniting them with family members and sending them off by train to flourish in the towns and cities of Europe... What at first seems like a rather trivial exercise in literary game-playing - the conceit of narrating a life lived backwards - becomes, in fact, the device which enables Amis to deliver one of the most effective and affecting condemnations of the Holocaust without writing a single word against it. By showing it in reverse - by inverting its objectives, its sequence and its consequences - Amis renders the Nazi program in all its grotesque obscenity.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
In Time's Arrow, British novelist Martin Amis begins with the death of Dr. Tod Friendly and then traces his life--backwards--into his sinister past. Though the outlandish premise of time running backwards wears thin at times, the story Amis tells is compelling enough to keep the reader interested until the very end...or beginning.
¶Make no mistake, this book is weird. Amis maintains the backwards motif scrupulously, with dialogues printed in reverse order (Amis' one concession to the reader is to render the individual sentences forward) and every event described backwards. For instance: to eat,
"You select a soiled dish, collect some scraps from the garbage, and settle down for a short wait. Various items get gulped up into my mouth, and after skillful massage with tongue and teeth I transfer them to the plate for additional sculpture with knife and fork and spoon."
¶The narrator is not Tod himself, exactly, but a sort of secondary consciousness, a spectator who is independent from Tod's thoughts but hostage inside his body. Amis never explains the peculiar identity of his narrator, who views the reverse unfolding of Tod's life as a forward-moving story.
¶Amis uses the backwards perspective to showcase his powers of description. The narrator's ingenious explanations of everyday processes reversed, like eating, are pearls of smart, funny writing. His adept usage of the gleefully oblivious narrator results in delicious irony, as in this exposition on taxis:
"This business with the yellow cabs, it sure looks like an unimprovable deal. They're always there when you need one, even in the rain or when the theaters are closing. They pay you up front, no questions asked. They always know where you're going. They're great.
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