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Finding the Trapdoor: Essays, Portraits, Travels Hardcover – April 1, 1997

5.0 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Kirkus Reviews

A collection of magazine articles and time-bound reportage by the estimable Hochschild (The Unquiet Ghost: Russians Remember Stalin, 1994, etc.), cofounder of Mother Jones magazine. Hochschild is a thoughtful, discerning reporter and a solid writer, but some of this material may seem a little stale, like picking up a decade-old newsmagazine and reading about life in the Soviet Union. Still, he's quite good in pieces such as ``Aristocratic Revolutionary,'' a 1985 profile of Patrick Duncan, a white South African who was editor of an anti-apartheid paper in the early 1960s. One of his best pieces is a 1978 profile of Jan Yoors, a Belgian youth who ran away with the gypsies in 1934; Hochschild found the renowned author of The Gypsies and Crossing residing near Washington Square, a double amputee who made his living designing and weaving tapestries. Another visit finds the author in the French Alps with novelist and art critic John Berger, whom he liked ``because he was the first writer I've run across who could explain why so much fine art is boring.'' Hochschild traveled extensively for these pieces: Mississippi, the Soviet Union, Senegal, El Salvador, South Africa, the Amazon. One 1995 article finds him in Colombia to witness the Indians' ``startling migration in reverse'': They were leaving the towns and missions and ``rebuilding their traditional dwellings deep in the forest.'' A few literary essays are included, most notably a penetrating search for the young, sensitive Hemingway who existed before the myth, the ``Papa'' persona, the compulsive braggart, took over. And charmingly, this redoubtable peacenik of the '60s and '70s confesses to a lifelong addiction to war novels and books about combat. These pieces speak clearly to the times in which they were written, but not to the ages. (illustrations, not seen) -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.


"The vivid and searching portraiture, social history, memoir and reportage contained in Adam Hochschild's Finding the Trapdoor are informed by a passion for justice and a resistance to the facile in all its guises. These qualities quicken Hochschild's lucid and self-ironic prose as much as they do his choice of subjects. . . . The most eloquent essays explore the intersection of Hochschild's quest for a voice--his trapdoor--with the experience of his complex and imperfect heroes. This thirty- year voyage of a book challenges the reader to share the risks of an examined life." -- From the judges' citation awarding Finding the Trapdoor the 1998 PEN/Spielvogel-Diamonstein Award for the Art of the Essay.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Syracuse University Press; 1st edition (April 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0815604475
  • ISBN-13: 978-0815604471
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,302,515 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I fell in love with this book's well-written and passionate articles a year ago and decided to teach it in my second-semester English composition class. My students, working-class youngsters from New York State, found it their favorite: it taught them about style in writing without being too abstract or introspective. They had energetic discussions about the issues Hochschild raises and the people he portrays: "Fishhooks and Chickens" led to some strong opinions on U.S. foreign policy, "Summer of Violence" prompted them to discuss their own civil-rights heroes, and the piece on ex-racist Floyd Cochran elicited opinions on reform and forgiveness. And their own writing showed that they learned a great deal from Hochschild's stylistic grace. This book will be a great document of its times for many, many years.
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I don't often buy essay collections. Each piece usually feels either too long for their subject; or it piques my interest, then I'm disappointed to see it end. But Adam Hochschild's other books are so fine that I decided to try this one, and I'm glad I did.

Hochschild chose his subjects well, and wrote with the same combination of rich detail and careful language that makes his other books also so engrossing. He wrote these essays over a period of many years, and on many themes: From his youthful fascination with war books; to the realities of a six-month stay in Moscow, 1991-style; to his 1961 meeting with a prominent South African who was at once both an aristocrat and revolutionary.

One of my many favorites tells about Amazon Indians in Columbia who, with government support, returned to the lifestyle of their ancestors. Yet they want to keep elements of modernity, such as steel axes and nylon fish lines. Hochschild builds a fascinating story around his questions: "Is it possible to partake only selectively of the Western way of life? Can you dip only one foot into the twentieth century?"
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