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Gone with the Wind Paperback – May 3, 2011
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Everything about this book is beyond superlative--vivid characters, settings that live and breathe, but especially Margaret Mitchell's prose. It would be worthwhile for any writer to study her sentences, every one of which flows with living motion, without a single flowery word. The dialogues between Scarlett and Rhett make sparks fly off the pages!
One could criticize the liberal use of racially offensive terms and the portrayal of happy slaves, but I would disagree. Within the world so meticulously created by the author, a bygone world, for all its faults, that was seen as being in equilibrium before its downfall, to have done otherwise would have been false.
This is truly the Great American Novel, in the top 5 of the greatest books I've ever read, and I suggest that you will thank yourself for reading it. My only regret about finishing Gone With the Wind is that now I can never again read it for the first time.
This novel is the second greatest selling book of all time (the Bible is first), and I can now see why it has maintained its extraordinary popularity for 75 years. That popularity was, and is, well deserved.
But it's un-apologetically racist, the characterizations of the non-white parties are cringe-inducing and as a rational adult it's hard to swallow the book's smug assurance that most slaves were happy, that Reconstruction was tyranny and that the white landowners of the antebellum South were the true victims of the Civil War. As a young white bookworm with liberal parents who was anxious to believe that racism and civil rights issues were a thing of the past I was able to forgive these flaws but now in this racially charged day of deep income and racial inequality it's a lot harder to just ignore that side of the novel.
On the other hand is it unjustifiably written off as fluff because of its female author in a way that, say, Rudyard Kipling and Mark Twain novels are not? Yes I believe it is. Is it feminist? I think a case can be made for that too. But as for how many stars to give it I need multiple categories. For racism it gets zero stars, for a well told love story that ponders the complexity of female friendships as well as the nature of desire and the ways we lie to ourselves in the name of love it gets five. Beyond that and regarding its place in the literary canon, I am unqualified to say.
Top international reviews
First clue is this book actually won the Pultizer Prize - so whilst it's not seen as 'serious' writing in our time, it was considered a masterpiece back in the day, the great American novel, etc. Yes, times were different then but I find it slightly sad that the book's reputation has fallen somewhat. Whilst it probably not 'top tier' next to the greats of Fitzgerald, Salinger, Dickens and so on, it's not a million miles away and to be honest, far better written than a lot of highly acclaimed novels today.
To get over the inevitable - yes the book is racist. The KKK do feature but they are not seem as wholly positive - while some characters are in favour, interestingly our heroine and hero do not think highly of them. Yes, the n word is used and whenever a black person speaks their speech is rendered phonetic which is derogatory (as it's not done for the white people who would also be speaking with an accent). (Although, interesting I believe Bronte does a similar thing in Wuthering Heights with the servants speaking in a phonetic manner and the main characters not and this hasn't received as much comment.)
Racist comments are made about the appearance of some blacks and there are some 'whitewashing' statements around how 'good' black slaves actually like being slaves and would never leave their masters, and the North has corrupted them etc etc. All of this is of course offensive and wrong. However, should we claim a book is 'bad' or ban it or not read it just because we disagree with some of the things it says? Whilst not a defence of these ideals at all, this book was written in a different time (far before the Civil Rights movement) and set in a time even more different (when black people were still 'property'). The ideas represented by the characters and the author themselves are (sadly) indicative of common opinion of the time, and whilst they are wrong and would not and should not be tolerated today, arguably you could not set the book during this period without giving voice to some of these opinions.
As for the writing itself, I found it well written and highly entertaining. Fans of the film will enjoy it I think, on the whole it sticks remarkably close to the plot of the film (even some speech is the same in the film!), although notably Scarlett's first two children are not present in the film (but I think this was the right decision as I don't think they add much in the book to be honest). Yes, the book does drag in some places but saying that a lot of the content is relevant and I think you could probably only cut it down 50-100 pages or so without losing a lot of meaningful writing and events for the characters, which for a book this long I think is quite good.
The characters are all 'real' and fleshed out, with the exception of the annoying Ashley (and the slaves as to be expected, unfortunately). He is slightly ridiculous but this is somewhat forgiven as I think he's meant to be. Rhett is somewhat darker in the book than the film, and some say that Scarlett is as well although actually I find the book makes her somewhat more human as we are privy to her inner thoughts and deep down she is a 'good' character and does a lot of 'bad' things for the right reasons.
Overall, if you're a fan of the film or interested in a fiction of the American south/Civil War this is worth a read. The plot is cracking and whips along, covering a span of twenty odd years and many dramatic events. For a long novel I got through it relatively quickly as it is very readable and highly entertaining.
It is very frank about the attitudes of the whites towards the blacks on which the easy lifestyle of the rich was based though the two chief male characters, who are very different, both realise that the system could not & should not continue.
But if you what you want is a gripping read don't let these comments put you off!
It's Gone with the wind. Everyone should read it at least once in their lifetime.
Cheap price. It's a humongous book and the price on Amazon is really a deal.
This Macmillan edition is no good if you want this book as a keepsake. Good for one or maybe two reads and then the spine will be gone and the book will fall apart.
This edition has a weird size which makes the book almost square.
Story : I have given it five stars because it will be a disrespect to this book to give anything less. You will be hard-pressed to find another book which is as absorbing, shocking and magical in one hand and depressing and tragic on another hand. It is a captivating work set up in time of American civil war and reconstruction era. Give it a try.
Note: Watch the movie too if you can. The movie is rather toned down in comparison to the book itself, still it will help in understanding.
Apart from that, the reading is completely brilliant and if you love Gone With the Wind, you'll love this.
Mitchell really set the scene and I became very fond of the main characters , something which for me, is rare when reading a fictional story.
The historic aspect of the book is interesting without becoming boring and drawn out and although some reviewers have remarked on the racism in the book, I believe it is probably an accurate representation of many people's views and attitudes at the time in which the story is set.
Truly this is one of the best books I have ever read.
I hadn't realised that one of the most iconic US novels was quite so racist. As a Brit (and yes I know it was all our fault in the first place) I just found it disappointingly distasteful.
Sad that Margaret died so young as a result of an accident.I've now bought the 'Aniversary' 5 DVD repeat of the picture with some extra films of the production etc.