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Libra (Contemporary American Fiction) Paperback – May 1, 1991

4.3 out of 5 stars 115 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

DeLillo's ninth novel takes its title from Lee Harvey Oswald's zodiac sign, the sign of "balance." And, as in all his fiction ( Running Dog , The Names , White Noise ), DeLillo's perfectly realized aim is to balance plot, theme and structure so that the novel he builds around Oswald (an unlikely and disturbingly sympathetic protagonist) provokes the reader with its clever use of history, its dramatic pacing and its immaculate and detailed construction. The plot of the novel is history itselfand history, here, is a system of plots and conspiracies: the U.S. government has plotted to invade Cuba, and there are CIA agents who want retribution against President Kennedy for his halfhearted support of the Bay of Pigs operation; there are Cubans plotting revenge on JFK for the same reason and for, they fear, his plot to forge a rapprochement with Castro; there is a lone gunman, Oswald, who is conspired upon by history and circumstance, and who himself plots against the status quo. The novel bears dissection on many levels, but is, taken whole, a seamless, brilliant work of compelling fiction. What makes Libra so unsettling is DeLillo's ability to integrate literary criticism into the narrative, commenting throughout on the nature and conventions of fiction itself without disturbing the flow of his story. The characters are storytellers: CIA agents and Cuban immigrants retell old plots in their minds and write fantasy plots to keep themselves alive; Nicholas Branch, also of the CIA, has spent 15 years writing an in-house history of the assassination that will never uncover its deepest secrets and that in any case no one will read; Oswald, defecting to the Soviet Union, hopes to write short stories of contemporary American lifedyslexic, he is aware of words as pictures of themselves not simply as name tags for the material world. DeLillo interweaves fact and fiction as he draws us inexorably toward Dallas, November 22. The real people (Jack Ruby, Oswald, his mother and Russian wife) are retrieved from history and made human, their stories involving and absorbing; the imagined characters are placed into history as DeLillo imagines it to have come to pass. By subtly juxtaposing the blinding intensity of DeLillo's own crystal-clear, composite version of events against the blurred reality of the Zapruder film and other artifacts of the actual assassination, Libra ultimately becomes a comment on the entire body of DeLillo's work: Why do we understand fiction to reflect truth? Why do we trust a novelist to tell us the whole story? And what is the truth that fiction reveals? 50,000 first printing; $50,000 ad/promo; BOMC main selection; QPBC selection; first serial to Esquire.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Did Lee Harvey Oswald act alone in assassinating President John F. Kennedy? In his ninth novel, American Book Award winner DeLillo (for White Noise , LJ 2/1/85) addresses this question, skillfully weaving together fact and fiction to create an engrossing tale. It is a measure of his success that while reading, one must keep reminding oneself that this is, indeed, a novel making "no claim to literal truth." DeLillo's vision is not of a single, perfectly working scheme but rather of "a rambling affair that succeeded in short term mainly due to chance." The cast, both real and fictional, ranges from scheming CIA agents to Mafia dons, but what haunts the reader most is the image of Oswald as a confused young man searching for an identity and accidentally caught up in something bigger than himself. Sure to be a best seller. David W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersburg, Fla.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Contemporary American Fiction
  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reissue edition (May 1, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140156046
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140156041
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (115 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #64,323 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
In the very first chapter of this profoundly provocative novel, we take a ride in a speeding New York City subway with a truant Lee Harvey Oswald. As the young Oswald stares out the front window, little does he realize how much the rest of his life would be just like this: being carried away by a powerful machine and only catching flickering glances of the things and people along the way. Released very close to the 25th anniversary of JFK's assassination, LIBRA does not attempt to seriously propose a conspiracy theory. What he does do is take some of the facts, some of the tempting coincidences, and several of the possible scenarios, and create a labyrinth of intrigue and a world filled with shadows within shadows. This is a creepy book that haunts you, to use a tired cliche but I can't think of how else to put it. (Apparently the assassination is a favorite topic for DeLillo, as the Zapruder film and discussions about JFK conspiracies reappear in DeLillo's later book, UNDERWORLD.) Underneath it all is a dark struggle between what is planned and what occurs: strategy versus chance, conspiracy versus spontaneity, the best laid plans... etc. In LIBRA, the scales tip one way then the other and, yet, the result is the inevitable tragedy of November 22, 1963. This is what historical fiction should be.
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Format: Paperback
On the surface Libra is a novel about the history of the assassination of President John Kennedy and an insightful narrative about the man who is said to have pulled the trigger: Lee Harvey Oswald. But as with all such histories, the seemingly clear surfaces merely reflects the latest scriblings on what is really a deeply inscribed palimpist of human chronicle. Based on years of painstaking research and written from the perspective of a CIA historian assigned to produce a complete and secret history of the event, Don Delillo presents an intimate look at the man who has since become the symbol for America's shattered dreams and the subject of countless conspiracy theory scenarios. In so doing Delillo produces an image of Oswald that attempts to transcend the simplistic tropes to which he has been so often cast and, instead, represent Oswald as he really was: a lonely, impressionable, self-contradictory young man with a identity fractured by modernity.
In Libra, Oswald is not only the small meek looking man gunned down by Jack Ruby as a stunned nation was instantaneously transformed into subjects of the media panopticon, but also a dedicated Marxist, a US Marine, a husband, father and son. Thus, he gets what most assassins do not: a human face, if not a multitude of them. As the story progresses, Oswald's multiplicitous character is transformed and molded from "mere pocket litter", a "cardboard cutout" into a ready-made villain of a fading American ideal. How this transformation is accomplished, rather than the result of Oswald's actions, is really what Delillo is trying to fide an answer for. Whether or not he succeeds in discovering this depends upon the value that is given to history in modern society, and the implicit logic that this type of epistemological inquiry anticipates.
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Format: Paperback
DeLillo's Libra is a fascinating read, not only because its topic is one of America's most traumatizing events in recent history--not the assassination of president Kennedy is the point of interest in the book--but the question: What made this event so terrifying, why had it such an impact?
In answering this question DeLillo leaves out the obvious reasons: JFK's popularity and people's hopes connected with his politics. Instead, he puts the focus on a more profound problem: With the assassination of JFK the American people were woken up from their dream of security and regularity. A conclusive explanation of the how and why of the event could have put them back to sleep. Such an explanation is not available though. It is just not the way history works, and DeLillo skillfully shows exactly that in his book. He depicts a conspiracy that gets out of hand and Oswald as a manipulated and constructed individual.
Presenting his version of the events, DeLillo at the same time questions its validity. Reading his novel we become aware of the impossibility of drawing the right conclusions of the mass of hard facts and vague hints--the infinite possibilities of what can be held for the truth. Therefore, any historical account can only be a possible version of the real. In so far, DeLillo's Libra places itself somewhere between fiction and history.
Libra is a novel that deserves every attention.
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For me, what makes this book so great is not the light it may or may not shed on history; it is Mr. DeLillo's virtuosic prose and the singularly mesmerizing narrative voice produced by that prose.

As far as I can judge, DeLillo first achieved this degree of clarity and force with 'The Names,' his sixth (seventh?) novel, and he's continued to refine and improve it ever since. Reading to oneself is a special and private act; DeLillo engages and penetrates this privacy the way few novelists known to me have approached. He expresses a fearless grasp of human nature with language so wondrously charged with poetic energy that the act of reading it is like somehow experiencing fine music through print. This quality pervades his later novels and at least surfaces in all of them, and is the main reason I like DeLillo (not the JFK conspiracy junk that is 'Libra's' narrative pretext).

Critics have pointed out, with some justification, that DeLillo's characters are too often like one another. These objectors should be delighted with 'Libra'; the characters are distinct and superbly actualized: Boy Oswald, Win Everett, Jack Ruby, and Marguerite Oswald are all really amazing.
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