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Mao II: A Novel Paperback – May 1, 1992

3.7 out of 5 stars 63 customer reviews

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Amazon.com Review

Don DeLillo's follow-up to Libra, his brilliant fictionalization of the Kennedy assassination, Mao II is a series of elusive set-pieces built around the themes of mass psychology, individualism vs. the mob, the power of imagery and the search for meaning in a blasted, post-modern world. Bill Gray, the world's most famous reclusive novelist, has been working for many years on a stalled masterpiece when he gets the chance to aid a hostage trapped in a basement in war-torn Beirut. Gray sets out on a doomed, quixotic journey, and his disappearance disrupts the cloistered lives of his obsessed assistant and the assistant's companion, a former Moonie who has also become Bill's lover. This haunting, masterful novel won the PEN/Faulkner Award in 1992.

From Publishers Weekly

This tale of a reclusive novelist drawn back into the world by acts of terrorism reconfirms DeLillo's status as a modern master and literary provocateur.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (May 1, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140152741
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140152746
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.7 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #63,451 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By Lambert J. Mathieu on June 14, 2005
Format: Paperback
Mao II is a masterpiece of contemporary fiction. In Delillo's canon, I rate it better than White Noise and on par with his massive opus, Underworld. Despite Mao II's relative brevity, the denseness of ideas contained within are staggering. This was easily one of the best books of the 1990's, if not the last quarter century. Right up there with Mason & Dixon, American Pastoral, and a few select other masterworks.

While the novel is composed of characters who appear, for the most part, throughout the story, the book is structured more as a series of vingettes. Delillo deals with many themes, but the primary one, I think, is the struggle between the individual and the 'masses' in contemporary society. In this regard, he traverses the same terrain as Marcuse in "One Dimensional Man" and Canetti in "The Power of Crowds". And, he does it on a global scale: touching upon everything from a Moonie wedding, to the rise of the Ayatollah in Iran, Chairman Mao in China, and of course, contemporary American society.

Other themes are: the power of images, terrorism and the narrative power of terrorists (this is 9 years before 9/11), the role of the artist (writer, photographer, etc), true belief, teachers and apprentices, and censorship, state and otherwise. All this woven together concisely with his meticulously sculpted sentences. I often pick up this book and randomly re-read various chapters; in this fashion, I've probably read the entire book 5 times.

Lastly, I've debated with friends whether Delillo's vision in Mao II is a bleak one or a hopeful one. Like the old "Lady and the Tiger" fable, it probably comes down to who you are more than any clear answer from him.
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This is a younger, cooler DeLillo than his more recent work. Personally I think it is his best book. It is in my mind the most creative of his work. It is incredible to see such a unique approach to writing. It is like reading a poem with its lyrical riffs but it has a plot that matters.
The weakest facet of the book is that the dialogue often sounds false. Hearing DeLillo characters speak to each other is like listening to jazz -- not about exploring the realistic mind but the deeper surrealistic mind. These characters are bigger than reality. These particular people in this book have a charm that I don't think DeLillo ever again captured. This book is beautiful and about something that actually matters. While Creative Writing degrees muddle the pool of talent in much the same way that expansion teams in baseball lessened the overall talent on each MLB team, writing about something that matters to the world is quite an act of courage. It is wonderful to see a book that creates its own artistic terms and abides by them while sizzling the senses with creativity and wit. Also, what is superior about this book -- if you are considering which DeLillo book to read -- is that it is not that long. It is as self-indulgent as Underworld in style but it is more tightly woven and thus, in my opinion, a much better book. Simply, it is a quicker read.
At this time in our history this book is useful to understand the emotional side to terror, the conformist mind, power, politics and self-respect. DeLillo was way ahead of his time this way.
While many Americans blindly support the war on terror you have a thoughtful analysis of why terror exists at all, written way before Bin Laden turned against the US.
Mao II is a great introduction to DeLillo.
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Format: Paperback
The felt power of DeLillo's prose, the bass of the storm, the intensely concentrated recognition-scenes in the corridors of Third World terror, the null domains of Manhattan and Beirut, two cities ravaged by their own modes of iniquity, blight, and cultural devastation, from the faux-iconic pop-artifacts of Warhol's Factory to the scorched earth policies of Middle East cabals. *Mao II* has, strangely, been shuffled aside in the DeLillo corpus, treated as an aberration, a minor work, an off-day, an ill-advised experiment. As in *The Body Artist*, the author seems especially to have written it for himself -- like his writer-surrogate Bill Gray, aloof in his tightly-caulked safehouse, gnarled, diehard, a true artist experimenting till the end, perceiving it all anew.
And DeLillo is an expert spectator. He knows how to jumpstart the reader's eye with each sentence, record the synaptic dissonance of individuals at the edge of disquiet, in transitory spaces, in windows of departure, like a snooping harrier throwing its falcon-shadow onto the tower block, a soul built and weathered by the preceding century.
And let's face it, *Mao II* is strange territory. The author is pushing hard to bridge the nighted gulf of Third World angst, analyze and dissolve the force-fed media fictions, the sound-bites and simulations, the BBC monotone, the petty moralizing. But throughout, his troubled and troubling characters hold it all together, headstrong, witty, brilliantly in thrall to the chemical lift of DeLillo's lyrical drug (the first 15 pages of this novel, describing a young woman's sojourn into the Sun Moon cult and her subsequent de-programming, is perhaps my favorite of all this author's writing).
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