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Memoir from Antproof Case Hardcover – April, 1995

4.1 out of 5 stars 91 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

His usual mixture of flamboyant fantasy and concrete detail animates Helprin's (Soldier of the Great War) latest work, a tour de force that combines adventure, romance and an overview of the 20th century into a bittersweet narrative. This "memoir" is being composed in humid, insect-ridden Brazil, and its pages are preserved in an antproof case. How the elderly narrator ended up there after his birth in New York's Hudson Valley, an adolescence in a Swiss lunatic asylum (he killed a man and was deemed insane), college at Harvard, a perilous stint as a fighter pilot in WWII, a career as an investment banker in Manhattan and other eventful episodes, is the burden of the convoluted, intriguing story. It's an old man's tale, plangent with remorse and regret, yet vibrant with robust memories of sexual and aerial escapades. It's also somewhat farfetched, since the narrator has waged a lifelong, maniacal crusade against coffee, an obsession whose origin is only revealed in the novel's affecting last pages. Never one to tell a lean story, Helprin indulges in dozens of riffs and digressions exploring the principles of physics, anatomy, education, morality, monetary theory, aeronautics, engineering and many other subjects. Some of these descriptions are little short of gorgeous; others are tedious. Similarly, Helprin's witty, ironic humor sometimes veers into farce (e.g., a banquet scene where bank officers are served steak and the narrator, in disgrace, must eat a turkey anus). To his credit, Helprin is endlessly inventive, and one expects his characters to behave as they do in fairy tales and fables, not in real life. Yet real life pulses so strongly in some scenes (especially the account of the events surrounding the death of the narrator's parents) that they could stand as set pieces, full and complete in their stark and immediate impact. For all of its excesses, there is enough magic in this story to keep readers actively engaged. Major ad/promo; author tour.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

An old man climbs hills to find solace in viewing the ocean and to write a memoir for his young son (which he stores in an "antproof case"). His story moves forward in jagged fragments, with memories leading to memories-not sequentially, but leapfrogging through a dramatic life as World War II ace, investment banker, murderer, and more and looping back upon one another. As in a portrait by Picasso, the truth of his life is revealed through wildly distorted features. Helprin (A Soldier of the Great War, LJ 4/15/91) returns to his themes of love and redemptio, once again creating a tale that is rich in imagery and juxtaposes the irreverence and faith, foolishness and brilliance, of a 20th-century Don Quixote. Highly recommended.
--Jan Blodgett, Davidson Coll., Davidson, N.C.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 514 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt Brace; 1st edition (April 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151000972
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151000975
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (91 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #981,943 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Christopher P. Dunn on November 21, 1999
Format: Paperback
I have been prodded and cajoled into reading this book. And like many other things in life that I now appreciate, why did I wait so long? This is a poignant, hilarious, and deep novel. Yes, the reader must let go of reality and suspend belief, but what a sense of wonder I felt as I let Helprin's prose ferry me from sense to nonsense, from heaven to hell, and from love to bitterness. Our "hero" is as complicated and contradictory as are we all and serves as an ingenious metaphor of our times (greed, selfishness, humanity). Helprin's observations on money and wealth ("use it to increase vitality, not to lean on") are serious social criticism and his humor is ingenious.
Those readers who do understand and appreciate this book will also love Graham Greene's "Monsignor Quixote" and Kiran Desai's lovely "Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard."
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A Kid's Review on December 30, 2005
Format: Paperback
I'd like those of you who criticized this novel to give Memoir from Antproof Case a second try. In my high school junior

English class, we have to read 2,000 pages by one author and write a literary criticism/analysis on each novel that we read, as well as a persuasive paper and a comparitive analysis, and finally a 25 page thesis. I chose Mark Helprin.

So far I have read three of his novels, and I find his idealistic, romantic, pure outlooks on the human soul and his frustration at the fact that the world is corrupt (yet full of innocent hopefuls who will never be able to change the world as a whole, no matter how hard they try) truly compelling. This novel is not my favorite novel by him, however - if you would

like to give him a second try, as I recommend, I would suggest that you read Freddy and Fredericka. It is his latest novel, published just 5 months ago, and is an anachronism on British monarchy and American government. Unlike his other novels, the entire thing has an underlying thread of immensely fun humor, as well as conveying his well-loved theme of innocence, purity,

and a hatred of corruption. My copy is a well-dog-eared book, and I think you should give it a try.

Thank you so much for your time.
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Format: Paperback
Unlike the elegiac Winter's Tale (which no one should miss)and the memorable Soldier of the Great War, this book will have you laughing out loud. If you have any coffee addicted friends, you should pass this along to them immediately. Helprin is one of the truly great writers of our time and this book showcases his powers in a more comical light than his other books. Still, he manages to be profound and compelling. Parts of this book are reminscent of scenes from 100 years of Solitude. Not surprising since Helprin uses a kind of magic realism too (but his own brand) in many of his works.
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Format: Paperback
Helprin starts by recalling Melville, "Call me Oscar Progresso..." and then lets us know we are in for a wild ride, "Or, for that matter, call me anything you want, as Oscar Progresso is not my real name.Nor are Baby Supine, Euclid Cherry, Franklyn Nuts, or any of the other aliases that, now and then over the years, I have been foced to adopt". In a book with flights of fancy that soar every bit as high as those in the bestselling "Winter's Tale", but infinitely funnier and less grandiose, Helprin charts a course few writers dare.
Giving away the story is betrayal to the reader, so suffice it to say that Helprin's newest hero is defined by his hatred for the "evil bean that enslaves half the world", coffee. His life struggles put him in harms way and at the top of the world. He knows riches and love, he knows betrayal and poverty. I laughed out loud continuously while reading our hero's
description of his fall from corporate grace, defined by the ever changing quality of the art hanging in his office. Helprin has always been a comic writer, his "serious" works had a deftly comic touch, but this is his first work of pure comedy, and of course as all of Helprin's books are, it is a morality play of sorts and an exploration of life's abusrdities.
But don't let that thought deter you, this a funny, brilliant, eccentric, even dazzling book. Read Antproof Case and let this extravagantly gifted author take you where he will.
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Format: Paperback
Just reread the book, and I stand by what I wrote 8 years ago. Kosher turkey anus is still hilarious:
There ought to be a law against books this pleasurable--gusts of luminous description, earthy humor, and thrilling adventure physically restrained me from letting it leave my hands until I'd finished. A goofy American magic realist, Helprin shares Garcia Marquez's compassion and Rushdie's love of endless story. (Also, this forces fewer of his Republican interjections on you: he wrote Dole's goodbye-to-the-Senate speech.) Our hero, who may be named Oscar Progresso and then again may not be, gets blown out of airplanes twice, kills two men (both of whom richly deserve it), robs a bank, battles to the death with Walloons, has sex in a steamy pizza parlor, and wages a lifelong battle against coffee, the scourge of humanity. In a passage that had me laughing for several days, he is forced to eat kosher turkey anus at a company dinner. Later, he develops a taste for it. As soon as the book ended I wanted to start it again.
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