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Names Unknown Binding – 1982

3.7 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Unknown Binding
  • Publisher: Knopf (1982)
  • ASIN: B003L1SN5Y
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jon G. Jackson on July 22, 2001
Format: Paperback
First, let me ask you...how many languages do you speak? That question will take on a whole new meaning once you've read this book. The story (and there *is* one) centers around a group of American and British expatriates living and working in Greece (where DeLillo lived for a while before writing this novel). It was the last of his early novels...meaning the next one was WHITE NOISE, at which point DeLillo started to become famous. Yet, THE NAMES still remains one of my favorites. Yes, it was followed by three truly *excellent* novels (WHITE NOISE, LIBRA, and MAO II), and (after several years) by an undisputedly GREAT novel (UNDERWORLD). But, here we have DeLillo still paying his dues...and paying them remarkably well, too. In this one, he finally brought together the various disparate themes of his earlier works, and he solidified his "outsider in society" motif. It was the first of DeLillo's novels I read, and it made me an instant devotee.
So...how many languages do you speak? These expatriates I mentioned come in contact with a bizarre language cult which is responsible for a series of ritual murders in the area. Our "hero" is James Axton, a "risk analyst" who isn't exactly sure himself just who he's working for (i.e., business insurance...or CIA?). In fact, he's pretty much detached from most things in his life...his ex-marriage, his friends, Greece itself, the cult (when he finally meets them)...you name it. The Outsider. Wishing he could be part of something...never able to get past the *analysis* of risk. His inaction leads to serious consequences.
As always, DeLillo's intense use of language ultimately leads to something nonverbal.
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Format: Paperback
The Names was the book that gave rise to Delillo's progressive fame and is probably one of Delilo's finest and most unique books. While the majority of his novels are set in America, this one is set in the exotic premise of Greece and India, with referrals to the Middle East. This proves to be a very absorbing diversion. Overflowing with superbly crafted characters and a solidly structured plot scattered with witty and sharp insightful observations and possessing an almost irresistible writing-style, The Names deserved to be a best seller when it was released.

The novel concerns Americans living abroad, America the Myth as perceived by the rest of the world, a series of chillingly brutal cult-murders, the elusive and haunting cult itself and the concept of separation from family and on-going conflict between modern day couples. The alphabet and the metamorphosis between converging languages is also an essential component in this novel. Gripping as well is the weighty yet expertly condensed history that makes appearances. James the protagonist is a risk analyst, separated from his wife, Kathryn, who digs at archaeological sites. Their son, Tap, writes novels. Stop there. I will not give away any more about the characters involved.

These aspects provide intriguing reading material and Delillo fans will not be disappointed. For newcomers to Delillo, The Names is also a good introduction.

Perhaps what is most worthy of praise is that the prose is incandescently ingenious and profound and that this novel highlights Delillo's ability to create multitudes of characters that possess very well formed individual identities. The dialogue is also thought-provocative, believable and occasionally startling.
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I admit: I've never given much consideration to cults. To me, cults are simply weird and their allure is inexplicable. Indeed, cults have a presence in my imagination not unlike, say, sophisticated baseball statistics, which bring complex analysis to what is probably evident in simpler patterns.

I mention cults because they are at the very center of THE NAMES. In this intriguing but fraught novel, you will find cultish behavior by American businesspeople that live overseas. You will find anti-American political operatives, whose obsessiveness and secretiveness border on the cultish. And you will find one true cult, the marginal and murderous Ta Onὀmata, which means THE NAMES in Greek. Cults... this is a book about cults and their hold on certain imaginations.

I'd say DeLillo explores this cultish theme primarily through three characters. The first is James Axton, who narrates most of the book. "Something in our method finds a home in your unconscious mind," explains Andahl, a renegade member of Ta Onὀmata, to James. "A recognition. This curious recognition is not subject to conscious scrutiny. Our program evokes something that you seem to understand and find familiar...We are working at a pre-verbal level."

The second character offering perspective on cults is Frank Volterra, a film maker who thinks Ta Onὀmata would provide a riveting subject for a film. Frank, in disputation with James, says Ta Onὀmata is different from the Manson family, who murdered only to murder. "Totally different. Different in every respect. These people are monks, they're secular monks. They want to vault into eternity."

Finally, DeLillo creates Owen Brademas, a brilliant talker and archeologist. Initially, his take on the cult is: "They are engaged in a painstaking denial.
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