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Oswald's Tale: An American Mystery Paperback – June 25, 1996

4.0 out of 5 stars 58 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Mailer opines that Lee Harvey Oswald was a sincere Marxist, a nihilist and an inveterate liar who was motivated to assassinate John F. Kennedy in order to shake up the world, to create the conditions for a new kind of society superior to American capitalism or Soviet-style communism. Oswald, he suggests, was quite possibly the lone gunman, or at least may have thought he was?in Mailer's scenario, there may have been other assassins present, unbeknownst to Oswald, conspirators working for some other group. His unconvincing analysis emerges from a labyrinthine pastiche of KGB and FBI transcripts, recorded dialogues, speculations, Oswald's letters and diary excerpts, and government memos. Mailer interviewed Oswald's widow, Marina, and also spent months in Minsk interviewing Oswald's Russian acquaintances and co-workers as well as KGB officers. Pretentiously applying the novelistic techniques used to better effect in The Executioner's Song, Mailer ploddingly recreates Oswald's day-to-day existence in the Soviet Union, then in New Orleans and Dallas in the months leading up to Kennedy's assassination. He hypothesizes that Oswald was a provocateur playing a double-edged game with the U.S. and Russian intelligence communities to further his own self-styled mission. Author tour.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

From Library Journal

Mailer here explores not only the mysteries surrounding the murder of JFK but those involving the personality of the alleged assassin, Oswald. Employing the same technique that was so successful in The Executioner's Song (1979), Mailer arranges a vivid mosaic of hundreds of moments in his subject's life, recalled by scores of people and interspersed with extracts from his diary and from various official documents. In doing so, he gives us the daily textures of Oswald's life as vividly as he did that of Gary Gilmore. This is an impressive artistic achievement that offers irresistable, hypnotic reading. A substantial contribution to Kennedy assassination literature, it is, like Armies of the Night (1968) and The Executioner's Song, an essential book for comprehending American life in the second half of the 20th century.
-?Charles Michaud, Turner Free Lib., Randolph, Mass.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 864 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (June 25, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345404378
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345404374
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #744,143 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on January 14, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Mailer's "non-fiction novel" of Lee Harvey Oswald is stunning, not just for the new information he has uncovered about Oswald's life in Russia between 1959 and 1961, but because Mailer has ordered this information to provide true insight into Oswald's psyche. At nineteen and just out of the Marines when he flew to Moscow, Oswald intended to apply for Soviet citizenship, believing that Marxism was "purer" than capitalism. Remaining in the USSR for two and a half years, he married Marina and fathered a child before becoming disillusioned with his poverty and deciding to return to the US.

In the USSR, Oswald was under constant KGB surveillance, and Mailer's first-ever access to the KGB files and his effective use of them give the reader a sense of who Oswald was between the ages of twenty and twenty-two. All the everyday aspects of his life, his constant fights with Marina (and his eventual physical abuse of her), his belief that he is meant for "high destiny," and his inability to find success and purpose in his Russian life, despite his high ideals, show a young man frustrated in every aspect of life.

Using files from the KGB, Warren Commission, the House Select Committee on Assassinations, and books written about Oswald by Gerald Posner, Priscilla McMillan, Jim Marr, and Carl Oglesby, Mailer presents an astounding amount of historical data. Keeping his prose style journalistic and factual, Mailer uses his talents as a Hollywood script-writer to create dramatic dialogues appropriate to the facts, bringing events to life and making this long novel move quickly.
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Format: Paperback
Mailer is a skilled writer and thanks to him being allowed access to thousands of KGB surveillance files compiled on Lee Oswald he is able to paint an almost human picture of Oswald's time in Russia and one almost forgets the crime he is accused of commiting.
I do believe though that the charting of Oswald's life when he returns to the USA is perhaps tainted by the opinions of people who did not have any respect for him prior to his infamousy and this may be why the book cannot be wholly trusted as a truthful study.
Furthermore, he relies too heavily on the work of Pricilla Johnson, the biographer who had met Oswald in Moscow and became a so-called confidante to Marina Oswald after the assasination, a friendship she exploited to write a best selling story of Marina's time with Oswald.
Clearly, Marina does not know what she believes as over the years her account of life with Oswald has changed as often of as the weather.
Mailer himself does try to keep away from the controversy surrounding Oswald's possible guilt and gives little away as to what his own opinion is in this matter.
For this reason he does redeem the book coming across as a genuine story teller in this regard.
In Mailer's own words the subject remains as great a mystery as it was all those years ago.
Worth buying to read about Oswald's time in Russia.
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This is an interesting take on Oswald, his life and motivations. More engaging than a dry history Mailer brings Oswald to life in a novelistic way. In the end Mailer can't make any conclusive judgment on Oswald or the possibility of conspiracy but he does produce a more three dimensional view of the assassin. Mailer was the first to get access to Oswald's time in Russia where previously had been a vague gray blank in his life. Mailer was allowed to view KGB files on Oswald and talk to anyone still living who had known LHO during his time in the Soviet Union.
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LHO

It is worth to read this book since it helps understand one of the worst moments in the history of the American presidents. It will not solve the mysteries or doubts around the assassination of JFK, but, after reading it, and considering all sources are credible, the book may help you arrive to a conclusion. The journalistic investigation is a solid part of the book and it is reliable since it cites its sources, which are valuable as in the case of the KGB. Will we know everything after reading this book? It's hard to tell.

The life of LHO was short, but he really disturbed governments in his last years of life. With his "all or nothing" attitude and boldness was able to stay in the USSR, after an intent of suicide, and he affected the lives of whoever he spoke to, either in the USA or the USSR.

His life could be compared to other violent and bold men like Hitler and Che Guevara since ideology and violence were behind their actions. But LHO was not in the right place (country) or the right time to enjoy victories, though temporary, the other two mentioned men had. Any good ideological intention gets dissipated by the fact that LHO was abusive with his wife to the point of hurting her.

This book is not a brilliant literary work, but it may help clarify the facts surrounding JFK assassination. From what I read in the book, the conspiracy theory is weak, everything points to this unbalanced human being. He bought a rifle, he practiced, he tried to kill another man and he had motives, which were to go against capitalism, and Kennedy was the symbol and he was a self declared "socialist". Mailer will give you the facts (in depth) and you can be the judge.
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