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on July 5, 2013
Some fiction fans don't like "The Dissertation." Typically, they are the ones who tell me that they NEVER read footnotes. But you have to read the footnotes in Koster's "Dissertation" or you don't get the treat. If you've ever been to graduate school, you simply have to read this book. I'm 64 years old, been a bookworm all of my life. This is the finest, most brilliantly imagined, best executed, most entertaining, exciting and uproariously funny novel I have ever read. What else can I say: Wow? Read "The Dissertation." You will never be sorry.
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on June 8, 2010
Superb writing, great wit, a joy to read. Buying copies for two friends with long academic careers -- one of whom is a Latin American -- who will be able to appreciate this book as much or more than I have myself!
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on July 19, 2012
"The Dissertation" is the most imaginative, well-written, entertaining and audacious dissertation ever written! It is the history of Leon Fuertes (as researched and written by his scholar/son Carlos Fuertes) whose personal destiny is interwoven with that of the (imagined) Central American nation of Tinieblas. Fuertes rises from the slums of a Panama-like city to accomplish great things in sports, entertainment and scholarship while still a young man. A love affair gone wrong throws him off-kilter and out into the great world of New York City and Europe. World War II rescues him from degradation and sets him on a return path to his native Tinieblas and eventual presidency of the country. But that's enough plot for now; Koster hits upon a wonderfully ingenious way for son Carlos to find out all about his father's amazing life (I won't give it away). Koster is operating at a very high level in this novel, writing with great vivacity, wit and style; you can't go wrong with this underappreciated classic.
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on July 20, 1997
Koster conjures up a Latin American nation with larger than life heroes - and villains - whose lives (and the central character has many "lives") can and will transmogrify at the whims of nature and fate.

The story is told in the form of a PhD dissertation (addressed to Drs. Lillywhite and Grimes of Sunburst University in a mythical place called Florida) and parodies the academic form and format hilariously.

The "text" is a Grand Epic history of the Central American nation of Tinieblas and his family's place in it's story. The "footnotes" expose not only the fevered candidate's unconventional method of collecting original sources (he interviews many of the makers of his nation's history from their current homes in the afterlife) but reveals his slow emotional unraveling into a less-than-delicate madness driven by the stresses and excesses of the academic life.

"The Dissertation" is a Llossa, Marquez or Allende tale told in episodes recalled after (either)

- guzzling a pitcher of martinis,

- dropping acid, or

- gulping helium.

But in addition to a finely tuned sense of the absurd, Koster writes a dead-on-the-level adventure tale.

The episode in which he sends central character, Leon Fuertes, through the WWII battle of Monte Cassino is every bit as gripping a story as any James Jones might have written.

This cult classic deserves wider reading. It's as much fun to read as "My Search for Warren G. Harding," "A Confederacy of Dunces," or the "Flashman" adventures from the fertile mind of George MacDonald Fraser - and especially recommended for fans of Latin American fiction who feel that the conventions of the genre could use a satirical tweak or two, or anyone who has experienced the innate absurdities that too frequently accompany the pursuit of a graduate degree.

Buy it. Read it. Send a letter to Bob Koster about how much you enjoyed it.
Maybe he'll write us another one this good.
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on March 20, 2000
If there's one thing I learned in graduate school, it's that the meat of a document can be found in the footnotes. Koster has brilliantly chosen to thread two stories--one contemporary, one historical--in entirely separate literary styles. Leon Fuertes' meteoric rise from abject humiliation to the pinnacle of power is followed in the main text, while the narrator's own tragic struggle with maritial infidelity and insanity(?) are detailed in the footnotes. By the end of the book, I had almost concluded that there was nothing left to experience that Leon Fuertes had not experienced. It's not often that you see such a sweeping expose on the human condition condensed into a single novel. As an aside, I found myself unable to resist the temptation of reading ahead to the next footnote. Perhaps the editor should have reconsidered lumping the narrative of the footnotes into a single appendix of endnotes. In any case, this novel was profoundly entertaining (I laughed out loud every fourth page or so--did Walt Disney really design the lobby of the afterlife?). Of the Tinieblas Trilogy, this is his masterpiece. Clever narrative techniques like this can only be used once, and Koster has unwittingly monopolized it for all eternity. Find this book, buy it, read it and store it in a vault. It's priceless.
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on March 20, 2000
If there's one thing I learned in graduate school, it's that the meat of a document can be found in the footnotes. Koster has brilliantly chosen to thread two stories--one contemporary, one historical--in entirely separate literary styles. Leon Fuertes' meteoric rise from abject humiliation to the pinnacle of power is followed in the main text, while the narrator's own tragic struggle with maritial infidelity and insanity(?) are detailed in the footnotes. By the end of the book, I had almost concluded that there was nothing left to experience that Leon Fuertes had not experienced. It's not often that you see such a sweeping expose on the human condition condensed into a single novel. As an aside, I found myself unable to resist the temptation of reading ahead to the next footnote. Perhaps the editor should have reconsidered lumping the narrative of the footnotes into a single appendix of endnotes. In any case, this novel was profoundly entertaining (I laughed out loud ever fourth page or so--did Walt Disney really design the lobby of the afterlife?). Of the Tinieblas Trilogy, this is his masterpiece. Clever narrative techniques like this can only be used once, and Koster has unwittingly monopolized it for all eternity. Find this book, buy it, read it and store it in a vault. It's priceless.
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on February 14, 2000
It's a crime and a shame that the works of R.M. Koster are out of print, especially the masterful "The Dissertation." (I picked up a three-book set of Koster's works at a remainder sale in Washington D.C. for a dollar.)
Both a parody of and a tribute to the magical realism of Garcia Marquez, "The Dissertation" is the meat of Koster's Tinieblas trilogy. Although each of the three contains abundant wit and wisdom, "The Dissertation" is a supreme joy to read, mountainous footnotes and all.
But if you look beyond the parody, you'll see a classically structured tale of fall and redemption, a light treatise on the state of Latin American politics, and a commentary on the state of Academe.
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