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Showing 1-10 of 231 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 347 reviews
on January 9, 2014
I picked up The Flamethrowers after seeing it named one of the NY Times 10 Best Books of 2013. How can you not pick it up after that sort of recognition. Ironically, I have Telex From Cuba on my "to read" pile in my apartment as well but haven't gotten around to it. I enjoyed The Flamethrowers--her writing is beautiful. It is jarring in places. Sensual in others. But the book itself was slow going and I can't say I enjoyed the storyline itself. The central figure in the story is Reno--a young woman named after the city she was born in. She migrates to New York and falls in with a artsy crowd who sleep around, have different perspectives on life, and who generally live in the fast lane. This is great for Reno at first because as a motorcycle speedy rider she loves speed and danger. The story centers around Reno's dalliance and relationship with the Valera family. We go back in time to see how they manufactured motorcycles, served in the army, and made tons of money in rubber and tires while beating back insurgencies from Indian workers. Remo eventually befriends Sandro Valera who is much older and eventually breaks her heart leading Reno to hit the road again in NY to take up with an insurgent crowd. I didn't love this book. I found it very hard to follow and despite the beautiful language and writing, the story didn't do anything for me at all. I can't recommend it highly although I am sure tons of people will keep reading it.
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on January 13, 2016
It is impossible to read either The Flamethrowers or Telex from Cuba, Rachel Kushner's first novel, and not notice the unique, brilliant and at times almost poetic descriptive prose that helps set her writing apart. The images Kushner conjures up with her prose are far more vivid than any photos could ever be, often giving the reader the feeling that they have stepped inside the story. She is able to do this by being a great writer, by noticing everything - nothing escapes her gaze - and by writing about what she knows and what she loves, or at least enjoys. And Kushner always writes as though she's been around the block. Several times, in fact.

While her brilliant prose steals the show, Kushner has other arrows in her quiver, however; the main characters are well drawn and believable, and the story lines of her historical fiction are always interesting, often compelling, and sometimes humorous. Reno, the female protagonist in The Flamethrowers, seems to go through life letting life happen to her, rather than orchestrating or seizing it. Somehow, despite her passivity, she manages to be an interesting character herself, in part because she often finds herself in the middle of some rather significant events, and is generally surrounded by fascinating characters who are active participants in their own lives. It's almost as though Reno is the lead character in The Perils of Pauline, waltzing through all kinds of chaos and calamity occurring around her, only to emerge mostly unscathed from it all. Reno rides a motorcycle, but the characters she latches onto - including a somewhat shady lover who seems to drift into and out of her life - are what propel her along.

The novel - a sort of historical fiction based loosely on some disparate actual events - moves through various locations and periods that somehow become interwoven into whole cloth by the novel's end. The reader time-travels from a brief, long-ago, far-away war scene to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, and then to the New York art scene of the mid-1970s, where she meets the younger son of an Italian motorcycle manufacturer. They become lovers. From there, she goes back to Bonneville for a land speed record attempt. Don't depart yet; the journey has just begun. You're about to travel to the motorcycle factory in Italy, and then back in time to a Brazilian rubber plantation that furnishes some of the raw material used in making tires, and then back to Italy, before going back in time again. A revolt breaks out in Italy, and after getting caught up in the revolt and hanging out with some activists trying to avoid the police, Reno makes her way out of the country, eventually ending up back in New York, sadder but wiser than when she left. Somehow, it all works, with that brilliant descriptive prose painting a vivid, often gritty picture throughout. Bravo.
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on January 27, 2016
Kushner is a good writer. I lived in NYC in the 70s and she captures the time beautifully. The part of the book that takes place in Italy seems a little over wrought. The internet (easy access to all kinds of historical information) permeates a lot of contemporary fiction, especially books written by authors under 40. And while historical details are interesting (the events unfolding in Italy in the 70s etc) they shouldn't take the place of plot and character. Maybe contemporary readers are too lazy to read about history in history books and so feel they are learning something when fiction writers incorporate real historical events into their novels. Kushner seems to have fallen into that trap. I'll look forward to her next book.
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VINE VOICEon November 2, 2016
Reno drifts to New York as she drifts through every phase of her life. She loves speed and has, in her short life, been a competition skier and a motorcycle rider pushing the limit of speed. She even has the world speed record in a car on the Bonneville Salt Flats. Yet that speed and the focus needed for racing seems nonexistent in her daily life. She knows no one in New York City and has a few ideas to express her artistic vision, but really, that vision is still undefined.

Somehow, she falls in with a crowd of successful artists, artists who are currently on the cutting edge of the art scene. Her lover, Sandro Valera, is the son of an immensely rich Italian family whose money comes from tires and rubber, their trademark the motorcycles that Reno loves. Her best friend is working as a waitress as a life performance piece but now seems stuck in that life. Ronnie, who is also Sandro's best friend, comes from the same impoverished background as Reno. She, Sandro and Ronnie have a strange triad relationship.

In the background, rebellion is rising, both in the art world and worldwide. Students are rising as are workers. When Sandro and Reno go to Italy to visit his family, Reno is given an eye-opening look at what Sandro's life really is. She drifts into the Italian student radical life for a while then eventually moves back to New York.

This book received a lot of praise. It was a finalist for the 2013 National Book Award, a Top Ten book of The New York Times Book Review, and a Time magazine top ten book of the year. Kushner's writing is lyrical, the descriptions instantly transporting the reader into various settings where they can feel the speed of a racing motorcycle, the emptiness of an opening art galley, the frustration and infighting of a radical movement. She captures the feeling of a young person floating through various environments as they search to determine their own identity. This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.
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on January 22, 2014
I suspect that many people did or will pick up this book for the same reason that I did: because it topped so many respectable “best of” lists in 2013. Did “The Flamethrowers” deserve the accolades? Well, I have mixed views about that.

As reviewer Lauren Groff succinctly puts it, “The Flamethrowers” is “a love story, about a young artist under the sway of an older, established artist, scion of a motorcycle family, who betrays her, and she joins up with an underground group in Italy.” That really sums it up. Does that little plot summary grab you? It didn’t immediately grab me either, but I thought: let’s find out what all of the fuss is about.

I suppose I could best describe this book as “literary.” And whenever I hear that from other reviewers, I often translate it to mean “don’t expect easily recognized plot structure” or “brace yourself for a rambling expanse of words that may or may not add up to anything.” I’m happy to report that Flamethrowers does have a plot and it’s fairly clear. it just doesn’t add up to a whole lot.

Rachel Kushner is a wizardess of words, she really is. Her writing style is lovely and sweet to savor in the way that well prepared food is; it feels nourishing to the brain and the imagination. It’s just enjoyable to devour. However--and here’s the big “but”--I simply feel that she needed a better storyline to hang her efforts on. As the saying goes, “there’s not a lot of there there.” For me, it was one of those books that makes you say “that’s it?”.
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on April 28, 2015
A good read with fine description of of set scenarios,like the salt flats speed attempts and the Italian bellaggio villa section,and the Rome anarchists.However I found the book too long winded with too much navel gazing for long strung out sections in New York.
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on June 8, 2013
There's no question Kushner can really write -- this is a serious talent, and
just witnessing her sketches of the Great Salt Lake, the New York downtown
art scene in the 1970's, and part of the evolution of the Italian motorcycle is a
very fine reading experience.

For a complete novel, however, I found the absence of sympathetic
characters and interesting, strong character inter-dynamics left me
felling short-changed. This is an author who can do a lot more with her
innate talent. I found the dreariness of the dinners with unattractive
humans to be draining and frustrating.

I also felt Kushner failed to explore the most interesting character
encountered by her protagonist -- a shrewd, committed Italian
revolutionary -- as if not looking deeper were in some way satisfying
to the author, but definitely not to the reader.

So, I'm glad I discovered Kushner, but I fervently hope she will put more
soul -- and take more risk as an author in investing more in her characters --
than she has done in 'Flamethrowers.'

Mitchell
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on April 26, 2014
This novel is very well written, quite original, has an interesting plot that held my interest, and great main character (I'm always happy to find interesting young women characters these day, who have interesting, adventurous lives, and are interested in more that just falling in love!), and is so well written that it's a pleasure to read. Very intelligent, interesting characters, who drew me in and made me care about what happened to them. I was also quite impressed with the portrayal of the 1970s art "scene" in New York, because I was there and remember it very well, and this writer gets it so well -- it really made me remember the atmosphere of those times, the air of experimentation and the way it seemed that anything was possible on any given day. Life was still full of surprises. It's a pleasure to read something that not only has an involving, interesting story, but is beautifully written. The author takes risks, in her novelistic choices, which means that not every part of the book was equally exciting. But I respected her very much -- she takes the reader on an interesting, unusual "journey." There are few, if any, cliches here. And the main character is complex, original, makes you care about what might happen to her. It's great to read about the adventures of a strong, brave, smart, young woman who also makes mistakes and then is able to learn from them. Very impressive.
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on June 23, 2014
This is an incredible book. Kushner is the kind of writer that makes other writers (like me) jealous. The book is just beautifully written, characters perfectly realized, setting (1970s New York art scene and Italy, both establishment and radical) rendered authentic and interesting, terrific pacing and plot. Not a false note throughout. The protagonist is a wonderful creation -- a woman who prefers to observe surrounded by people who prefer to speak. Yet of course this is her story, rendered in her voice, and she gets the last word, which signals where things are headed, I suppose, since she is the youngest main character in the book, and she is right on the brink of the gender revolution. Some of the side tours are a little off, like the Motherf***ckers and the waitress who lives her life as if she is in a play but they serve Kushner's purpose, I think, by demonstrating the extremes of the times (sexism, anarchy, artifice). Anyway, instead of yammering away, in the spirit of the book, I will hand you over to Kushner and Reno so they can tell their story themselves. Highly highly recommended. On a par with The Goldfinch, if not better (although The Goldfinch is wonderful too).
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on January 7, 2016
I started this book a few times, and could never get past he first few pages. I finally forced myself to stick with it, and I am so glad I did. The book starts slowly, with an account of a soldier during World War I. This beginning is necessary to establish one of the two main threads of the book, which is the development of an Italian motorcycle by an aristocratic Italian family. The heirs of this family, one in particular, become one of the major story lines in the book. The other main thread is the story of a girl from Reno who rides motorcycles, specifically one made by the Italian family's company, and her journey to New York and Italy. There is also her involvement with the anarchist groups on the Lower East Side of NYC during the seventies, as well as the Red Brigade in Italy during the same time period. The lives of this girl and the heir to the motorcycle empire intertwine in fascinating ways, and that makes for an engaging, entertaining read.
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