The Amalgamation Polka

  • by Stephen Wright
  • Narrated by Michael Emerson
  • 11 hrs and 49 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Hailed by the San Francisco Chronicle as "a bright star in the literary sky", Stephen Wright now extends his astonishing accomplishment with a Civil War novel unlike any other.Born in 1844 in bucolic upstate New York, Liberty Fish is the son of fervent abolitionists as well as the grandson of Carolina slaveholders even more dedicated to their cause. Thus follows a childhood limned with fugitive slaves moving through hidden passageways in the house, his Uncle Potter's free-soil adventure stories whose remarkable violence sets the tone of the mounting national crisis, and the inevitable distress that befalls his mother whenever letters arrive from her parents, a conflict that ultimately costs her her life and compels Liberty, in hopes of reconciling the familial disunion, to escape first into the cauldron of war and then into a bedlam more disturbing still.
Rich in characters both heartbreaking and bloodcurdling, comic and horrific, The Amalgamation Polka is shot through with politics and dreams, and it captures great swaths of the American experience, from village to metropolis to plantation, from the Erie Canal to the Bahamas, from Bloody Kansas to the fulfillment of the killing fields. Yet for all the brutality and tragedy, this novel is exuberant in the telling and its wide compassion, brimming with the language, manners, hopes, and fears of its time, all of this so transformed by Stephen Wright's imaginative compass that places and events previously familiar are rendered new and strange, terrifying and stirring. Instantly revelatory, constantly mesmerizing, this is the work of a major writer at the top of his form.

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What the Critics Say

"This book, rich in an appropriately fatuous, overblown period style, is the morbidly comic counterpoint to Doctorow's The March." (Publishers Weekly)
"An unusually captivating modernist novel set during the Civil War." (Booklist)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Surprising, Shocking, and Thoughtful

I do not understand why this book has a rating of only 3 stars (at this time). It has so much research and historicity behind it, and its character studies are vivid and lifelike.

Not only is there humor at certain points, there is also shock value galore. Not only is hatred portrayed in all its ugliness, but also love is portrayed.

I have not spent a long time thinking about it, but I have a feeling that Liberty, the main character, also forms a metaphor for America during the Civil War. I would be glad to write a term paper on that topic.

It does have some similar themes to Doctorow's recent book on the Civil War, but there is so much more "meat" here that this book stands on its own.
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- Patrice

Hats off to Messrs Emerson & Wright

If you could sum up The Amalgamation Polka in three words, what would they be?

aural time machine


What did you like best about this story?

The way the narrator brought the characters to life. I loved the use of language and the varied dialects. Just delicious! Every detail seemed realistic and true to life, not at all fabricated or anachronistic like so many historical novels tend to be.


Have you listened to any of Michael Emerson’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

This was the first audiobook I've ever bought based simply on my love of the narrator's voice. From the first chapter I was drawn in to the story completely by Mr. Emerson's impressive range in portraying the book's numerous characters of various ages and origins, every one of which brought the story to life like no other audiobook ever has for me. The accents and use of old-timey language are an absolute delight to listen to. I am quite simply in awe of his versatility and immense talent. I look forward to hearing every one of his other narrations I can get my little paws on.


If you could take any character from The Amalgamation Polka out to dinner, who would it be and why?

Anyone from Redemption Hall, or Euclid. I just love the way they talk :)


Any additional comments?

This is not the sort of book I would normally go for, but I am so glad I stumbled upon it. I was so captivated by Emerson's portrayals of Wright's characters that I devoured the entire thing in a day. I couldn't tear myself away. It was like being transported back in time, and it was an unforgettable journey!

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- anna

Book Details

  • Release Date: 02-16-2006
  • Publisher: Recorded Books