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Where does Stardust rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?
It's very good, but not among the top fifty, given that I've read about a thousand books, and I don't really enjoy history. Mr. Kanon, though, is a master of this little corner of the world, and Mr. Smith, whom I've never heard before, is a truly excellent narrator. The scope of the book is very large. It is about Hollywood during the period when WWII was turning into the Red Scare of the late '40's and early '50's, what came to be known as the McCarthy era. The protagonist is Ben Collier, a soldier who comes home to find that his brother Danny has died mysteriously, either at his own hand or that of another. Ben doesn't believe that his brother would kill himself. Ben very quickly becomes involved with Danny's widow, Liesl, and with the head of a movie studio, Carl Laszner. From there the plot winds around the hills and canyons of Los Angeles, with Minnesota's Senator Ken Minot standing in for Wisconsin's Senator McCarthy. The vicious hysteria which is whipped up by the anti-pinko forces is unstoppable, and it eventually comes very close to destroying the entertainment industry, taking with it, one cannot fail to note, the large expat Jewish community which has become the backbone of that industry. This is extremely good writing and narration, and held my interest in what eventually became a long book.
Did the plot keep you on the edge of your seat? How?
Yes, very much so, as I said above. The romance between Ben and Liesl is beautifully played, with the reader never really knowing what is real and what is scripted. The weasels of The Committee worm their way through the community in such a subversive and nasty way that you can easily see how good people can get caught up in the vicious finger-pointing, so very much the echo of Nazi Jew-blaming (and so very much worse, so horrendously much worse). The plot jumps around from LA to Europe to Mexico and back again, and you find yourself constantly looking over Ben's shoulder, whispering to him, "watch out, they're real!" It is brilliant writing.
Which scene was your favorite?
I didn't have a favorite scene. I was particularly pleased with the narrator's ability to put the small touches on the German attempts on English words, making characters sound so much like Colonel Klink. The book is a pleasure to listen to, even at this length, where many authors would really start to push their luck with me (ahem, Dennis Lehane and James Lee Burke).
Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?
A lot of the book moved me. Much of the romance between Ben and Liesl was just perfectly nuanced, full of lust and the awareness of Danny and the confusion that comes with feelings that most of us don't really understand. So many of us try to make "sense" of love, when, according to the scriptwriter of the movie Oh Brother, Where Art Thou, "It is a fool who searches for logic in the chambers of the human heart." Wish I'd said that.
Any additional comments?
This audiobook is way worth your time and money.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful
Stardust is both brilliant and challenging. It takes "stick-with-it-ness" to get through, but the persistence is well worth the investment of time.
The book is, in some respects, like watching water come to a boil. You can see and feel the heat of the flame being applied to the pot, but there is no immediate obvious effect on the liquid inside. The heat, however, is relentless and, after a while, visible currents begin to emerge. Bubbles form, creating light turbulence. And then, suddenly, an inflection point is reached and there is chaos, as things become wildly agitated, unpredictable, and violent.
Stardust is certainly not for the impatient. Half way through, I thought I might abandon and move on to something else. The quality of the writing kept me, but I was wavering. Two-thirds of the way through, I thought the book to be an interesting character study, but rather uneventful.
Then, suddenly, with about 5 hours left, the book exploded in a spasm of activity. The rest of the book was gone in the blink of an eye.
Interestingly, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, every early word was necessary. Looking back, nothing could or should have been cut out. Brilliant.
A couple other thoughts on this novel: I was entranced by Joseph Kanon's Istanbul Passage and chose to read Stardust with only one book in-between. Though clearly penned by the same hand, the two books are very different.
Istanbul Passage is chock-full of rich details that transport the reader to a a bygone era in an exotic location filled with larger-than-life personalities. In its pages, the reader can touch, feel, smell, and taste Istanbul. You are there.
Stardust is the polar opposite. Hollywood as the ordinary place it is. A mirage of sorts.
Studio magnates, glamorous movie stars, high profile gossip reporters, and big time politicians are all rendered human in this story. Their imperfections, foibles, insecurities, and secrets are on full display. Yet, in the telling of this story, we experience in some of the characters nobility, selflessness, and honor. (We are also exposed to and repulsed by actions and attitudes of others.)
My advice to those who choose to read this book: stay with it. Pay attention when it's slow and keep on going. You'll be glad you did.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful