54

54

by Wu Ming
     
 

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In Hollywood, Cary Grant has grown weary of cinema's constant glamour, but Her Majesty's Secret Service will break his malaise with a bizarre diplomatic mission. In Naples, Lucky Luciano fixes horse races and launches the global heroin trade. And in Bologna, a bartender searches for true love and his missing communist father.

Set during the height of the Cold War

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Overview

In Hollywood, Cary Grant has grown weary of cinema's constant glamour, but Her Majesty's Secret Service will break his malaise with a bizarre diplomatic mission. In Naples, Lucky Luciano fixes horse races and launches the global heroin trade. And in Bologna, a bartender searches for true love and his missing communist father.

Set during the height of the Cold War-with the world divided into East and West-54 features Italian partisans, KGB agents, Parisian lowlifes, and cameos by David Niven, Marshal Tito, and Grace Kelly. Wu Ming brings us a cinematic romp that is by turns edgy social satire and modern comic send up.

Editorial Reviews

Booklist
"A thinking person's beach read, a madcap dessert after the full meal of Delillo'sUnderworld."

Entertainment Weekly
"Enthralling. [T]weaks Hitchcock and James Bond while plumbing mysteries of personal identity, national loyalty, and idealism lost and regained. B+"
Bloomberg News
"A wildly inventive epic."
From the Publisher
UK PRAISE FOR 54
"A formidable feat of imagination that moves restlessly between Bologna, Naples, California, Moscow, Dubrovnik and Marseilles. Utterly convincing."-THE TIMES (London)

"An epic about identity and celebrity, communism and corruption. A stupendous, charming, provocative and profound novel. It makes most modern books seem paltry in comparison."
-SCOTLAND ON SUNDAY

Publishers Weekly
The midlife crisis of Cary Grant, the founding of the KGB and the Neapolitan years of mafioso Lucky Luciano are just three of the plot lines woven into this dense, playful and always surprising literary behemoth set mostly in the year of the book's title, at the height of the Cold War. Anchoring the tale with a relatively conventional narrative is a young Bolognese man named Robespierre (Pierre), who embarks on a transcontinental odyssey to find his father, Vittorio Capponi, a former Mussolini loyalist who left the Italian army to join the Communists in Yugoslavia. Meanwhile, Britain's spy agency MI6 approaches Cary Grant (who's in a career slump) with a bizarre proposal: the role of Yugoslavian leader Marshal Tito in a propaganda biopic. It seems impossible that the multitudinous names and story threads could converge, but, deliciously, they do-in Yugoslavia, where Grant meets Tito, Pierre finds his father, and Luciano's driver Steve "Cement" Zollo tangles with the KGB, which is about to pull off a big hit. The latest joint effort (after the novel Q) from Wu Ming-a collective of five Italian intellectuals who named themselves "anonymous" in Mandarin-offers political commentary-cum-complicated escapism for the brainiac reader. (July) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus
"Don Camillo meets The Name of the Rose meets Dr. No: a rewarding beach read for grownups."

starred review
Library Journal
The authors who gave us Q under the name Luther Blissett have now expanded their ranks and created the Wu Ming Foundation (wu ming means "no name" in Chinese). In this new endeavor, Cary Grant gets a diplomatic mission, Lucky Luciano brings heroin to citizens worldwide, and the Cold War has everybody jumping. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Grant, Cary Grant. Super secret agent. Not just in Hitchcock films, but in real life. Four of the five members of the Bologna collective that produced "Luther Blissett's" novel Q (2004) are back, now calling themselves Wu Ming, Chinese for "no name." The subterfuge is appropriate, for this is a lively and thoroughly enjoyable thriller of shifting, unknown and mistaken identities, centered on a very Italian problem that attracted much world attention in 1954 but has since been forgotten: namely, the question of what to do with Yugoslav-partitioned Trieste, a little city-state caught in the Cold War power struggle between East and West. How to return Trieste to the Italian-and thus Western-fold? Well, reason the cold warriors of MI6, the first thing is to make Yugoslav dictator Marshal Tito feel more welcome among the capitalists than the Russians, and the way to do that is to "change the attitude of Western public opinion about Tito's Yugoslavia." Enter Cary Grant, ne the resolutely proletarian Archie Leach, a leftist who sees in the eyes of moviegoers the dream of his own "escape from a life of shit and work" and who, it's revealed, spent some time during WWII keeping an eye out on Hollywood's Nazi sympathizers, among them Errol Flynn and Walt Disney. With a few failed films behind him and the age of 50 creeping up, Cary is willing enough to pitch in, though on his own terms. When he reads the debut novel of a newly published spook named Ian Fleming, he takes on the character of James Bond, and then things get cracking. Bullets fly, knives are inserted into backs, intrigues unfold, consciousness is raised under a "lysergic sun" and a dazzling array of major and minor players-the EmperorBao Dai, Marilyn Monroe, Lucky Luciano, Hitchcock, David Niven, Tito-passes by. Don Camillo meets The Name of the Rose meets Dr. No: a rewarding beach book for grownups.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780151013807
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
07/03/2006
Edition description:
Translatio
Pages:
560
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.30(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Yugoslavian front, spring 1943
 
ITALIAN SOLDIERS!
 
 
The Slovenian people have launched an inexorable struggle against the occupying forces. Many of your comrades have already fallen in that struggle. And you will go on falling day after day, night after night, for as long as you remain tools in the hands of our oppressors, and until Slovenia is liberated.
 
Your leaders will lead you to believe that the Slovenian people love you, that you are being attacked only by ‘tiny numbers of communists.’ This is an insolent lie. All Slovenes are in accord with the struggle against the occupying forces. Under the leadership of the Slovenian National Liberation Committee, our entire people has organised itself into a single invincible liberation front.
 
 
ITALIAN SOLDIERS!
 
 
 Your superiors are concealing from you the desperate situation into which Mussolini has hurled the ‘Italian Empire’ by selling it to Hitler. They are hiding from you the fact that Abyssinia, for which Mussolini spilled so much Italian blood, is no longer in Italian hands. They are hiding from you the impasse that Italian troops face in all of their African colonies. They are hiding from you the losses that Italian troops have suffered in the Balkans, and the fact thatwestern Serbia, Montenegro, most of Bosnia and Hercegovina, Lika, and parts of Dalmatia have already been liberated. They are hiding from you the terrible losses and torments inflicted upon Italian troops by the crushing weight of Russian weapons on the Russian front, and by the unbearable Russian winter. They are hiding from you the chaos that is breaking out in Italian cities as a result of the growing food shortages, the result of continuous bombing by the British Air Force, and the growing discontent of the Italian people with the policies of the warmonger Mussolini, who is plunging Italy into the abyss.
 
 
 
ITALIAN SOLDIERS!
 
  
Understand what the Italian populace at home is coming to understand more and more, that Hitler is pushing you on all fronts: in Africa, in the Balkans, in France and in the USSR, so that you will be unable to form a resistance in your own country when he attacks ‘Allied’ Italy, just as he has attacked ‘Allied Yugoslavia’. Understand what any blind man must understand today, that Italy, as long as it gives allegiance to Germany, will suffer a terrible defeat at sea, on land and in the skies, at the hands of the united forces of Russia, Great Britain and all the freedom-loving peoples of the world.
 
Understand, Italian soldiers, that the only way out for you and for the whole of the Italian people is to turn your weapons against those who have brought both you and us nothing but misfortune, to turn them against Mussolini’s fascist gang! It is vain to claim that you too condemn the bestiality of Hitler and Mussolini, that you too wish to see the end of fascism and the end of the war. You must use your actions to demonstrate your love of freedom and peace, your hatred of the oppressors, both yours and ours. Otherwise what awaits you is ruin, both yours and theirs.
 
 
 
ITALIAN SOLDIERS!
 
The Communist Party of Slovenia appeals to you:
 
Do not carry out your superiors’ orders, do not fire on the Slovenians, do not persecute the partisans, but surrender to them, do not stand in the way of our liberation struggle!
 
Attack and disarm the fascist militia, the agents of OVRA and all those who are forcing you to fight against the Slovenian people.
 
Destroy the Italian armed forces, destroy the stores of weapons and food unless you can give them to the partisans, destroy the means of transport of the Italian army, lorries, motorcycles, horses, roads, railways, etc.!
 
Do not let the Italian armies be posted to the Russian front, to die for the lunatic Hitler and his satellites! Demand to return to your homeland!
 
Desert the Italian army, our people will be glad to help you! Give your weapons and ammunition to the partisans and the Popular Defence.
 
Join the Slovenian partisan units and help them, guns in hand, to bring to an early conclusion the absurd butchery of war, so that you can very soon return to your homes, to your poor abandoned mothers, wives and children, and establish a true sovereignty of the people in your own homeland.
 

Long live the common struggle of all peoples against fascist barbarism!
 
Long live the ussr and its invincible red army, the most powerful defender of freedom and progress!
 
Long live stalin, the leader of the people and workers in all countries!
 
Long live the Communist Party of Yugoslavia! 
Long live stalin, the leader of the people and workers in all countries!
 
Long live the Communist Party of Yugoslavia!
 
Death to fascism – freedom to the people!
 
 
Central Committee of theCommunist Party of Slovenia
 
 
Someone had written ‘SMRT FAŠISMU’in red paint on the peeling wall.
 
The men had been lined up in front of it. 

Their faces were blank. Closed, absent. Like the windows of the village. 

The captain yelled orders at the unit. The Italian soldiers assumed their positions, rifles shouldered. Almost all of them reservists. The officer was the youngest, with a well-trimmed moustache and a grey garrison cap tilted on his forehead.

The condemned men raised their eyes to look their butchers in the face. To be certain that they were men like themselves. They were used to death, even their own, they had grown accustomed to it over thousands of generations. 

On the other side eyes lowered, reflected sensations.  
 
Copyright © 2002 Giulio Einaudi editore s.p.a., Torino
Translation copyright © Shaun Whiteside 2005

The partial or total reproduction of this publication, in electronic form or otherwise, is consented to for noncommercial purposes, provided that the original copyright notice and this notice are included and the publisher and the source and this notice are included and the publisher and the source are clearly acknowledged. Any reproduction or use of all or a portion of this publication in exchange for financial consideration of any kind is prohibited without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

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