A Changed Man: A Novel

( 8 )

Overview

What is charismatic Holocaust survivor Meyer Maslow to think when a rough-looking young neo-Nazi named Vincent Nolan walks into the Manhattan office of Maslow's human rights foundation and declares that he wants to "save guys like me from becoming guys like me"? As Vincent gradually turns into the sort of person who might actually be able to do this, he also transforms those around him: Meyer Maslow, who fears heroism has become a desk job; the foundation's dedicated fund-raiser, Bonnie Kalen, an appealingly ...

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A Changed Man

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Overview

What is charismatic Holocaust survivor Meyer Maslow to think when a rough-looking young neo-Nazi named Vincent Nolan walks into the Manhattan office of Maslow's human rights foundation and declares that he wants to "save guys like me from becoming guys like me"? As Vincent gradually turns into the sort of person who might actually be able to do this, he also transforms those around him: Meyer Maslow, who fears heroism has become a desk job; the foundation's dedicated fund-raiser, Bonnie Kalen, an appealingly vulnerable divorced single mother; and even Bonnie's teenage son.

Francine Prose's A Changed Man is a darkly comic and masterfully inventive novel that poses essential questions about human nature, morality, and the capacity for personal reinvention.

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Editorial Reviews

Janet Maslin
“Mercilessly funny.”
Carlin Romano
“American literature’s finest satirist of professionals with problems . . . Prose knows the territory and tweaks it deliciously.”
New York Times Book Review
“Powerful, funny, and exquisitely nuanced . . . This story has a continental sweep.”
Chicago Tribune
“Timely and clever . . . Prose carries us along on the sheer energy of her sentences.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Well-crafted and insightful.”
Richard Eder
“A novel of ideas, and provocative ones. Class—the dirty American secret—is no secret to Prose.”
Miami Herald
“[A] brilliant new comic novel . . . Prose’s sense of humor is as keen as ever.”
Harper's Bazaar
“Francine Prose is back with a powerful new novel about the possibility of starting over.”
Newsday
“This book has it all: great characters, dark humor, a racing plot and important themes.”
Entertainment Weekly
“[An] artfully structured novel . . . [with] a selection of showstopping literary set pieces.”
New York Observer
“Pitch-perfect and nuanced . . . We can’t wait to crawl into bed with this book every night.”
Newsday
“This book has it all: great characters, dark humor, a racing plot and important themes.”
Entertainment Weekly
“[An] artfully structured novel . . . [with] a selection of showstopping literary set pieces.”
Chicago Tribune
“Timely and clever . . . Prose carries us along on the sheer energy of her sentences.”
Miami Herald
“[A] brilliant new comic novel . . . Prose’s sense of humor is as keen as ever.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Well-crafted and insightful.”
New York Times Book Review
“Powerful, funny, and exquisitely nuanced . . . This story has a continental sweep.”
New York Observer
“Pitch-perfect and nuanced . . . We can’t wait to crawl into bed with this book every night.”
Harper's Bazaar
“Francine Prose is back with a powerful new novel about the possibility of starting over.”
Carlin Romano
"American literature’s finest satirist of professionals with problems . . . Prose knows the territory and tweaks it deliciously."
Richard Eder
"A novel of ideas, and provocative ones. Class—the dirty American secret—is no secret to Prose."
Miami Herald
"[A] brilliant new comic novel . . . Prose’s sense of humor is as keen as ever."
New York Times Book Review
"Powerful, funny, and exquisitely nuanced . . . This story has a continental sweep."
New York Observer
"Pitch-perfect and nuanced . . . We can’t wait to crawl into bed with this book every night."
Chicago Tribune
"Timely and clever . . . Prose carries us along on the sheer energy of her sentences."
Entertainment Weekly
"[An] artfully structured novel . . . [with] a selection of showstopping literary set pieces."
Harper's Bazaar
"Francine Prose is back with a powerful new novel about the possibility of starting over."
Newsday
"This book has it all: great characters, dark humor, a racing plot and important themes."
San Francisco Chronicle
"Well-crafted and insightful."
Janet Maslin
"Mercilessly funny."
Liesl Schillinger
Here Prose uses the exaggerated failings of an ideological extremist to expose the wishy-washy but more pervasive moral failures of contemporary America: detached or absent fathers; frantic, overworked mothers; undernurtured children; checkbook philanthropy; media hypocrisy; the shortage of local heroes willing to help the people around them. But for all of that, the novel isn't a sermon or a lecture. Prose doesn't sit in judgment; instead, she holds a mirror up to her characters, reflecting both their imperfections and their charms.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Prose (Blue Angel; The Lives of the Muses) tests assumptions about class, hatred and the possibility of change in her latest novel, a good-natured satire of liberal pieties, the radical right and the fund-raising world. The "changed man" of the title is Vincent Nolan, a 32-year-old tattooed ex-skinhead who appears one morning in the New York offices of World Brotherhood Watch, a foundation headed by Meyer Maslow, a Holocaust survivor. Vincent declares that he has had a personal conversion (never mind that it was triggered by a heavy dose of Ecstasy) and wants to work with the foundation to "save guys like me from becoming guys like me." Meyer takes Vincent on faith-and convinces Bonnie Kalen, the foundation's fund-raiser, to put Vincent up in the suburban home she shares with her two sons, Max, 12, and Danny, 16. Prose tears into this unusual premise with the piercing wit that has become her trademark. Vincent becomes a media darling of sorts, and everyone wants a piece of him: the liberal donors and the television talk shows; Meyer, a figurehead so celebrated that even his close friends kiss up to him; and maybe even divorced Bonnie, who finds herself drawn to Vincent's charms. In more hostile pursuit of Vincent is his cousin Raymond, a member of the Aryan Resistance Movement, from which Vincent stole a truck, drugs and cash. In these circumstances, can a man truly change? And what is change-not only for Vincent but for the other principals as well? Prose doesn't shy away from exposing the vanities and banalities behind the drive to do good. Fortunately, her characters are sturdy enough to bear the weight of the baggage she piles on them. Her lively skewering of a whole cross-section of society ensures that this tale hits comic high notes even as it probes serious issues. Agent, Denise Shannon. (Mar. 3) Forecast: A Changed Man is less didactic than Blue Angel and is set on a broader stage, which should broaden its appeal, too. Six-city author tour. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Young neo-Nazi Vincent Nolan is on the run from fellow gang members of ARM-the American Rights Movement, a.k.a. the Aryan Resistance Movement. He's also starting to question his beliefs. So he walks into the New York City headquarters of World Brotherhood Watch, an international human rights organization, and volunteers to work with them. Not surprisingly, organization head Meyer Maslow, a Jewish Holocaust survivor, is suspicious-even if Vincent has read all of his books. But he relents, sending Vincent home with assistant Bonnie Kalen, a single mom with teenage sons. One might expect the story to highlight the consequences of Vincent's startling change of heart, and Prose (Household Saints) does show scenes like Vincent's giving a speech that turns out badly-all handled (somewhat inappropriately) with light humor. But the novel is concerned mostly with the challenges that Bonnie faces: raising her sons, working too hard, feeling guilty, and trying to understand Vincent, who has become part of the family. Bonnie is well portrayed and lifelike, but Vincent is not-he's more a construct than a character. As a result, the novel feels sidetracked, and though any new work by the award-winning Prose will attract readers, this one is frankly not all that interesting. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 11/15/04.]-Jim Coan, SUNY at Oneonta Lib. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A neo-Nazi abandons his Aryan supremacist buddies and joins a humanitarian relief organization. When 30ish underachiever Vincent Nolan, perversely resplendent in shaved head and swastika tattoos, enters the Manhattan offices of World Brotherhood Watch, declaring himself "changed," visions of unprecedented fund-raising success dance through the head of WBW founder and leader-and Holocaust survivor-Meyer Maslow (part Simon Wiesenthal, part Elie Wiesel). But Vincent's presence-albeit polite, thoughtful, and nonthreatening-worries Meyer's secretary-subordinate, single mom Bonnie Kalen, who impulsively agrees to take the skinhead into the home she shares with her sons, Max and teenaged Danny. Vincent is groomed as poster boy for WBW's global efforts to combat human-rights abuses-as living proof that evil can be turned to good. This is a potent, however presently unfashionable theme, and Prose (Blue Angel, 2000, etc.; the nonfiction Lives of the Muses, 2002) expresses it in tingling dramatic scenes laden with pungent (often very funny) dialogue, as she depicts Vincent's growing attachment to his host family, even as Meyer manipulates his new colleague's conversion, and Vincent's past reaches out for him. Not all the plot twists are credible, and it's all probably too long. But it holds your interest, thanks to Prose's deft use of present-tense narration and artful shifting of viewpoints, among Vincent's honestly conflicted need to reinvent himself; Meyer's posturing mixture of selflessness and vanity; Bonnie's vacillations among competence, timidity, and her hunger for love; Danny's obstructed progress toward maturity; and the anger nursed by Vincent's cousin and neo-Nazi mentor Raymond, whoknows Vincent is no saint and means to make him pay for his treachery. An edgy, riveting tale, one of Prose's most interesting. Author tour
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060560034
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/28/2006
  • Series: P.S. Series
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 691,593
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Francine Prose

Francine Prose is the author of twenty works of fiction. Her novel A Changed Man won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and Blue Angel was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her most recent works of nonfiction include the highly acclaimed Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife, and the New York Times bestseller Reading Like a Writer. The recipient of numerous grants and honors, including a Guggenheim and a Fulbright, a Director's Fellow at the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, Prose is a former president of PEN American Center, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She lives in New York City.

Biography

When it comes to an author as eclectic as Francine Prose, it's difficult to find the unifying thread in her work. But, if one were to examine her entire oeuvre—from novels and short stories to essays and criticism—a love of reading would seem to be the animating force. That may not seem extraordinary, especially for a writer, but Prose is uncommonly passionate about the link between reading and writing. "I've always read," she confessed in a 1998 interview with Atlantic Unbound. "I started when I was four years old and just didn't stop…The only reason I wanted to be a writer was because I was such an avid reader." (In 2006, she produced an entire book on the subject—a nuts-and-bolts primer entitled Reading Like a Writer, in which she uses excerpts from classic and contemporary literature to illustrate her personal notions of literary excellence.)

If Prose is specific about the kind of writing she, herself, likes to read, she's equally voluble about what puts her off. She is particularly vexed by "obvious, tired clichés; lazy, ungrammatical writing; implausible plot turns." Unsurprisingly, all of these are notably absent in her own work. Even when she explores tried-and-true literary conventions—such as the illicit romantic relationship at the heart of her best known novel, Blue Angel—she livens them with wit and irony. She even borrowed her title from the famous Josef von Sternberg film dealing with a similar subject.

As biting and clever as she is, Prose cringes whenever her work is referred to as satire. She explained to Barnes & Noble.com, "Satirical to me means one-dimensional characters…whereas, I think of myself as a novelist who happens to be funny—who's writing characters that are as rounded and artfully developed as the writers of tragic novels."

Prose's assessment of her own work is pretty accurate. Although her subject matter is often ripe for satire (religious fanaticism in Household Saints, tabloid journalism in Bigfoot Dreams, upper-class pretensions in Primitive People), etc.), she takes care to invest her characters with humanity and approaches them with respect. "I really do love my characters," she says, "but I feel that I want to take a very hard look at them. I don't find them guilty of anything I'm not guilty of myself."

Best known for her fiction, Prose has also written literary criticism for The New York Times, art criticism for The Wall Street Journal, and children's books based on Jewish folklore, all of it infused with her alchemic blend of humor, insight,and intelligence.

Good To Know

Prose rarely wastes an idea. In Blue Angel, the novel that the character Angela is writing is actually a discarded novel that Prose started before stopping because, in her own words, "it seemed so juvenile to me."

While she once had no problem slamming a book in one of her literary critiques, these days Prose has resolved to only review books that she actually likes. The ones that don't adhere to her high standards are simply returned to the senders.

Prose's novel Household Saints was adapted into an excellent film starring Tracey Ullman, Vincent D'Onofrio, and Lili Taylor in 1993.

Another novel, The Glorious Ones, was adapted into a musical.

In 2002, Prose published The Lives of the Muses, an intriguing hybrid of biography, philosophy, and gender studies that examines nine women who inspired famous artists and thinkers—from John Lennon's wife Yoko Ono to Alice Liddell, the child who enchanted Lewis Carroll.

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      April 1, 1947
    2. Place of Birth:
      Brooklyn, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A., Radcliffe College, 1968

First Chapter

A Changed Man
A Novel

Chapter One

Nolan pulls into the parking garage, braced for the Rican attendant with the cojones big enough to make a point of wondering what this rusted hunk of Chevy pickup junk is doing in Jag-u-ar City. But the ticket-spitting machine doesn't much care what Nolan's driving. It lifts its arm, like a benediction, like the hand of God dividing the Red Sea. Nolan passes a dozen empty spots and drives up to the top level, where he turns in beside a dusty van that hasn't been anywhere lately. He grabs his duffel bag, jumps out, inhales, filling his lungs with damp cement-y air. So far, so good, he likes the garage. He wishes he could stay here. He finds the stairwell where he would hide were he planning a mugging, corkscrews down five flights of stairs, and plunges into the honking inferno of midafternoon Times Square.

He's never seen it this bad. A giant mosh pit with cars. Just walking demands concentration, like driving in heavy traffic. He remembers the old Times Square on those righteous long-ago weekends when he and his high school friends took the bus into the city to get hammered and eyeball the hookers. He's read about the new Disneyfied theme park Times Squareland, but that's way more complicated than what he needs to deal with right now, which is navigating without plowing into some little old lady. A fuzzball of pure pressure expands inside his chest, stoked by patches of soggy shirt, clinging to his rib cage.

It's eighty, maybe eighty-five, and he's the only guy in New York wearing a long-sleeved jersey. All the white men seem to be running personal air conditioners inside their fancy Italian suits, unlike the blacks and Latinos, who have already soaked through their T-shirts. What does that make Nolan? The only white guy sweating. The only human of any kind gagging from exhaust fumes. While Nolan's been off in the boondocks with his friends and their Aryan Homeland wet dream, an alien life-form has evolved in the nation's cities, a hybrid species bred to survive on dog piss and carbon monoxide. Nolan needs to stop thinking that way. Attitude is crucial.

Last night, at his cousin Raymond's, he'd watched the TV weatherchipmunk chirping about the heat wave, so unseasonable for April, reassuring local viewers with his records and statistics lest anyone think: Look out, global warming, the world is ending right now. Why is everyone so surprised that the planet's cutting them loose? Ecological Armageddon was just what the doctor ordered to take Nolan's mind off his own problems as he'd faced the dark hours ahead until it was time to get up and borrow Cousin Raymond's truck, his money and pills, and vanish into the ozone. Nolan's hardly slept for two weeks, ever since he decided to turn. Two Xanax did nothing to stop his lab-rat brain from racing from one micro-detail to another.

Like, for example, sleeve length. Should he hide the tattoos? Or just wear a T-shirt and let them do the talking? If one picture's worth a thousand words, that's the first two thousand right there, two thousand minus the hi howareya nicetameetcha. Which was one reason to get the tats: cut through a load of hot air. On the other hand, strolling into the office of World Brotherhood Watch with Waffen-SS bolts on one bicep and a death's-head on the other might make it harder for Nolan to get his point across -- let's say, if the people he's talking to are hiding under their desks. Nolan wouldn't blame them. It hasn't been all that long since that lone-wolf lunatic in L.A. shot up the Jewish temple preschool.

In any case, it's going to be tough, explaining what he's doing at Brotherhood Watch, especially since Nolan himself isn't exactly sure. There are some . . . practical issues involved with stealing Raymond's truck plus the fifteen hundred bucks that, if you want to be literal, belongs to the Aryan Resistance Movement. But there's more to it than that. If it were just a question of disappearing and starting over, Nolan could have some fun. Sell SUVs in Palm Springs, deal blackjack in Las Vegas. Go to Disney World, put on a Goofy suit, let toddlers fuck with his head.

What he'd really like to do is give every man, woman, and child in the world the exact same hit of Ecstasy, the same tiny candy, pink as a kitten's tongue, that managed to turn his head around, or more precisely, to give his head a little -- well, a fairly big -- push in the direction it was already headed. But that's not going to happen, free Ex for the human race, so maybe the next best thing is to help other people find a more gradual route to the place where the Ex took Nolan.

Meanwhile, he knows that thinking like this will only get in his way. He'll stay cooler if he convinces himself that he's just interviewing for a job.

Has it only been two weeks since Nolan finally made up his mind? A long two weeks of trying to figure it out, even -- especially -- after he knew how he was going to do it.

No one promised it would be easy. But Nolan has prepared. He's read up, starting with two books by Meyer Maslow, the founder and current head of the World Brotherhood Watch Foundation. He actually went out and ordered them through the bookstore in the mall. The first book, The Kindness of Strangers -- Maslow's tribute to the people who saved his life when he was on the run from the Nazis -- was what made Nolan begin to think that maybe his plan could work.

For balance, Nolan has also been reading The Way of the Warrior, a paperback he took from the tire shop, borrowed from the backseat of a Ford Expedition some yuppie brought in for the Firestone recall.

A Changed Man
A Novel
. Copyright © by Francine Prose. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Reading Group Guide

Introduction

One spring afternoon, a young neo-Nazi named Vincent Nolan walks into the Manhattan office of World Brotherhood Watch, a human rights foundation headed by a charismatic Holocaust survivor, Meyer Maslow. Vincent announces that he wants to make a radical change in his life. But what is Maslow to make of this rough looking stranger who claims to have read Maslow's books, who has Waffen SS tattoos under his shirtsleeves, and who says that his mission is to save guys like him from becoming guys like him?

As Vincent gradually turns into the sort of person who might actually be able to achieve his objective, he succeeds in transforming those around him: Maslow, who fears that heroism has become a desk job; Bonnie Kalen, the foundation's fundraiser, a divorced single mother and a devoted believer in Maslow's crusade against intolerance and injustice; and Bonnie's teenage son, Danny, whose take on the world around him is at once open-hearted, sharp-eyed, and as fundamentally decent as his mother's.

Masterfully plotted and darkly comic, A Changed Man illuminates the everyday transactions in our lives, exposing what remains invisible in plain sight in our drug-addled and media-driven culture. A Changed Man poses the essential questions: What constitutes a life worth living? Is it possible to change? What does it mean to be a moral human being? The fearless intelligence, wit, and humanity that inform this novel make it Francine Prose's most accomplished yet.

Questions for Discussion

  1. At the start of A Changed Man, we see Vincent Nolan, warts and all, during his impromptu interview at World Brotherhood Watch. Who is Vincent Nolan? What were your initial impressions of his character, and how did those impressions change over the course of the novel?

  2. How does Meyer Maslow's experience as a Holocaust survivor color his day-to-day outlook as leader of a human rights organization? What makes him tick? What are some essential contradictions in his personality?

  3. Discuss Bonnie Kalen's attitudes toward the men in her life -- her ex-husband, Joel; her sons, Danny and Max; her new house guest, Vincent Nolan; and her saintly boss, Meyer Maslow. To what extent does Bonnie define herself in terms of these relationships?

  4. How does World Brotherhood Watch use Vincent Nolan to its advantage? How does Vincent transition from neo-Nazi skinhead to national celebrity?

  5. Describe Bonnie Kalen's relationship with her sons, Danny and Max. What happens to that relationship when Vincent Nolan enters their lives? Does Nolan serve as a father-figure for the boys, or is his role in the family more complex?

  6. How would you characterize Vincent's reunion with his cousin, Raymond, on the television program, Chandler? What were your impressions of this development? What did you think of Danny Kalen and Meyer Maslow's involvement?

  7. Would you describe Danny and Max Kalen as typical adolescents and siblings? How prominently does their parents' divorce factor into their lives? How does each one cope with the challenges of teenage adulthood?

  8. How does faith factor into the choices and decisions made by Meyer Maslow, Bonnie Kalen, and Vincent Nolan? Is faith necessary for true change?

  9. By the end of A Changed Man, Vincent's future is uncertain. Do you see any hope of a relationship for Bonnie and Vincent? What were your thoughts at the novel's close?

About the Author

Francine Prose is the author of 13 books of fiction, including the novel Blue Angel, a finalist for the National Book Award. Her sole work of nonfiction, The Lives of the Muses: Nine Women and the Artists They Inspired, was a national bestseller and a New York Times Notable Book. A recipient of numerous grants and awards, including Guggenheim and Fulbright fellowships, she was a Director's Fellow at the Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library. She lives in New York City.

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Customer Reviews

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( 8 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 3, 2009

    not so much

    In seeing all the reviews on the back, I was expecting much more. Although the topic piqued my interest, the story fell rather flat and didn't elicit any empathy for any of the characters. Tolerance, racism, a thread of Nazi-ism and the Holocaust, all of that seems worthy, etc., but when the story really doesn't grab you or reel you in, it's "just" another ho-hum story... I like to close a book with almost a sadness that I'm closing the door on something... this one I felt like I was closing the door so I could get to a better read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 9, 2006

    A TERRIFIC READ

    The plot in this novel flows so effortlessly that it helps create a story that is delightfully humorous and believable, if improbable. Only such a skilled author as Ms. Prose could introduce the reader to such an unlikely cast of characters that would seem to possess little chance of ever entering into each other's worlds. When they discover, however, that they share a common desire to actively make the world a better place, their differences become insignificant.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2005

    ANOTHER LITERARY TRIUMPH FOR THIS AUTHOR

    Eric Conger reads this story of improbables with both coolness and verve. The coolness is found in his reserved, compelling tone His verve is most obvious in the darkly comic, which abounds in 'A Changed Man.' A repellant skinhead, so steeped in his hateful prejudices as to almost embody them, enters the office of a human rights foundation, World Brotherhood Watch. Vincent Nolan is his name and he claims that he wants to change, completely. Meyer Maslow, an Auschwitz survivor and head of the organization has his doubts. But, he also has his beliefs, one of which is that even the scummiest of human detritus is some mother's son. In addition, it's not lost on Meyer that if Vincent could really change, he'd be a first-rate poster boy for the brotherhood of man. To this end, he's sent to live with Bonnie Kalen; she's divorced and chief fundraiser for the organization. The clash of cultures is fodder for much of Prose's incomparable satire. Both funny and thought provoking 'A Changed Man' is one more literary triumph by the author of Blue Angel. - Gail Cooke

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2005

    payful

    A novelist is a person who can live in other people's skins, said E.L. Doctorow. I know of no other writer (other than Francine Prose) who can imagine so fully what a great variety of people, clearly very different from her, think and feel. In this brilliantly keen novel, she displays her nearly clairvoyant talents in a Tolstoyan fashion, but in addition to the profound psychological insights, she displays something else that he rarely did: humor. A great, satirical, and entertaining book--perfectly timely, in our times of right-wing backsliding.

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    Posted June 14, 2009

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