The Friends of Freeland

Overview

In this roomy, bawdy, exuberantly comic novel, Brad Leithauser takes us to an imaginary island-country, Freeland, during a crucial election year.

Freeland occupies its own place in the North Atlantic, somewhere between Iceland and Greenland. A geological miracle, it is desolate ("What green is to Ireland, gray is to Freeland") -- and inspiring.

The "friends" of the title are Hannibal, an expansive, lovable, unruly giant of a man who has been ...

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The Friends of Freeland

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Overview

In this roomy, bawdy, exuberantly comic novel, Brad Leithauser takes us to an imaginary island-country, Freeland, during a crucial election year.

Freeland occupies its own place in the North Atlantic, somewhere between Iceland and Greenland. A geological miracle, it is desolate ("What green is to Ireland, gray is to Freeland") -- and inspiring.

The "friends" of the title are Hannibal, an expansive, lovable, unruly giant of a man who has been President of Freeland for twenty years, and Eggert, his shrewd, often prickly, always devious sidekick and adviser, who is Poet Laureate of Freeland and the book's narrator.

As the book opens, Freeland -- long happily isolated and stubbornly independent -- is in trouble. The sins of the rest of the world have begun to wash up on its shores in the form of drugs, restless youth, and a polluted, fished-out ocean. And, to add to the complications, when Hannibal, who has promised to step down as president, decides to run again, the opposition imports three "electoral consultants" from the United States.

As the story unfolds, the histories of the friends are revealed. While Hannibal is Fate's adored, Eggert travels perpetually under a cloud. Orphaned early, he must make his way by his wits. We follow him from his youth as he adventures Down Below (any place south of Freeland), collecting women, lovers, children, restlessly churning out fifty books in his search for love and admiration, returning home at last to raise a family and to serve his friend in his political hour of need.

This huge, stunning, magical book brims with pleasures: delicious satire as the independent-minded natives meet the U.S.-trained "spin doctors"; a vibrant comic-strip vitality; and an edgy poignancy.

Best of all, Leithauser has created a whole world, at once uncannily like and unlike our own. Readers who journey to Freeland will find it both a land of wonders and an ideal place from which to view the world they've left behind.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Whimsy, muscular good fun, and scarifying wisdom mark this spectacularly well told parable by one of America's most adventurous writers."

-- Thomas Keneally

"Readers in quest of civilized fun are advised to visit Freeland at once. Forget Shangri-La, Angria, Islandia, Graustark. Freeland has it all: a richly invented society, comical in its detail...romance wit, compelling description...and, strewn throughout this playful, wholehearted work, an array of subtly illuminating political metaphors."

-- Norman Rush

"Two wildly idealistic main characters propel this grand, sprawling, satiric novel...But its appeal lies mostly in the pleasure of watching Leithauser's extraordinarily rich imagination at play as he conjures an entire people out of the frigid waters of the North Atlantic."

-- Publishers Weekly

From the Hardcover edition.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Two wildly idealistic main characters-Eggert Oddason and Hannibal Hannibalsson-propel this grand, sprawling, satiric novel (Leithauser's fourth, after Seaward). Eggert and Hannibal are, respectively, the ad hoc minister of culture and the president of the imaginary nation of Freeland, a lava-crusted, storm-lashed cluster of islands located between Greenland and Iceland ("what green is to Ireland, gray is to Freeland"). Rivals as schoolboys, the two now tilt their lances at the same windmill, namely the creeping modernization that threatens to reduce their fellow citizens from a nation of proudly self-sufficient Norsemen to a gaggle of Walkman-wearing milksops. As Hannibal tells his countrymen, Freeland is "the one true good hope of this troubled planet" where "madness reigns, ever more brutal wars are waged, and ever more destructive forms of leisure are conceived." To preserve their country's purity, the duo has tried everything from a ban on frozen waffles to strict quotas on American pop music, but time, and the patience of the electorate, is running out. Matters come to a head as an election looms between the aging Hannibal and the bland, modernizing Nonni Karlsson. But this novel's appeal lies mostly in the pleasure of watching Leithauser's extraordinarily rich imagination at play as he conjures an entire people out of the frigid waters of the North Atlantic, ranging from the furtive narrator Eggert to the handsome, larger-than-life Hannibal, who "in his straight-shouldered, red-gold-haired, strong-jawed splendidness... is as perfect a Viking as ever navigated by instinct up a rocky, fog-clamped fjord." Leithauser's is not a subtle portrait; nor is his prose always for the fainthearted. But the novel is such good, catty, generously proportioned fun that the persevering reader will be more than inclined to forgive its missteps. (Jan.)
Kirkus Reviews
A Northern Saga, longer than an Arctic shadow and tougher to swallow than frozen venison filet, from a gifted poet and novelist (Seaward, 1993, etc.) who seems to have had a lot of time on his hands.

Freeland can't be found on any map. Close to Greenland and Iceland, it's a former Scandinavian colony that lies just below the Arctic Circle and gives shelter to some 60,000 souls scattered across four small islands. The Freelanders, like most island people, live by fishing and, like all good northerners, love to drink. Lately, however, their children have been fishing less and drinking more, and quite a few have taken up hard drugs. This is the social crisis that Hannibal Hannibalsson, the President of Freeland, has to address in his campaign for reelection. "I believe now," Hannibal declares, "as I have always believed, that Freeland is the true world-light and if we remain faithful to ourselves we're the one true good hope of this troubled planet—the one true good hope!" Hannibal's childhood friend Eggert Oddason, our narrator, is somewhat more cynical, adhering to the duty developed "over a literary career spanning three decades and forty-nine books, to rail against my country and countrymen." Like most political pundits, Eggert starts with public issues but is more interested in private lives, and we soon learn how Hannibal managed his climb to the top and just how much it cost him and his friends—Eggert not least of all—for him to get there. A record of women shared and stolen takes up much of the story, as does a weird mystical quest for the "Freeland Saga"—the ancient Freelandic epic poem whose possession by Iceland is a constantly simmering provocation. But it is hard to find much surprise in such an obvious election-year allegory, and it is harder still to see why such epic treatment was required.

Skillfully crafted and conceived, but far too long and obvious.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679772705
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/8/1998
  • Pages: 508
  • Product dimensions: 5.19 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Meet the Author

Brad Leithauser was born in Detroit and graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He is the author of three other novels (Equal Distance, Hence, and Seaward), three volumes of poetry (Hundreds of Fireflies, Cats of the Temple, and The Mail from Anywhere), and a book of essays (Penchants and Places). He also edited The Norton Book of Ghost Stories. He is the recipient of many awards for his writing, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Ingram Merrill grant, and a MacArthur Fellowship. He recently served for a year as Time magazine's theater critic. He and his wife, the poet Mary Jo Salter, are the Emily Dickinson Lecturers in the Humanities at Mount Holyoke College. They live with their two daughters, Emily and Hilary, in South Hadley, Massachusetts.
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