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Generosity
     

Generosity

3.4 19
by Richard Powers
 

FROM THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD–WINNING AUTHOR OF THE ECHO MAKER, A PLAYFUL AND PROVOCATIVE NOVEL ABOUT THE DISCOVERY OF THE HAPPINESS GENE
When Chicagoan Russell Stone finds himself teaching a Creative Nonfiction class, he encounters a young Algerian woman with a disturbingly luminous presence. Thassadit Amzwar’s blissful exuberance

Overview

FROM THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD–WINNING AUTHOR OF THE ECHO MAKER, A PLAYFUL AND PROVOCATIVE NOVEL ABOUT THE DISCOVERY OF THE HAPPINESS GENE
When Chicagoan Russell Stone finds himself teaching a Creative Nonfiction class, he encounters a young Algerian woman with a disturbingly luminous presence. Thassadit Amzwar’s blissful exuberance both entrances and puzzles the melancholic Russell. How can this refugee from perpetual terror be so happy? Won’t someone so open and alive come to serious harm? Wondering how to protect her, Russell researches her war-torn country and skims through popular happiness manuals. Might her condition be hyperthymia? Hypomania? Russell’s amateur inquiries lead him to college counselor Candace Weld, who also falls under Thassa’s spell. Dubbed Miss Generosity by her classmates, Thassa’s joyful personality comes to the attention of the notorious geneticist and advocate for genomic enhancement, Thomas Kurton, whose research leads him to announce the genotype for happiness.
Russell and Candace, now lovers, fail to protect Thassa from the growing media circus. Thassa’s congenital optimism is soon severely tested. Devoured by the public as a living prophecy, her genetic secret will transform both Russell and Kurton, as well as the country at large.

What will happen to life when science identifies the genetic basis of happiness? Who will own the patent? Do we dare revise our own temperaments? Funny, fast, and finally magical, Generosity celebrates both science and the freed imagination. In his most exuberant book yet, Richard Powers asks us to consider the big questions facing humankind aswe begin to rewrite our own existence.

Editorial Reviews

Jay McInerney
…an excellent introduction to Powers's work, a lighter, leaner treatment of his favorite themes and techniques…Powers is, when he chooses to be, an engaging storyteller (though he would probably wince at the word), and even as he questions the conventions of narrative and character, Generosity gains in momentum and suspense. In the end, he wants to have it both ways, and he comes very close to succeeding.
—The New York Times
Ron Charles
Sixteen years after Peter Kramer's Listening to Prozac, Richard Powers has heard the alarming implications of treatments that let us buy better moods and personalities. His cerebral new novel offers a chilling examination of the life we're reengineering with our chromosomes and brain chemistry…Although you might expect a novel so weighted with medical and philosophical arguments to flatten its characters into brittle stereotypes, ultimately that's the most impressive aspect of this meditation on happiness and humanness. As Generosity drives toward its surprising conclusion, these characters grow more complex and poignant, increasingly baffled by the challenge and the opportunity of remaking ourselves to our heart's content.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

About halfway into Powers's follow-up to his National Book Award-winning The Echo Maker, a Nobel Prize-winning author, during a panel discussion, talks about how "genetic enhancement represents the end of human nature.... A story with no end or impediment is no story at all." This then, is a story with both. Its hero, at least initially, is Russell Stone, a failed author of creative nonfiction turned reluctant writing instructor who cannot help transmitting to his students something of his flagging faith in writing. One of them, a Berber Algerian named Thassadit Amzwar, is so possessed by preternatural happiness that she's nicknamed "Miss Generosity" by her prematurely jaded classmates and has emerged from the Algerian civil war that claimed the lives of her parents "glowing like a blissed out mystic." After Stone learns that Thassadit may possess a rare euphoric trait called hyperthymia, her condition is upgraded from behavioral to genetic, and Powers's novel makes a dramatic shift when Thassadit falls into the hands of Thomas Kurton, the charismatic entrepreneur behind genetics lab Truecyte, whose plan to develop a programmable genome to "regulate the brain's set point for well-being" may rest in Miss Generosity's perpetually upbeat alleles. Much of the tension behind Powers's idea-driven novels stems from the delicate balance between plot and concept, and he wisely adopts a voice that is-sometimes painfully-aware of the occasional strain ("I'm caught... starving to death between allegory and realism, fact and fable, creative and nonfiction"). Like Stone and Kurton, Powers strays from mere record to attempt an impossible task: to make the world right.(Oct.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal
Algerian refugee Thassadit Amzwar has witnessed a great deal of violence in her young life, yet she radiates joy. Now attending college in Chicago, she meets Russell Stone, writing instructor and all-around slump of a guy, who is fascinated by Thassadit's glowing countenance. After consulting with campus counselor (and eventual love interest) Candace Weld, Stone theorizes that Thassadit may be the carrier of a gene that produces happiness. Once the story makes its way to the media, all hell breaks loose. The cheerful refugee is publicly sanctified, vilified, and sought after—especially by genome companies that want to market her genetic good fortune. Offering some very meaty ethical issues, this fast-paced, science-laden story offers each character a chance to become heroic in his or her own way. VERDICT Intelligent, thought-provoking, multilayered, and emotionally engaging, this follow-up to Powers's National Book Award winner, The Echo Maker, astonishes with its depiction of our annoying cultural habit of creating, exalting, and disposing of celebrities within the span of a few minutes. Master storyteller Powers has a keen eye for the absurdity of modern life. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/09.]—Susanne Wells, P.L. of Cincinnati & Hamilton Cty.
Kirkus Reviews
Nothing less than the phenomenon of happiness is explored in this rich, challenging novel from polymathic Powers (The Echo Maker, 2006, etc.). Think of it as an extended Socratic or Platonic dialogue, animated and communicated by three generously imagined characters. The central contrasting figures are Thassadit Amzwar, an inexplicably optimistic and upbeat refugee from the horrors of ongoing ethnic and other conflicts in the northern African powder keg of Algeria, whose student visa brings her by way of Canada to Chicago and the "creative nonfiction" adult-education class ("Journal and Journey") taught by failed fiction writer and generally downcast would-be autodidact Russell Stone. Thassa's fellow students, a motley gathering of borderline-hopeful underachievers, suspect she's nuts and dub her "the Bliss Chick." But Russell believes there's something really different about this irrepressible survivor of unthinkable calamity, as does the novel's third major character and de facto antagonist, Thomas Kurton, a young scientific phenom who grows up to become a celebrity geneticist whose search for a "happiness gene" is chronicled in a widely seen film and who hopes to appropriate the luminously cheerful Algerian to star in his researches. A lesser writer might have made this a 21st-century Frankenstein. Powers instead channels his heady confluence of ideals and motives into suspenseful intellectual drama, set in painstakingly realistic Middle-American urban jungles populated by intelligent, well-meaning people who aim to do good by any means necessary. Even the irresistible Thassa comes abrasively alive, in her exasperated response to Christian fundamentalists determined to claim her as oneof their own: "I'm a Maghreb Algerian Kabyle Catholic Atheist French Canadian on a student visa. I can't help these people." The mystery of Thassa's impermeable optimism is never explained; it neither should nor could be. Exuberant, erudite and satisfyingly enigmatic.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781848871274
Publisher:
Atlantic
Publication date:
03/28/2011

What People are Saying About This

Powers is better than the best of almost anybody else. --John Leonard, Harper's Magazine

Meet the Author

Richard Powers is the author of nine novels. The Echo Maker (FSG, 2006) won the National Book Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Powers has received a MacArthur Fellowship, a Lannan Literary Award, and the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for Historical Fiction. He lives in Illinois.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
Urbana, Illinois
Date of Birth:
June 18, 1957
Place of Birth:
Evanston, Illinois
Education:
M.A., University of Illinois, 1979

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