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Life Is an Operetta: And Other Short Stories

Overview

Peter Ustinov was famous for his many talents but it was his skill as a storyteller that stood out above all else. Life is an Operetta is a delightful collection containing nine stunning examples of Ustinov's narrative gift.

The title story illustrates beautifully Ustinov's ability to weave pointed observations into his fiction. "Life is an Operetta" features a young woman, Mitzi, who is obsessed with the stage but poor at choosing lovers, so much so that the one man who can ...

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Overview

Peter Ustinov was famous for his many talents but it was his skill as a storyteller that stood out above all else. Life is an Operetta is a delightful collection containing nine stunning examples of Ustinov's narrative gift.

The title story illustrates beautifully Ustinov's ability to weave pointed observations into his fiction. "Life is an Operetta" features a young woman, Mitzi, who is obsessed with the stage but poor at choosing lovers, so much so that the one man who can provide her with security and support is the one who is always left behind.

Readers are offered a tour of the old country and an education in European tradition as the locations of the stories range from Australia, through Spain and France, to the Italian railway carriage of "God and the State Railways," while the characters are equally varied in personality and social status. Combining Ustinov's telling wit and deep understanding of human frailty, Life is an Operetta sparkles with keen perception and a storyteller's delight in presenting well-crafted tales. Also included are "The Frontiers of the Sea," "The Swiss Watch," "Dreams of Papua," "The Assassins," "The Gift of a Dog," "The Silken Dagger," and the tale of a man lost in his own homeland, "The Loneliness of Billiwoonga."

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Witty, urbane and set in a wide array of international locales, these nine stories from the venerable British actor and entertainer work best when Ustinov pokes sly fun at a variety of manners and conventions. The better stories include the nostalgic "Dreams of Papua," a send-up of a Cold War-era summit meeting between a folksy U.S. president and his Soviet counterpart in which the common interests of the two nations hinge on the president's interest in stamp collecting. "The Assassins," meanwhile, offers a light take on the concept of retirement for those who kill for a living. The title story shifts the subject to romance, tracking the ups and downs of a European actress and singer with a wandering eye while her long-suffering partner tries to deal with his mate's propensity for philandering. In "The Gift of a Dog," Ustinov turns his wit to the foibles of marriage as he chronicles the effect of a rambunctious pet on a pair of mismatched newlyweds. The lesser stories get bogged down in tedious, minor plot details, detracting considerably from the humor. Ustinov's wit is a bit on the mannered side, but those who admire graceful prose and an intricate knowledge of the ways of the world will find a variety of subtle rewards in this collection. July
Kirkus Reviews
From veteran actor, writer, and current UNICEF ambassador-at- large Ustinov (The Old Man and Mr. Smith, 1991, etc.), nine stories suggestive of other days and styles, featuring some rather dated themes and humor.

Most of the tales here are European in setting and reflect the world of the late '40s and '50s, with characters who embody every national stereotype. Which would be fine if Ustinov's strained satire worked, but it doesn't—with one exception: "The Assassins," a labored but occasionally amusing riff involving a band of aging anarchists who are sent by the French police to Corsica on vacation every time they threaten to blow up a visiting world leader. The title piece follows the career of Mitzi, a Hungarian singer whose doleful admirer reminds her that "life is not an operetta." The admirer, however, is repeatedly confounded by the remarkably resilient Mitzi, one of those "impossible, dangerous and impervious people" for whom "life is an operetta after all, and can never be anything else." Other stories limn an American president and a Soviet leader, who, at the height of the Cold War, discover that they share a common passion for stamp- collecting, including even the same rare stamps ("Dream of Papua"); a newly married Englishwoman who decides that she's more in love with the dog an old lover gave her as a wedding present than with her boring husband ("The Gift of a Dog"); and a French banker, vacationing in Switzerland, who becomes embroiled in local feuds ("The Swiss Watch"). Most poignant and affecting of all is "The Loneliness of Billiwoonga," which traces the struggles of a concentration camp survivor, his entire family lost in the Holocaust, to establish a new life in a small Australian town. He marries, then finds himself in business with a former Nazi officer, so anxious now to be liked that "every gesture was a bribe, the payment of a debt on the installment system."

Faded period charm.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781573921503
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books
  • Publication date: 7/28/1997
  • Pages: 258
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.93 (d)

Meet the Author

The late Peter Ustinov traveled the globe as an entertainer and actor and served as ambassador at large for UNICEF. For his work in film and the arts he received two Academy Awards, three Emmys, and one Grammy. He was also a producer, director, and playwright, and the author of Life Is an Operetta and Other Short Stories, Add a Dash of Pity, Quotable Ustinov, and Ustinov Still at Large. He was knighted in 1990.
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Table of Contents

The Frontier of the Sea 1
The Swiss Watch 26
Dreams of Papua 55
The Assassins 103
The Gift of a Dog 134
Life Is an Operetta 162
God and the State Railways 186
The Silken Dagger 212
The Loneliness of Billiwoonga 236
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