The Optimists

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"When Clem Blass, an experienced photo-journalist, witnesses the grotesque aftermath of a genocidal massacre in Africa, he finally sees more than his understanding can bear. He returns to London with his vision of human nature shattered, his life derailed." "Yet gradually his outlook is undermined by the tenderness and decency he observes in the lives of those around him. The kindness of an elderly aunt, the perplexed sincerity of his father, the joyful love between his cousin and her fiance. Most confounding of all is the irrepressible small
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The Optimists

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"When Clem Blass, an experienced photo-journalist, witnesses the grotesque aftermath of a genocidal massacre in Africa, he finally sees more than his understanding can bear. He returns to London with his vision of human nature shattered, his life derailed." "Yet gradually his outlook is undermined by the tenderness and decency he observes in the lives of those around him. The kindness of an elderly aunt, the perplexed sincerity of his father, the joyful love between his cousin and her fiance. Most confounding of all is the irrepressible small stream of goodness in his own heart. Then news arrives that offers Clem the chance to confront the author of his nightmares. But can reprisal any longer be a solution?" Reaching from central Africa to Toronto, Scotland to Brussels and back into the colonial past, Andrew Miller's new novel explores how we act in a world where monstrous cruelty coexists with infinite compassion, and where the line between optimism and self-delusion is always perilously thin.
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Editorial Reviews

Wall Street Journal
"Once again Miller shows himself to be an acutely sensitive observer of life at a particular moment in history."
James Parker
The Optimists is a work of solemn artistry. Miller's style is one of guarded lyricism, in which he allows just enough poetry in the language to get the job done, the mood or moment caught. The sharpest of his senses seems to be his ear. A car engine is turned off in a wood: ''Quietness, like the hissing in a shell, seeped through the skin of the car.'' A long-neglected tap is turned on: ''Yards of old piping juddered, there was a burst of musty air, then the sudden slap of water on the worn enamel.''
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
A powerful study of emotional trauma, English writer Miller's third novel (after Ingenious Pain and Oxygen) probes the horrors of genocide as well as what Hannah Arendt called "the banality of evil." Clem Glass is a veteran photojournalist who thought he was inured to man's inhumanity to man until he witnessed the aftermath of a genocidal massacre in Africa. Unable to wipe the images of murdered women and children from his mind, Clem wanders distraught around London. When his older sister, Clare, a professor in Dundee, has a recurrence of the mental breakdown she suffered some years earlier, Andrew is at first unable to deal with any additional emotional problems. Instead, he flees to Canada to consult a colleague, a journalist who also witnessed the massacre and found solace in caring for society's outcasts. Eventually, Clem takes responsibility for his sister and nurses her back to health. When he finally confronts the man responsible for the slaughter in Africa, he realizes it's impossible to exact revenge for an act of such cosmic evil. He himself must hit emotional rock bottom before he achieves a tentative optimism and reaffirms his faith in life. Miller's story is starkly illustrative of the wide range of human behavior in the so-called civilized world. The guardedly positive ending reveals the irony in the book's title; only "a small, stubborn belief" can be wrested from the circumstances of modern life. (Apr. 5) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
"Beautifully written, astutely observed, and as maddeningly inconclusive as life itself."
Publishers Weekly
"A powerful study of emotional trauma"
Library Journal
This new novel from Booker Prize nominee Miller (Oxygen) centers on prominent photojournalist Clem Glass, who has just returned to London from Africa. While there, he captured a scene of unspeakable horror during a genocidal massacre, and his trust in humanity is crushed. Sinking into a deep depression, he finds no joy in life's everyday activities until he reconnects with his mentally unstable sister, Clare. Nursing Clare back to health is just what Clem needs to regain his footing, but it is not long before an unexpected occurrence affords him the opportunity to confront his demon nightmares. Told in simple, concise language, this work is recommended for public libraries with customer interest in international fiction. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 12/04.]-Christopher J. Korenowsky, Columbus Metropolitan Lib. Syst., OH Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Booker- and Whitbread-shortlisted Miller (Oxygen, 2002, etc.) follows the shell-shocked wanderings of a British photographer haunted by an African massacre. Clem Glass has returned to London, not even daring to develop the negatives of the photos he snapped at the church in N-, where hundreds of men, women, and children were hacked to pieces on the orders of a man named Sylvestre Ruzinanda. (An Author's Note acknowledges the incident is based on an actual one in Rwanda.) He's drinking heavily, going to mindless movies, afraid to be alone with his thoughts when his father phones to say that Clem's older sister, Clare, has had a nervous breakdown, similar to one she suffered 25 years ago as a college student. There's some mysterious distance between Clare and their father, who's retreated to a monastery since the death of his wife, a politically active socialist lawyer. At first Clem can't deal with her either, but he finally takes Clare from the sanitarium to a Somerset cottage they vacationed in as children. She begins tentatively to improve, even as sensitively rendered interactions with the siblings' cousins and aunt (it's her cottage) suggest that no one in their extended family is without emotional wounds. Clem remains obsessed with the massacre at N-, particularly after reading the written account handed him by his fellow eyewitness, journalist Frank Silverman. When he learns that Ruzinanda has surfaced in Brussels, Clem hops the next plane for the book's curiously irresolute climactic section, in which he confronts the killer and is challenged by a young woman (related in some way to Ruzinanda) who reminds him of Europeans' genocidal activities in Africa. As in his previous threeoutings, Miller subtly limns the characters' anxieties and anomie, creating a palpable atmosphere of tension and moral dread. But we long for a finale more definitive than a nearly irrelevant wedding and Clem's bizarre confession to a crime that never occurred. Beautifully written, astutely observed, and as maddeningly inconclusive as life itself. Miller remains a gifted, thoughtful writer in search of stronger plot lines.
Boston Globe
"Subtle and beautifully written...Miller's prose brings grace and lucidity to what is dark and baffling"
New York Times Book Review
"A work of solemn artistry"
From the Publisher
"A writer of verve and talent . . . [Miller's] prose is fluent, lucid and radiant."-THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

"Curious, compelling, and disturbing . . .The reader is aware of being in the presence of a luminous intelligence, allied to literary skill of rare excellence."-THE WASHINGTON POST BOOK WORLD

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780156030557
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 4/10/2006
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 322
  • Sales rank: 1,223,546
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.72 (d)

Meet the Author

ANDREW MILLER's first novel, Ingenious Pain, won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the International IMPAC Award. He was short-listed for the Booker Prize and the Whitbread Award for his novel Oxygen. He lives in Brighton, England.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 22, 2014


    Hugged him back "I'm so sorry, I'm grounded I promise I'll be back when I can."

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