In this triumphant bestseller, renowned novelist James A. Michener unfolds a powerful and poignant drama of disenchanted youth during the Vietnam era. Against exotic backdrops including Spain, Morocco, and Mozambique, he weaves together the heady dreams, shocking tribulations, and heartwarming bonds of six young runaways cast adrift in the world—as well as the hedonistic pursuit of drugs and pleasure that collapses all around them. With the sure touch of a master, Michener pulls us into the private world of these unforgettable characters, exposing their innermost desires with remarkable candor and infinite compassion.
BONUS: This edition includes an excerpt from James A. Michener's Hawaii.
Praise for The Drifters
“A blockbuster of a book . . . full of surprise, drama, and fascination.”—Philadelphia Bulletin
“[The Drifters] conveys a sense of a new time, a new generation.”—Chicago Sun-Times
“Michener has slid open a window on the world of the dropout and has spared no effort to make the reader aware of this new world.”—The Salt Lake Tribune
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About the Author
Date of Birth:February 3, 1907
Date of Death:October 16, 1997
Place of Death:Austin, Texas
Education:B.A. in English and history (summa cum laude), Swarthmore College, 1929; A.M., University of Northern Colorado, 1937.
Read an Excerpt
Youth is truth.
No man is so foolish as to desire war more than peace: for in peace sons bury their fathers, but in war fathers bury their sons.—Herodotus
The greatest coup engineered by the university in recent years had been the employment of Dr. Richard Conover, Nobel Prize winner in biology. He added much luster to the faculty, but his principal work continued to focus in Washington, where he was conducting experiments on nerve gases for the Department of Defense. This meant that he was unable to do any actual teaching at the university; his courses were handled by a series of attractive young men who were, on the average, two and one half years older than the university students, four per cent more intelligent, and six per cent better adjusted. Of course, students could sometimes catch a glimpse of Dr. Conover heading for the airport on Sunday afternoon, and this reassured them.
War is good business. Invest your sons.
The university had lost its way and everyone knew it except the Board of Regents, the alumni, the faculty and ninety per cent of the students.
I am a serious student. Please do not spindle, fold or staple me.
He was looking through all the markets to find a Christmas present for L.B.J. What he had in mind was a set of dominoes.
Goddammit, I wish you’d listen to my main argument. Thirty years from now the government, the banks, the important businesses, the universities and everything that counts in this world will be run by today’s humanities majors. The scientists will never run anything except laboratories, they never have, they never can. Yet in this university we spend all our time and money training scientists and we ignore the humanities people on whom the welfare and guidance of the world have always depended and will always depend. I say this is stupidity, and if the Board of Regents and the faculty aren’t smart enough to stop it, we must.
Better a certain peace than a hoped-for victory.—Livy
When they conk you on the head with their billysticks, zap them right back with superlove.
With men, the normal state of nature is not peace but war.—Kant
Political exile has been the last refuge of many noble minds. In exile Dante Alighieri wrote his finest poetry and Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov forged the ideas that were to paralyze the world. It was in exile from German militarism that Carl Schurz made his scintillating contributions to American life, and in exile from Spanish reaction that Duque de Rivas wrote his notable books. A flood of exiles from Scotland founded the intellectual excellence of Canada, and daring adventurers, thrown out of their native islands, peopled the Pacific. The brilliant minds that conceived the atomic bomb for the United States were principally Jewish exiles kicked out of Nazi Germany. For three centuries the United States profited from the political exiles who fled to our protection. It took the politicians of this generation to launch a reverse flow.
Never pick up a girl before one o’clock in the afternoon. If she’s so beautiful, what’s she doing out of bed before noon?
If a young man, no matter how insecure, can’t make it with the girls in Torremolinos, he had better resign from the human race.
Zeus picked up Ganymede at the Wilted Swan.
On his twentieth birthday Joe faced a problem of such complexity that he had to ask for help, and in this way he met Mrs. Rubin.
His confusion had started two years earlier, when against his will he registered for the draft. He told the other fellows in high school, in the awkward sentences that characterized his attempts at communication, “How does that grab you? Can’t order a beer but can go to war.”
He had always been tall for his age, rangy rather than compact, and in the style of his group, had begun to wear his hair rather long at the sides, noticeably so in the back. He had not been good enough in athletics to attract the attention of any college or sufficiently intellectual to win an academic scholarship. About the only thing he had to show after graduating from high school was a wallet-sized piece of white cardboard attesting to the fact that he had registered for the draft and been automatically classified 1-A; his real classification would come later, after he was called for his physical. Upon entering the university he had been required to show his draft card, and the professor in charge seemed gratified that he had one.
On his nineteenth birthday he received an official letter which scared the hell out of him. It was from his draft board and was waiting for him when he got back from chemistry. For ten agonizing minutes he had been afraid to open it. “I’m not scared of war,” he assured his roommate, a sallow-faced philosophy major from Nevada, “and I’m not a conscientious objector, but Vietnam bugs me. Jesus, I don’t want to crawl through rice paddies.”
When he finally opened the letter he found nothing but a mimeographed statement: “In view of your enrollment in the university, you are classified 2-S, which you will keep until you graduate. However, you must inform this board of any change in your educational status.” A new card was enclosed, which he had to show to college officials and bartenders.
Even though he had managed good grades as a freshman, his sophomore year was proving difficult. The university he had chosen was no brain-train like Berkeley nor a mod-squad like Stanford; it was one of the numerous solid institutions that dotted California and accounted for that state’s superiority in so many fields; where a state like Pennsylvania provided a college education for thirty-one percent of its high school graduates, California educated seventy-three, and this difference had to tell. Joe held his own with the competition, drawing down grades that kept him in college and out of the draft.
“It was this latter that engendered his moral crisis. Four ugly events accumulated in a short period of time. They haunted him, could not be dismissed; of itself, each was trivial, a thing young men would have been able to dismiss ten years ago. Now, in the autumn of 1968, they coalesced to form a dreadful incubus.
The first event was accidental. His roommate, who got almost straight As and had done so throughout high school, was visited one day by an older boy named Karl, who had graduated the previous year. He was a big, able fellow who dropped by the room and lounged on the bed with a beer can. “No matter what they tell you,” he pontificated, “take three education courses. The wise guys laughed when I dropped out of pre-law and took Elementary Ed…Diaper Changing III, they called it. All right, they’re in Vietnam. I’m salted away in an elementary school in Anaheim. I’m safe from the draft for the duration.” He lolled back against the pillows, swigged his beer, and repeated his admonition, “Take education.”
“How do you find teaching?” Joe asked.
“Who gives a goddamn? You report in the morning. The kids are raising hell. You keep them from tearing the place apart. You go home at night.”
“What do you teach them?”
“Won’t you get fired?”
“I’m big. The kids are afraid of me. So I keep reasonable order. The principal is so grateful for one quiet room he don’t give a damn if I teach ’em anything or not.”
“Sounds pretty awful,” Joe said.
“I’m out of the draft,” the teacher said.
Later, Joe’s roommate dragged him along on a visit to the elementary school to see if the principal might have a job for them when they graduated, and they watched children, many of them black, roaring up and down the halls. The principal was a kindly man, about forty, with falling hair. “Your friend is one of the best teachers we have,” he said enthusiastically. “If you qualify for the California certificate, we would be most pleased to add you to our staff.”
“The second experience was disgusting. One night their door burst open with a bang and Eddie, a burly football player good enough to hold down a scholarship but not quite good enough for the first team, rushed in to announce with obvious triumph, “By God, I finally got her pregnant! We’re gonna get married next week.”
“Yep. She saw the doctor and it’s official. Morning after the wedding I go back to my draft board and pick up that good old 3-A classification…and I’m home free.”
Other students came in to congratulate him, and he said expansively, “Maud and I studied the rhythm system till we had it pinpointed. During the period when she could be knocked up we screwed three, four times a day. You remember how I fell down in the Oregon game? Hell, I was so weary I couldn’t stand up. I screwed her twice that morning. Coach gave me all hell, but I think that was the morning I rammed it home. Anyway, she’s pregnant and I’m out of the draft.
One of the men asked, “You think your 3-A classification will hold?”
“It’s the sure one. All you guys ought to get married. Lots of girls over there would be glad to shack up with you. Screw ’em to death. Get ’em pregnant. Tell the government to go to hell.”