Word Patriots – Paul West, Writings of the 1980s
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The 1980s was a particularly fertile period for author Paul West. He began and closed the decade with two of his finest historical novels, “The Very Rich Hours of Count von Stauffenberg” in 1980 and “Lord Byron’s Doctor” in 1989. He published the first volume of his Sheer Fiction series, a collection of essays drawn from twenty years of reviewing a panoply of novels from around the world and focusing on his interests in language and style, and wrote “Portable People,” a volume of short biographical sketches accompanied by illustrations by Joe Servello, that would be published in 1990. He also brought out two sharply contrasting novels “Rat Man of Paris” (1986) and “The Place In Flowers Where Pollen Rests” (1988) which in critic David Madden’s words “represent what appears to be the extremes of his fictional practices, the first, a compressed, tightly controlled novel, the second epical in its proportions, a grand expansive look at an ignored culture in our midst, that of the Hopi Indians.” Although the two novels are polar opposites stylistically, they both deal with the ravages of war. At the center of “Rat Man”—which concerns a crazed Paris street person who flashes rats concealed in his coat at those he passes on the boulevards—is a Nazi atrocity committed by Klaus Barbie when Rat Man was a child, and “The Place In Flowers” depicts in graphic detail the horrors of Vietnam, where Oswald Beautiful Badger Going Over the Hill, a onetime fugitive from the law via his stud participation in adult movies of the late 1960s, finds himself after years of living on the Arizona mesa as apprentice and caretaker to his aging uncle, George the Place in Flowers Where Pollen Rests, a representative of the achieved, matured artist, the finder of the way, a blind master carver of wooden kachina dolls which he sells to white tourists. As an Indian, Oswald’s ancestors were among the first victims of American imperialism. Ironically, an efficient killer in the jungles of Vietnam, he himself becomes an agent of that same imperialism. He is in turn the representative of the artist in aspiration, suffering from setbacks and perhaps insurmountable creative limitations. My guests this week are Dimitri Anastasopoulos and Christina Milletti. Both studied with Paul at Penn State in the 1990s. Dimitri is the author of the 2001 novel “A Larger Sense of Harvey” and Christina is author of the 2006 short story collection “The Religious & Other Fictions” published by Carnegie Mellon University. Both are Professors of English at the University of Buffalo in New York. If you would like to know more about my books, please visit my website: www.markseinfelt.com. Also be sure to take a look at the Amazon pages for Paul’s “The Very Rich Hours of Count von Stauffenberg” and “The Place In Flowers Where Pollen Rests”: http://www.amazon.com/Very-Rich-Hours-Count-Stauffenberg/dp/0879514183/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1325102576&sr=8-1 and http://www.amazon.com/Very-Rich-Hours-Count-Stauffenberg/dp/0879514183/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1325102576&sr=8-1 .