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Alphabetical Africa [Paperback]

Walter Abish
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 1 1974 New Directions Books
Abish, Alphbetical Africa. A continent forms and crumbles through a linguistic tour de force.

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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars The errors were not intentional Feb. 24 2001
By Sho
Format:Paperback
Years ago I wrote a paper on Alphabetical Africa that asserted, in part, that the "story" struggled to express itself through the alphabetical artifice, some evidence of which was to be found in the erroneous use of words beginning with disallowed letters. Someone who knew Abish mentioned this to him at a party, and he replied "You're kidding! My editor and I went over it again and again to make sure there weren't any errors!" So viva la story!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Bravo, with reservations Feb. 21 2000
Format:Paperback
The reviewer below has given a fine summary of the book, and is, for the most part, correct on all accounts. This is precisely the kind of novel that can revitalize fiction again, save it from simply providing subject matter, "interesting" or"meaningful" stories (which most ofter turn out to be neither). Alphabetical Africa is a commendable novel simply for what its form is, for the composition that makes it Art rather than mass-marketable fiction. It deserves applause and merits reading.However, it could've been better. Maybe it needed more planning, maybe it needed to be even more radical. Despite being so overtly experimental, it remains burdened by highly conventional narrative expectations. Given the constraints of the form, the narrative, though it's certainly full of surprises, isn't that fulfilling.Also worth noting in the "could've been better" category: I agree with the reviewer below that one "error" serves as a pleasure to the reader, like a insider's wink from the author. However, once I found a fourth "error" in Alphabetical Africa, I began to feel that the author wasn't winking, his eye was twitching involuntarily.Great pioneering work, but not quite a great novel.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Alphabetical Africa by Walter Abish Dec 20 1997
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Alliterative Analogies, assertively assembled, appear aplenty, appropriately, apt and artful, absorbing attention ad infinitum. This could be a fitting summary of Abish's stunningly "now" novel, written almost a quarter of a century ago with a linguistic device concocted between Kabbala and alliteration. Chapter 1 is composed with words beginning only with the letter A, Chapter 2 with A and B and so on until chapter 27, when Z first, then chapter by chapter all other letters, are progressively subtracted. In spite of a scheme tracing back to the beginning of written literature, the novel tells of deeds and characters so surprisingly contemporary, they may have been culled from today's headlines: polysexually inclined thugs hide in Africa after a crime spree, with the Author in pursuit of the woman who betrayed them. Chasing after the thugs from country to country, we are introduced to a ruler queen transvestite, war and genocide, corrupted burocrats and soldiers, rampant corruption in a landscape still in hot air, where sparsely assembled people wollow in African Indolence. All is narrated with poetic detachment, in a dimension between joke and dream that implies social, political and historical commentary with what appears linguistical accidentality: it is just that the words were limited by my artifice, reader, the Author seems to smile. No harm intended. Perhaps: the scenario may have seemed so far fetched in 1974, to have been deemed the product of unabridged fantasy. Great art, when unhindered, relates to the whole of time, in all tenses. Read more ›
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Alphabetical Africa by Walter Abish Dec 20 1997
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Alliterative Analogies, assertively assembled, appear aplenty, appropriately, apt and artful, absorbing attention ad infinitum. This could be a fitting summary of Abish's stunningly "now" novel, written almost a quarter of a century ago with a linguistic device concocted between Kabbala and alliteration. Chapter 1 is composed with words beginning only with the letter A, Chapter 2 with A and B and so on until chapter 27, when Z first, then chapter by chapter all other letters, are progressively subtracted. In spite of a scheme tracing back to the beginning of written literature, the novel tells of deeds and characters so surprisingly contemporary, they may have been culled from today's headlines: polysexually inclined thugs hide in Africa after a crime spree, with the Author in pursuit of the woman who betrayed them. Chasing after the thugs from country to country, we are introduced to a ruler queen transvestite, war and genocide, corrupted burocrats and soldiers, rampant corruption in a landscape still in hot air, where sparsely assembled people wollow in African Indolence. All is narrated with poetic detachment, in a dimension between joke and dream that implies social, political and historical commentary with what appears linguistical accidentality: it is just that the words were limited by my artifice, reader, the Author seems to smile. No harm intended. Perhaps: the scenario may have seemed so far fetched in 1974, to have been deemed the product of unabridged fantasy. Great art, when unhindered, relates to the whole of time, in all tenses. While amusing, Abish has managed a ponderous read, which meandering on through verisimilar everyday history of attitudes and practices, inserts deep philosophical reflections as light as the puns enclosing them and extends like a prophecy to contemporary events. Attentive readers will delight in finding the one slip from the add-subtract letter scheme. And wonder: was it accidental? "In order to be perfect, all I lack is a defect" goes an ancient italian folk ironic couplet.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What 'Memento' was to film A.A. is to Literature April 8 2013
By ARWoollock - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
What 'Memento' was to film A.A. is to Literature.

This is often described as a novel, but a novel it probably isn't. Whilst there is a loose and somewhat banal narrative that strings its way through the alphabet (and back) the actual narrative does rather suffer somewhat from the constriction of the adopted form. I'm thinking in particular towards the end where the 'story' just fades into the background and can't even be said to give way to the form that dominates it - it just disappears.

The above criticism affirmed, however, shouldn't put off any potential readers from picking up a text that I can pretty much guarantee you have not even encountered anything remotely similar in your reading career - and that alone - the shifting of the paradigm, is worth the four stars.

What A.A. is and what it represents is the ultimate expression of 'Thinking outside the box' it is an act of Literary bravery which deserves something akin to the Victoria Cross for it takes the first tentative steps towards discarding the box altogether and thus opening up its contents for all to see, examine, scrutinise and discuss.

One can imagine a time when this kind of postmodern playfulness and skepticism of the grand récit (the established and entrenched novel form) has itself become passé and the reader is able to choose from a variety of authors experimenting with something other than the linear narrative, or the linear narrative, or the linear narrative... but alas those days seem so far off and that is certainly one reason why A.A. stands out so much - not because it is a great story, with exceptional plot or dialogue or exquisitely drawn characters, but mostly because of its audacity, and ultimately that is quite a sad fact to acknowledge.
4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bravo, with reservations Feb. 21 2000
By Reader 6 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The reviewer below has given a fine summary of the book, and is, for the most part, correct on all accounts. This is precisely the kind of novel that can revitalize fiction again, save it from simply providing subject matter, "interesting" or"meaningful" stories (which most ofter turn out to be neither). Alphabetical Africa is a commendable novel simply for what its form is, for the composition that makes it Art rather than mass-marketable fiction. It deserves applause and merits reading.However, it could've been better. Maybe it needed more planning, maybe it needed to be even more radical. Despite being so overtly experimental, it remains burdened by highly conventional narrative expectations. Given the constraints of the form, the narrative, though it's certainly full of surprises, isn't that fulfilling.Also worth noting in the "could've been better" category: I agree with the reviewer below that one "error" serves as a pleasure to the reader, like a insider's wink from the author. However, once I found a fourth "error" in Alphabetical Africa, I began to feel that the author wasn't winking, his eye was twitching involuntarily.Great pioneering work, but not quite a great novel.
0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars College worthy Dec 13 2012
By K. M. Filkins-Sanders - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is being used as a text in a college English course. It is appropriate and students seem to enjoy the read
6 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The errors were not intentional Feb. 23 2001
By Sho - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Years ago I wrote a paper on Alphabetical Africa that asserted, in part, that the "story" struggled to express itself through the alphabetical artifice, some evidence of which was to be found in the erroneous use of words beginning with disallowed letters. Someone who knew Abish mentioned this to him at a party, and he replied "You're kidding! My editor and I went over it again and again to make sure there weren't any errors!" So viva la story!
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