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Appointment in Samarra [Paperback]

John O'Hara
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)

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4.5 out of 5 stars
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bring Back the Novel Jan. 25 2002
Format:Mass Market Paperback
This is the first O'Hara novel I've read in decades. Back then, I read for sensationalism. In the ensuing years, like my body, my reading tastes have matured. This book in particular, with its wonderful take on a certain society at a certain point in history, should be read by anyone interested in the modern novel. Way ahead of its time -- astounding that it was published in 1934.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Strange Read Aug. 12 2003
Format:Paperback
It would be easy to dismiss "Appointment in Samarra" as insignificant when compared to other, more well known literature. It's certainly a quick, entertaining read, very funny at times, with a loose, somewhat disjointed quality that gives the whole novel a strange tone. Separate events and characters are introduced that don't seem to have any obvious relation to one another, and at the book's end, they still don't. However, as a time capsule of a specific place and time in American cultural history, it's very well done and fascinating to read.
At its basic level, "Samarra" inserts a stick of dynamite into the safe, complacent world of affluent, East coast snobbery by introducing into it an influx of immigrants and "new" money. The WASP environment of cocktail parties, Ivy League schools and country clubs couldn't be sheltered forever from European emigres, specifically Jews, with money of their own. I don't want to give anything of the plot away, but I will say that there is a tragedy in this book, and the ripples it sends through the rich community that serves as the focus of this novel's story are meant to signify the larger ripples affecting American culture on a much greater scale as the heady days of the Roaring 20's give way to the more sombre and politically aware days of the 30's and 40's.
I'm not completely sure what to make of a side story involving some petty mobsters, but I assume their intrusion into the fabric of this East coast society is meant as yet one more example of the loss of security from which these people felt by rights they would be sheltered.
There is no reason not to read "Appointment in Samarra." It won't take up much of your time, and I promise you won't ever be bored by it. Whether you'll find it profound or especially memorable is another story. I didn't particularly find it either, but I would recommend it nonetheless.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read American Author Oct. 16 2002
Format:Library Binding
Fitzgerald, Hemingway, C.S.Lewis, John Cheever. If any one of these authors was ever important to you, please pick up O'Hara. He's critical to understanding twentieth century American authors. At the very least, you can engage in the unending debate on whether he's worthy of joining this pantheon of writers. Worthy of an airport paperback rack? Smalltime trashy romance writer? Or do you think he paints a richly textured canvas of an America and its high society about to be turn the corner on the first half of the 20th century? An important Irish-Catholic writer?
My tip: read this book. If nothing else you'll learn about bituminous and anthracitic coal, the United Mine Workers, how to mix a martini, (and throw one), why fraternities were ever important, and what a flivver was. It's certainly a period piece, and O'Hara does not hold back with the language of the jazz age...which may confuse modern readers (it was a gay party, his chains dropped a link, etc.) In fact, O'Hara was an early adopter of using slang and vernacular in writing the spoken word, and you can be the judge of whether or not he gets an Irish mobster's (or a "high hat's") tone correctly.
He's really at his best with character development, because Julian English (our protaganist) is our bigoted confidante, our tiresome spouse, our wretched boss, our surly neighbor, our spoiled college-boy brat, our pretentious friend and our preening big man about town all in one. O'Hara waltzes us through Julian's demise and we root for him, for one more chance, all the way down.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Societal troubles in a so-called civilized world Feb. 17 2002
Format:Mass Market Paperback
This book is like American Beauty of the 1930s. A man, trapped into a rigid social order, bursts out uncontrollably. Amazingly, this novel focuses on modern themes that still exist today, despite being written seventy years ago.
One man, going to dances and social clubs, trying to keep his community standing in tact, maintaining his marriage, just couldn't take it anymore. A simple thing like disliking a man's story later tears his life apart. Such a simple constrained life blew up like a high-pressure balloon.
While not a story with action or a plot, it is a literary device that portrays the upper-middle class life at that time. It's a nice timepiece and gives the reader a sense of living that life. A typical small Depression era American town with a country club and speak easy.
It's a suprisingly quick and easy read, with a good description of life, and an opening for social interests. Unfortunately, it doesn't captivate readers like many other literary masterpieces.
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5.0 out of 5 stars hits painfully close to home Jan. 10 2002
By asphlex
Format:Hardcover
I didn't know what to expect when I began this book. John O'Hara--wasn't Paul Newman or Elizibeth Taylor in some flick I might not have seen, based on one of his books or short stories, sometime in the late 50s? I think he wrote some big bestsellers and the guy on the front cover looks like an interesting drunk . . .
A first novel . . . hmmm . . . I suppose he is well worth remembering. I can think of few books I'd put in the same class with Appointment in Samarra, a stirring, absorbing tragedy of unrealistic aspiration and retreat into self-destruction. Being of the bitter and resentful sort I found definitions of behaviors I'd experienced and a frighteningly accurate explanation of actions I had considered and feelings I had suppressed. The dialogue is blunt and true, the sorts of slangy toss offs people said in the early 30s when they were through with being polite.
As far as a limited perspective can see, this is a perminant picture of life in 1930s America going horribly, horribly wrong.
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars WASP Wastrel Wimps Out
It all depends. If you class John O'Hara as an American writer of popular fiction, then he must be up there at the very top with detailed descriptions of his society, use of both... Read more
Published on June 11 2004 by Bob Newman
4.0 out of 5 stars If you like Fitzgerald...
Then read this...pronto. Rated the #22 fiction book of the 20th Century, Appointment in Samarra did not disappoint. Read more
Published on April 24 2004 by Chris Salzer
4.0 out of 5 stars The High English in Coal Country
Classism and alcoholism before any 'disease model' or political correctness. Reading this book is like some sort of regression into a time when your name was your destiny and if... Read more
Published on Nov. 1 2002 by L. Dann
3.0 out of 5 stars Cars, coaltowns, and cocktails at the country club
This appears to be a novel written by a young writer that was not to happy with the people in his hometown. Read more
Published on July 26 2002 by Stan Eissinger
4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful and Honest
John O'Hara is like a cross between F.S. Fitzgerald and D.H. Lawrence, if you care to think of it in those terms. Read more
Published on Dec 12 2001 by Scooper
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great American Novel.
ï¿Appointment in Samarraï¿ is a great novel. I was led to read it by an article in the Atlantic Monthly that lamented the pretentiousness of much of contemporary... Read more
Published on Aug. 14 2001 by Frank Gibbons
5.0 out of 5 stars But Who Has the Appointment?
The title comes from a tale attributed to Somerset Maugham (reprinted just in front of the first page of my edition). Read more
Published on April 29 2001 by Gregory N. Hullender
5.0 out of 5 stars A great novel about a fall from grace
Here is a story of social grace and disgrace in the tradition of Fitzgerald and Cheever. It takes place in a town called Gibbsville (actually O'Hara's hometown of Pottsville),... Read more
Published on March 12 2001 by A.J.
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