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Dhalgren [Hardcover]

Samuel R. Delany
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)

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Book Description

June 1977 0839823967 978-0839823964
In Dhalgren, perhaps one of the most profound and bestselling science fiction novels of all time, Samuel R. Delany has produced a novel "to stand with the best American fiction of the 1970s" (Jonathan Lethem).

Bellona is a city at the dead center of the United States. Something has happened there…. The population has fled. Madmen and criminals wander the streets. Strange portents appear in the cloud-covered sky. And into this disaster zone comes a young man–poet, lover, and adventurer–known only as the Kid. Tackling questions of race, gender, and sexuality, Dhalgren is a literary marvel and groundbreaking work of American magical realism.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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What is Dhalgren? Dhalgren is one of the greatest novels of 20th-century American literature. Dhalgren is one of the all-time bestselling science fiction novels. Dhalgren may be read with equal validity as SF, magic realism, or metafiction. Dhalgren is controversial, challenging, and scandalous. Dhalgren is a brilliant novel about sex, gender, race, class, art, and identity.

A mysterious disaster has stricken the midwestern American city of Bellona, and its aftereffects are disturbing: a city block burns down and is intact a week later; clouds cover the sky for weeks, then part to reveal two moons; a week passes for one person when only a day passes for another. The catastrophe is confined to Bellona, and most of the inhabitants have fled. But others are drawn to the devastated city, among them the Kid, a white/American Indian man who can't remember his own name. The Kid is emblematic of those who live in the new Bellona, who are the young, the poor, the mad, the violent, the outcast--the marginalized.

Dhalgren is many things, but instantly accessible isn't one of them. While most of this big, ambitious, deeply detailed novel is beautifully pellucid, the opening pages will be difficult for some: the novel starts with the second half of an incomplete sentence, in the viewpoint of a man who doesn't know who he is. If you find the early pages rough going, push on; the story soon becomes clear and fascinating. But--fair warning--the central nature of the disaster, of its strange devastations and disruptions, remains a puzzle for many readers, sometimes after several readings.

Spoiler warning: If you want to figure out the secret of the novel as you read Dhalgren, then stop reading this review right now! If you want to know the secret before you start, this is what the novel is about: the experience of existence inside a novel. Time passes differently for different characters. A river changes location. Stairs change their number. The Kid looks in a mirror and sees not himself, but someone who looks an awful lot like Samuel R. Delany. Central images include mirrors, lenses, and prisms, devices that focus, reflect--and distort. The Kid fills a notebook with a journal that may be Dhalgren, and is uncertain if he has written much, or any, of it. The characters don't know they're in a novel, but they know something is wrong. Dhalgren explores the relationship between characters and author (or, perhaps, characters, "author," and author).

The final chapter can be even tougher going than the opening pages, with its viewpoint change and its stretches of braided narrative--and the novel ends with the beginning of an unfinished sentence. But the last chapter becomes clear as you persevere; and when you get to that unfinished closing line, turn to the first line of the novel to finish the sentence and close the narrative circle. --Cynthia Ward --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From Library Journal

Vintage launches its new Delany series with this 1974 epic. In coming months the volumes Babel 17/Empire Star, Nova, and an expanded edition of Driftglass will also be reissued. Though pushing 30, Dhalgren features themes of racial identity, religious faith, and self-awareness revealed in a multilayered plot that will be right at home with today's audiences.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars OK, enough Samuel, I get it... Sept. 2 2003
By A Customer
Before picking up this monster of a book, ask yourself, when almost everyone walks away from this book (Gibson included), and says that they're not sure they understood it or got it all, then how truly great can it be?
Because we're dealing with a famous book here. It could just be that there is nothing there to get. That is possibly the unsatisfying truth behind the various shadows and games that this book throws at the reader.
I enjoyed the creative "difference" of this book, but found myself sometimes flipping through sections where it just read about as interesting as what I did today. An author like Zelazny would be smart enough to make this book, he would also be smart enough to do it in less than 500 pages, instead of bloating close to 1000.
And the sex scenes... oh the sex scenes. I gritted my teeth through them so many times I have to go to the dentist. Mr. Delaney, we get it. Your character likes kinky sex with everything that moves, and possibly some things that do not. Half of them could have been stripped out and still it would have been like bashing the reader over the head with it.
I would get through a few more pages and then groan, right back to having sex.
That is my major criticism with this book. The prose is wonderful, but through major sections I felt like I was watching a juggler who was purposefully showing me how many balls he can keep in the air. Clever sentence follows clever sentence follows clever sentence. If I had written this for my English teacher, she would have bopped me on the head and said, "Yes, I know you are clever, you don't have to keep showing me."
And that in the end was how this book was for me. It is too much of some very good things.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Negative Reviewers Begone Jan. 19 2004
Before there was Neuromancer and The Matrix there was Dhalgren. I've read the negative reviews on this site and I have to say that the people who were expecting the usual blithe, fluff and puff were of course disappointed and blamed the writer. But Dhalgren is so much more comprehensive than simply science fictional. It is a journey of self-discovery and quite possibly the best book I've ever read. It is so much more than what I can write here and is best left up to the reader to discover....
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
At last, at long last, I have finished Samuel R. Delany's Dhalgren, and here are my thoughts, enhanced by some quotes from William Gibson's foreword to the book.
Dhalgren is not a book for everyone; in fact, I'd even go so far as to say it's not for most people. Delany's work is definitely influenced by the fact that he is a gay black man, so if you're expecting normal sexual and emotional relationships, look elsewhere. It's also a dense book, which your average Grisham- or Crichton-reading person is not going to get, or even want to get. It's also long and slower-paced than most books I've read.
That said, it's also one of the most fascinating tales I've read to date. I have sincere worries I'll ever be able to look at, say, a Philip K. Dick book with quite as much reverence again.
It is a labyrinthine book, a sort of wandering narrative that somehow stays carefully focused as the tale weaves continually through its long tale. In his foreword, William Gibson said, "I have never understood it. I have sometimes felt that I partially understood it, or that I was nearing the verge of understanding it. This has never caused me the least discomfort, or interfered in any way with my pleasure in the text. If anything, the opposite has been true."
When I read those words before starting the text, I had my doubts, along with a few lofty - but misplaced - ambitions. How, I wondered, could you not "get" a book, yet still enjoy it? "Maybe I can figure its mystery out," I said to myself. How foolish I was.
In re-reading the foreword after finishing the book, I see now that Gibson was absolutely right. "Dhalgren," he says, "is not there to be finally understood.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Race, sex, power Jan. 21 2003
I'm suprised that after reading all the other reviews, no one mentions how central race is to this book, especially given Delany's decision, as a black author, to deliberately write about the black characters from the perspective of an outsider.
There is a lot going on in the book, but for me, the central conceit seemed very clear (SPOILERS FOLLOW), although brilliantly unorthodox:
The disaster that creates Bellona (a post-apocalyptic city) is the coming together of two equal and opposite forces - a black man (George) and a white girl (not a woman-- June). Each has an stereotypical aspect: George is the sexually insatiatiable rampaging black rapist, June the helplessly vulnerable innocent white victim. But each has a more hidden aspect that runs counter-stereotype. George is a hero who saves children from a burning building, while June is a hypocrite who murders her own brother to cover over her appetites.
They come together in an act that appears to be rape, but which may actually be an piece of playacting created for the pleasure of the participants. This transgression is what warps time and space in Bellona, setting off a series of events in which a white sniper kills black children, the black residents riot and burn the city, anarchy sets in and people flee, armed gangs take over the streets, middle-class residents take refuge in fortresses of delusion, June stalks George in a combination of attraction and repulsion and the entire cycle repeats over and over, endlessly.
In this way the book is a psychological portrait, not only of the Kid --a racially and sexually ambigious artist --but also of the American city --a racially and sexually-obsessed powder keg --during a certain moment in history.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars This incredible book transcends it's sci-fi roots and becomes a...
This book is brilliant on soooo many levels. I hope people won't be put off by the fact that it is generally (probably always) found in the science fiction section of websites and... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Kalena
5.0 out of 5 stars Dhalgren
I buy every copy I find and pass it on. Some people get it. A young man searching for an identity? A place flawed by racism, corruption, a random reorganization of space and time. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Xplidosa
5.0 out of 5 stars The people who love it are right, the people who hate it too
Dhalgren is a book I have read and re-read and I still feel like I missed a lot of its subtle whisperings. Read more
Published on Feb. 24 2004 by Sarris Delapore
5.0 out of 5 stars For those who enjoy the journey more than the destination!
A nameless drifter enters a ruined city, stuck in time, that civilization has chosen to ignore. Almost nothing that occurs is deliberate but seemingly pre-scripted by the... Read more
Published on Dec 18 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars Yes, it is worth every minute.
A friend asked, Does this get worth reading at some point? I read about a third before tossing it aside in frustration. Read more
Published on Nov. 3 2003 by Eric Parent
2.0 out of 5 stars Buyer Beware
A word of caution to science fiction fans. Though the premise of this novel would appeal to any science fiction buff the book contains the authors personal exploration of his own... Read more
Published on June 11 2003
2.0 out of 5 stars Belodona; what a gas!
the novel ?? is dhalarghen A BIGONE.a BOGUS dslyctic cypher dicifer decibal DROLL thriLL RIDE /afflictioon/dicktion during nixon; drifter [its very earthy early seventies soaked]It... Read more
Published on June 3 2003 by david
5.0 out of 5 stars Epic Journey
Samuel Delany has been a constant companion for me throughout my science/speculative fiction reading years (20). Read more
Published on March 31 2003 by nobody
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth the effort.
I read so many of the negative reviews on here, many of them centered around how 'impenetrable' and boring this book is. Read more
Published on Sept. 18 2002 by Brian R. Thomas
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