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Foreign Affairs [Hardcover]

Alison Lurie
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Aug. 12 1984
WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE

Virginia Miner, a fifty-something, unmarried tenured professor, is in London to work on her new book about children’s folk rhymes. Despite carrying a U.S. passport, Vinnie feels essentially English and rather looks down on her fellow Americans. But in spite of that, she is drawn into a mortifying and oddly satisfying affair with an Oklahoman tourist who dresses more Bronco Billy than Beau Brummel.

Also in London is Vinnie’s colleague Fred Turner, a handsome, flat broke, newly separated, and thoroughly miserable young man trying to focus on his own research. Instead, he is distracted by a beautiful and unpredictable English actress and the world she belongs to.

Both American, both abroad, and both achingly lonely, Vinnie and Fred play out their confused alienation and dizzying romantic liaisons in Alison Lurie’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Smartly written, poignant, and witty, Foreign Affairs remains an enduring comic masterpiece.

“A splendid comedy, very bright, brilliantly written in a confident and original manner. The best book by one of our finest writers.”
–Elizabeth Hardwick

“There is no American writer I have read with more constant pleasure and sympathy. . . . Foreign Affairs earns the same shelf as Henry James and Edith Wharton.”
–John Fowles

“If you manage to read only a few good novels a year, make this one of them.”
USA Today

“An ingenious, touching book.”
Newsweek

“A flawless jewel.”
Philadelphia Inquirer


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Review

"The seventh and latest work of fiction by Alison Lurie, who teaches English at Cornell University and has quietly but surely established herself as one of this country's most able and witty novelists... Wonderfully stimulating for its sheer performance as a novel." -- Christopher Lehmann-Haupt New York Times "I am convinced that Alison Lurie's fiction will long outlast that of many currently more fashionable names. There is no American writer I have read with more constant pleasure and sympathy over the years. Foreign Affairs earns the same shelf as Henry James and Edith Wharton" -- John Fowles Sunday Times "A brilliant novel - her best I think. The book is a triumph, and not simply of style...Foreign Affairs is witty, acerbic, and sometimes fiendishly clever" -- Paul Bailey Evening Standard "Warm, clever and funny" Times Literary Supplement

About the Author

Alison Lurie's non fiction books include studies of folklore and children's literature, and her novels include such favourites as The War Between the Tates, Foreign Affairs, The Truth about Lorin Jones and Last Resort.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Yin and Yang: Two Lives, Two Loves July 10 2004
Format:Paperback
In alternating chapters devoted to each character, six months in the life of Virginia ("Vinnie") Miner, an unmarried Ivy League college professor for whom the sweet bird of youth has long flown away, are contrasted with the same period in the life of Fred Turner - young and handsome, and a junior faculty member of the same Ivy League college. Although they barely know each other, they are both members of the English department and are both on sabbatical in London at the same time doing research.
Their stories are studies in contrast and in similarities. Fred is lonely, having recently become estranged from his wife; Fred loathes England (at least, at first). Vinnie is beyond lonely - at 54, she has settled into a life of comforting routine, even if the routine involves frequent trips to her beloved England. Fred turns heads; Vinnie is "the sort of person no one ever notices."
They each find romance in England. Fred is upwardly mobile - he falls in love with a beautiful and aristocratic actress of some fame. Vinnie is shocked to find herself having a romance with a sanitary engineer from Tulsa, a man who rarely reads books and with whom she would barely have deigned to have talked had they not been thrown together.
Which of these two relationships goes on to become a life-love, and which ends in humiliating farce? It is the genius of this book that the answer, like life itself, remains unpredictable throughout the novel, right up to its surprising end. This novel was highly deserving of the Pulitzer Prize.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece about England and America Feb. 26 2003
Format:Paperback
I recently re-read Foreign Affairs, and having adored it twelve years ago was amazed at how delightful, clever and funny it still is. Two American academics, the plain, wryly self-pitying Vinnie, and handsome young Fred, are both English teachers on sabbatical from Corinth University in London. Vinnie loves England, which she conflates with her love of children's classics, and a sort of prim moral and social superiority. Sitting next to an ignorant Mid-Westerner, Chuck, she disdains him pretty much as Lurie's readers would, too, only to be gradually captivated by his underlying good qualities.
Fred, too, finds his miserable experience of London transformed by an affair with a titled actress, who despite her refined charms (the complete opposite to those of his estranged Jewish wife, Ruth) turns out to be less wholesome than perceived. As with all Lurie's novels, the characters in it are interlinked to those in previous books (Ruth is Ruth Zimmern, whom some may remember from Only Children). The allusions to Henry James are done with grace, but what really impresses is the wit and perfection of style Lurie brings to her subject of American innocence and British corruption. For British readers it's wonderfully refreshing to see ourselves through such a diamond-sharp lens... I also recommend The Last Resort as a mordant satire on death and love.
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4.0 out of 5 stars An understated pageturner Feb. 17 2002
Format:Paperback
Characterization and social observation take center stage in Alison Lurie's Pulitzer Prize winning book (1985). It's witty and droll and rather literary, and in its own understated way a page turner. Vinnie Miner is an English professor in her 50's, divorced and not exceptionally pretty. In fact, she looks (and in public, acts) like an old school marm. She's spending a semester in London to research a book on children's lymericks. In a parallel story, Fred Turner is an exceptionally attractive, 29 year old English professor, newly separated from his wife, who is also spending the semester in England to research his own book. They are aquaintances and peers, and work for the same university in the states. Their stories cross paths throughout the book, adding to the juxtaposition of their two lives.
Vinnie and Fred are vastly different characters who share common human need: companionship, acceptance, love. Foreign Affairs is the story of the paths each of their lives takes while on this sojourn in England, how each reaches his own moment of truth. Along the way, we are greatly entertained by their independent observations of England and of English high society, of the inherent differences between American and English mannerisms and lifestyles, and of the pretenses we all put forth when interacting with the world. There are also some wonderful secondary characters, who occasionally upstage the two main characters, much to the reader's delight.
The novel moves along splendidly, until the very end, when, unfortunately, Lurie finds it necessary to throw in several plot twists which cater more to the dramatic, and play on coincidence and unfounded surprise. These are so utterly unnecessary that I became angry at Lurie for spoiling such a wonderfully engaging book. Still, despite a few weak moments near the end, this one gets four stars
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4.0 out of 5 stars Matters of the Heart July 9 2001
Format:Paperback
This is my first reading of an Alison Lurie novel and - being that I am still reeling from the resolution of "Foreign Affairs" since its completion nearly 24 hours ago - it looks as though I will be reading more of her works.
This book is like reading two separate novels, the chapters regularly flip-flopping between the two protagonists, Vinnie Miner and Fred Turner, whose only correlation is that they are both professors at Corinth University. Such sporadic story-telling has the advantage of keeping things interesting, especially in its opposing perceptions of relative characters. And equally insightful is to exist in the mind of Vinnie and then, a chapter later, to meet Vinnie through Fred's mind or vice versa...(that alone is worth the Pulitzer Prize.) The disadvantage to all this is when one becomes too intrigued with a specific storyline, the reader - not wanting to miss any little mention about the preferred protagonist - is forced to trudge through, what seems to be, an extra long chapter just to return to "the program already in progress."
The humorous and, oftentimes, neurotic Vinnie Miner is a plain fifty-four-year-old woman, comfortably single, and an absolute lover of solitude. She takes delight in her excursion to England in which she does research for her novels regarding children's folklore.
The solemn Fred Turner is almost a complete opposite to Vinnie; he is a handsome twenty-eight-year-old man, miserably married, and desperately seeking to be in the company of others. He despises his trip to England, and loathes the British Museum - hilariously named the "Bowel Movement" by him - where he obtains his research on the poet, John Gay.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A fine book
Fantastic writing that flows fluidly from first to last page, as if the book had been written in one sitting. Read more
Published on May 10 2012 by Sandra M
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read!
Not only did I enjoy this book tremendously, but I recently recommended it to my 79 y.o. mother. She also enjoyed the book, and is now looking for more books by Ms. Read more
Published on Jan. 6 2004 by skeptic44
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautifully written book
I picked this book up recently at my college library with pretty modest expectations. Upon reading the first couple of paragaphs, however, I realized that this was a much bigger... Read more
Published on Aug. 3 2003
2.0 out of 5 stars Humorous Tales of Americans in London
The sometimes overlapping stories of Vinnie Miner and Fred Turner, two Americans conducting literary research in London, prove entertaining, even if a bit contrived. Read more
Published on June 23 2003 by Bobby Jasak
2.0 out of 5 stars Was 1985 a slow year for novels?
I have read about a quarter of all the books that have won the Pulitzer, and I am attempting to read them all in the next year or so. Read more
Published on Oct. 17 2002 by Shilo Nottinghorse
3.0 out of 5 stars Surprised this won a Pulitzer Prize
Perhaps it was just my frame of mind, but I found this book a disappointment. I'll admit that it's well written, but I had to MAKE myself finish the book. Read more
Published on March 20 2001
5.0 out of 5 stars ultimate US/UK airplane read
Lurie updates Henry James's perspectives on Americans in England while covering the love lives of the middle-aged. Read more
Published on Feb. 21 2001 by Philip Greenspun
5.0 out of 5 stars Joyfully surprised
My mother-in-law accidentally left this masterpiece at my house. At first glance, it did not appear to be a "man's" novel. Read more
Published on Dec 27 2000
5.0 out of 5 stars Witty and fun
Lurie writes with a flair and humor which is very welcome. Both of her protagonists and their unlikely love stories (each with a respective twist at the end) are enjoyable and... Read more
Published on Nov. 21 2000 by Shannon Byrd
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