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The Catastrophist [Audiobook] [Audio Cassette]

Ronan Bennett , Sean Barrett
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Nov. 29 1999
James Gillespie, an Irish writer, goes to the Congo in 1962, in pursuit of an Italian woman. What follows tells of the ebb and flow of their passion, the shimmering heat of Africa, the terrible collapse of the colonial regime, the murder of the African leader and general descent into unholy chaos.
--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Perhaps it takes a writer with Ronan Bennett's peculiar personal history to write so compelling a novel about the place where politics and art intersect. By the time he was 23, Bennett, an Irish Catholic from Northern Ireland, had already spent five years in and out of various jails, charged with politically motivated crimes he'd never committed. He then traded in prison walls for the rarified halls of academia, studying for a Ph.D. in history before embarking on a new career as a fiction writer. Though at first The Catastrophist, set in the Congo during its bid for independence from Belgium, may seem a far cry from Belfast in the '70s, Bennett uses his hard-won wisdom to examine the role of the artist in a political conflict.

James Gillespie, a disillusioned Irish historian turned novelist, has arrived in the Congo on the eve of independence, hoping to reunite with his Italian lover, Ines. The two had once been passionately involved in Europe, but Ines's job as a journalist took her to the Congo, where her Communist leanings have kept her. Ines is an enthusiastic supporter of Patrice Lumumba, and her journalism reflects her bias. Gillespie, on the other hand, has a novelist's broader view, and his ability to see all facets of the issue simultaneously keeps him from choosing sides and drives a wedge between him and Ines. As she becomes more involved with Lumumba and his followers, he is befriended by an American CIA agent whom Ines suspects of being an enemy. When the political situation heats up, she puts herself increasingly in harm's way until, at last, Gillespie must put his own life on the line to save hers. Bennett does a stellar job of recreating the complicated web of political intrigue and shifting alliances at play in the Congo in 1959, but he really shines when exploring how personal relationships unravel under the strain of ideology. As Ines tells Gillespie shortly before she leaves him, his ability to see all points of view is a privilege few people can afford: "When you are on history's losing side, when you are poor and cursed to eat bread, to accept your enemy's point of view is to accept starvation and slavery." The Catastrophist is a love story, a historical novel, a troubling reflection on Africa's ongoing political upheaval. --Alix Wilber --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

An Irish novelist finds himself trapped in an African colony's struggle for independence in this sophisticated and resonant political novel from the Whitbread Prize-shortlisted, Belfast-bred Bennett. In 1959, middle-aged writer James Gillespie travels to the Belgian Congo to join his young Italian girlfriend, In?s Sabiani, an idealistic journalist covering Patrice Lumumba's revolution for a Communist daily. In a colony swiftly on its way to nationhood, every action seems political. But narrator James clings to his ideal of artistic detachment, which drives a wedge between him and the engag? In?s. While James makes friends with U.S. attach? Mark Stipe, a stocky swaggerer who may be working for the CIA, In?s takes an African boyfriend, Auguste, Stipe's former houseboy and now Lumumba's right-hand man. Amid the tumult and intrigue of decolonization, James is forced to choose: will he cling to his ideology as a neutral observer, or help In?s and Auguste when they need him? Bennett's laconic style suits his cautious narrator precisely, recording his reluctant engagement with the Africans' cause. With deft strokes, Bennett shows how U.S. and Belgian interests, fearing Lumumba's Communist sympathies, quickly undermined his government, helping to power his rival Mobutu, who proved a bloodthirsty tyrant. This U.S. debut is Bennett's fourth book in Britain, where he's often (and rightly) compared to Graham Greene, praised both for his awareness of Third World politics and for his tactile sex scenes. Readers expecting a straight-up thriller may flip impatiently past flashbacks to Northern Ireland, meditative passages and references to Empson and Flaubert. But those seeking a well-made hybrid in Greene's modeAbuilt of irony and commitment, political theory and garish violence, erotic charge and historical factAwill find Bennett a writer who can shock, please, inspire, disturb and finally satisfy. (Sept.) FYI: Before he was 20, Bennett was arrested as an IRA activist (though he was not a member) and convicted of murder and armed robbery, but released when his conviction was overturned. Later, living in England, he was arrested on a charge of conspiracy and served time while awaiting trial, where he was acquitted. Upon his release, he studied history at King's College, where he received a Ph.D. He is now a journalist in London.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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4.0 out of 5 stars Distant, but harrowing July 24 2001
By igj
Format:Paperback
The Catastrophist makes an interesting counterpoint to Giles Foden's The Last King of Scotland. Both books examine the deterioration of colonial rule and the ensuing chaos in central Africa from an outsider's perspective and with some studied distance in voice and tone. Bennett, however, mixes in an uncrossable gulf between love and ideology that makes The Catastrophist a more challenging, and more rewarding read. The main character's reaction to the situation in Africa is frequently compared to his dismissive tone about the turmoil in Ulster, and this connection led me to often stop reading and spend a few minutes pondering just what brought the character to such a flip attitude about his homeland and how that would alter his perception of Africa. The only criticism that I can level at this book is the reliance on a European voice-it seems that the African voice is almost entirely lost, and that is certainly a failing in a book at least half about the political turmoil in Belgian Congo.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Superb thriller, very moving and full of passion Dec 23 2000
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Ronan Bennett has written a landmark novel. On the surface, "The Catastrophist" appears to be treading well worn grounds occupied by illustrious writers like V S Naipaul and Chinua Achebe, but this Whitbread Prize shortlisted novel is no second rate hack job. Its premise may seem all too familiar - a white journalist exorcising her colonialist guilt on foreign soil - but what differentiates this wonderfully compelling novel from others I've read is the fresh perspective it lends to the subject. For once, it's the man (James) who suffers...and for the love of a woman (Ines), who has more serious matters on her mind than thoughts of domestic bliss and love. The male/female role reversal is strangely effective and though it took some getting used to initially, there was nothing that seemed false or didn't ring true. Told exclusively from James' perspective, you ride on his emotional waves and judge his relationship with the other characters accordingly. I found myself disliking Ines for her selfishness, then admiring her courage and vascillating in my opinion of her. The flashback to James' childhood in Ireland is also deeply poignant and explanatory. Ronan Bennett's writing is truly awesome, beautifully judged and always compelling. "The Catastrophist" is both a thriller and a love story. Read either way, it's a towering achievement and an unconditional success. The struggle and emotional tug-of-war between James and Ines parallel that between the freedom fighters and the Belgian colonialists in Congo. A great read and highly recommended.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Catastrophist Dec 5 1999
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Bennett's novel was a fascinating read immediately following Barbara Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible--the same setting, a completely different perspective, two excellent novels (read both). Bennett's casting of the end of a relationship, amid the destruction of a nation is a compelling story. The story of the protagonist's sorrow over the loss of his lover, and the story of the equally short and catastrophic independence of the Congo are superbly blended. The prose sings in this novel and although Bennett contends that, ...there is no such thing as a change in people... this is exactly contradicted by the story here. One wants to read this book and then talk about it--it is emotionally charged and goes to the heart of the issue of whether we ever really do connect with other people as the author portends his main character never had until middle aged and under extreme duress. One who found Cold Mountain intriguing, will also be captivated by The Catastrophist.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Authentic. Gripping. Multi-Faceted May 25 2000
Format:Hardcover
An Irish author, his Italian lover, an American spy, and a host of African revolutionaries compromise an unlikely cast of characters that Bennet amazingly manages to make believable, even compelling.
This is a story of love lost, art vs. politics, trust and betrayal, all superimposed on the backdrop of Patrice Lumumba's struggle in the Belgian Congo. The reader can't help but be drawn in by the hopelessness of the protagonist's pursuit of his lost lover. The characters are complex, flawed, and realistic.
This is a bleak novel of self destruction and situations out of control. The protagonist is intentionally apolitical (which causes the rift with his former lover) but his story mirrors the political conflict that surrounds him.
A masterful, well researched, thoughtful novel. A love story and a political novel all at once, which manages never to be pretentious or preachy. Excellent!
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5.0 out of 5 stars A story of lives drawn to conflict in the Congo Feb. 4 2001
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Ronan Bennett's "Catastrophist" grips you from the outset. Who are these characters stranded on the banks of the Sankuru river in December 1960 and what is their involvement in the life and arrest of Patrice Lamumba? Why is this "a story of failure"? Bennett sucks you into the lives of the main protagonists in a style that is crisp and direct. Gillespie's cynicism and and resignation is set in contrast to the idealism and dynamism of Inez. Both are flawed. And the Belgian Congo is flawed. I never felt I was being given a treatise on the political history of the Congo but ended up being as intrigued by the story of its conflict as by the the fate of Bennett's characters. He has managed a considerable achievement in marrying a story of deep personal sensitivity and searching with one of the Congo's despairing lurch for normal life. And maybe it's about all our lives. This is a great book.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars One to remember
I read this novel when it was released. It stayed with me like almost no other novel ever has, hence my decision to review it. Simply put, it was excellent. Read more
Published on March 6 2002 by Taylor Bennett
5.0 out of 5 stars Overthrown by Strangers is even better!
The Catastrophist is a very good read--highly recommended. It is a thinking person's page turner. Bennett has worked hard not to trivialize the suffering during a dark page in... Read more
Published on March 4 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful and intelligent page turner
This is a beautiful book. Set against the political events leading to the independence of Congo, we are told of the story of a woman's political involvement and her partner's... Read more
Published on June 15 2001 by E. G. Tolon
4.0 out of 5 stars Fine historical page-turner
Bennett's American debut is fascinating for its historical context (that being what drew me to the novel in the first place), and also for the richness of its characters and... Read more
Published on Sept. 8 2000
4.0 out of 5 stars Love and Duty - an everyday conflict
Not everyone who reads this book will be stranded in a war-torn ex-colony, whilst trying to save a doomed relationship - but nevertheless !..... Read more
Published on July 16 2000 by faith@elan-amco.demon.co.uk
5.0 out of 5 stars TREMENDOUS
This is a book about art-for-art's-sake vs. political commitment. The art-for-art's sake camp, as personified by the narrator, turns out to be pretty pathetic, but what's brilliant... Read more
Published on Nov. 8 1999
4.0 out of 5 stars Bleakly fascinating!
A writer travels to the Congo in 1960, following his lover, who has gone there as a journalist to cover the independence movement. Read more
Published on Oct. 9 1999
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent intellectual/politcal thriller.
Heavily influenced by Graham Greene, Bennett's "The Catastrophist" examines the underlying capacity to believe: Whether in politics or love. Read more
Published on Oct. 4 1999
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