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5.0 out of 5 stars Yin and Yang: Two Lives, Two Loves
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...
Published on July 10 2004 by Marian Loreti

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3.0 out of 5 stars Hardly "flawless"
This novel IS well written. But after the engaging beginning, describing Vinnie's successful strategies for coping with flying alone, the plot bogs down to a slow crawl, and I had to force my way to the end, trying to discover what made it Pulitzer Prize-worthy.
I realize that many writers are university academics during the day. And, the old dictum of "write...
Published on April 22 2000 by :)


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5.0 out of 5 stars Yin and Yang: Two Lives, Two Loves, July 10 2004
By 
This review is from: Foreign Affairs (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
By 
A. Craig "Amanda Craig" (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Foreign Affairs (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
By 
Fanoula Sevastos (Lyndhurst, OH USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Foreign Affairs (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
By 
This review is from: Foreign Affairs (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.
Refreshingly, each chapter opens with a blurb of either a children's rhyme for Vinnie or a couple of poetic lines of John Gay for Fred, setting the tone for the following chapter.
What makes this novel complete is that both Vinnie and Fred experience a much-needed internal awakening.
In keeping to its bipolar quality, the progress of Vinnie's affair is gradual as compared to Fred's fast companionship. Yet, similarily, both are blissfully self-educated in the book's conclusion, for each character does learn that in matters of "Foreign Affairs," a different country can make a different heart.
This is a worthwhile read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars ultimate US/UK airplane read, Feb. 21 2001
By 
Philip Greenspun (Cambridge, MA USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Foreign Affairs (Paperback)
Lurie updates Henry James's perspectives on Americans in England while covering the love lives of the middle-aged. The book is beautifully written, even when describing Vinnie Miner, 54-year-old female English professor, settling in for the flight to London: "In this culture, where energy and egotism are rewarded in the young and good-looking, plain aging women are supposed to be self-effacing, uncomplaining--to take up as little space and breathe as little air as possible. All very well, she thinks, if you travel with someone dear to you or at least familiar: someone who will help you stow away your coat, tuck a pillow behind your head, find you a newspaper--or if you choose, converse with you.
But what of those who travel alone? Why should Vinnie Miner, whose comfort has been disregarded by others for most of her adult life, disregard her own comfort? Why should she allow her coat, hat, and belongings to be crushed by the coats and hats and belongings of
younger, larger, handsomer persons? Why should she sit alone for seven or eight hours, pillowless and chilled, reading an outdated copy of _Punch_, with her feet swollen and her pale amber eyes watering from the smoke of the cigarette fiends in the adjoining seats?"
Much ink is spent on the life of the plain woman, notably the plain middle-aged woman:
"Within the last couple of years she has in a sense caught up with, even passed, some of her better-equipped contemporaries. The comparison of her appearance to that of other women of her age is no longer a constant source of mortification. she is no better looking than she ever was, but they have lost more ground. ... Her features have not taken on the injured, strained expression of the former beauty, nor does she paint and decorate and simper and coo in a desperate attempt to arouse the male interest she feels to be her due. She is not consumed with rage and grief at the cessation of attentions that were in any case moderate, undependable, and intermittent. As a result men--even men she has been intimate with--do not now gaze upon her with dismay, as upon a beloved landscape devastated by fire, flood, or urban development. ..."
Lurie is also very sharp on tourism: "His earlier anomie, Fred realizes now, was occupational. Psychologically speaking, tourists are disoriented, ghostly beings; they walk London's streets and enter its buildings in a thin ectoplasmal form, like a double-exposed photograph. London isn't real to them, and to Londoners they are equally unreal--pale, featureless, two-dimensional figures who clog up the traffic and block the view."
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3.0 out of 5 stars Hardly "flawless", April 22 2000
By 
:) "chuckamok" (Bellevue, WA USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Foreign Affairs (Paperback)
This novel IS well written. But after the engaging beginning, describing Vinnie's successful strategies for coping with flying alone, the plot bogs down to a slow crawl, and I had to force my way to the end, trying to discover what made it Pulitzer Prize-worthy.
I realize that many writers are university academics during the day. And, the old dictum of "write what you know", well, I guess that's natural. But since the days of Kipling, Hemingway, and London, writers' lives, it seems, are dreary excercises in stifling mediocrity.
There seems to be an obligatory urge to write something semi-autobiographical: to vent the spleen, contemplate the navel, and lament the sorry socio-economic status of the suffering novelist. But, Lord!, is that boring to the frustrated reader.
None of the characters in this novel were admirable or even likable, except for the doomed Chuck, and we got precious little of him.
I've been running into this scenario a lot lately, Brookner's "Hotel du Lac", Medwed's "Host Family", Russo's "Straight Man", Hassler's "Rookery Blues".
Enough's enough. The next synopsis that reads: "Joe Blow was two years away from tenure, but the rumored cutbacks were looming. His marriage was over, his dog recently cashed it in, he's suffering from major league writers' block, his daughter hates him ...", well, I'm a-headin' for the hills with Steinbeck under my arm.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Witty, poignant and charming...Lurie writes like a dream, March 23 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Foreign Affairs (Paperback)
Alison Lurie's "Foreign Affairs" is quite the most witty, poignant and charming book I have read all year. Lurie had me in her spell right from the opening chapter where I was struck by her sureness of touch and intuitive understanding of the workings of the human heart. Her sense of humour is so honest and spot-on it's uncanny. She had me in stitches no sooner than Vinnie Miner boarded the plane and found to her dismay the unlikeliest of travelling companions seated next to her and determined to make conversation. Lurie's protagonists, Vinnie Miner and Fred Turner, are both living, breathing individuals everyone recognises. They aren't "types" but real people, not particularly distinguished or virtuous, with insecurities, but nevertheless people you feel compassion for. Vinnie and Fred are thrown together, sharing the same broad social milieu and developing romantic attachments with the unlikeliest of liasons. Of the two, Vinnie's story is by far the more convincing and successful. It is also heartwarming and touching. In contrast, Fred's liason is a little bland and one dimensional but saved by a dark twist at the end which I won't give away. "Foreign Affairs" has to be Lurie's masterpiece. It is a truly delightful and exceptional literary achievement by a novelist whose trademark is a graceful old school charm that's so rare to find these days. It richly deserves its Pulitzer Prize winning status and I would recommend it to anyone who reads to be moved and entertained.
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5.0 out of 5 stars FUNNY, ABSORBING, FILLED WITH NUANCES, March 30 1997
By A Customer
This review is from: Foreign Affairs (Paperback)
If you love Jane Austen but are looking for a modern novelist, you will love Alison Lurie.

Lurie's books are hilarious and her characters are complex. She doesn't have to rely on sensational family problems (like hidden incest, etc) to keep the reader's interest. Her writing style is natural and her timing is impeccable.

You can read her books with pleasure many times. Best of all, she's a modern author whose women characters are not confined to home and marriage -- they have careers and affairs, and the sticky problems that go with both.

I discovered Alison Lurie about three years ago, and I am eagerly awaiting her next novel because I've read all the other ones. My favorites are Foreign Affairs (the protagonist is a nondescript women in her 50s -- and her story is funny, poignant, and interesting.) I also love The Truth About Lorin Jones, about a woman who's angry at men in general due to her recent divorce, and discovers some interesting truths about herself while researching a woman artist, Lorin Jones.

Also great are: The War Between the Tates, Real People, The Nowhere City, Imaginary Friends, and Love and Friendship.

Buy Alison Lurie's books for your next lazy Sunday afternoon!
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5.0 out of 5 stars A "great read"., Oct. 29 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Foreign Affairs (Paperback)
I really enjoyed this work, and look forward to reading others by Ms. Lurie. The author captures, in a gentle way, the nuances of personal thoughts and human interaction.
For me, there was only one weakness in this work. Ms. Laurie appears to have a misconception of men's feelings, particularly as they relate to women. On occasion, it appeared that one of the mechanisms the author uses to differentiate men from women is to have her male characters use vulgarity somewhat gratuitously. Although, in general, this work had less vulgarity than many others. Her representation of the inner thoughts of her male characters did not ring true, at least to this male reader.
None-the-less, this is a marvelous work that holds your interest, leads you to care about, and feel you know, its main character Vinnie Miner, and is a hard book to put down.
Highly recommended as an "outstanding read". The Pulitzer committee got it right!
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2.0 out of 5 stars Humorous Tales of Americans in London, June 23 2003
This review is from: Foreign Affairs (Library Binding)
The sometimes overlapping stories of Vinnie Miner and Fred Turner, two Americans conducting literary research in London, prove entertaining, even if a bit contrived. The earlier portions of the stories are much better at communicating the tongue-in-cheek narrative on American perceptions of England (and American perceptions of America) and some of the dialogue and musings that Lurie provides for Miner are down right hysterical.
This is very easy and pleasant read. The strength of this book is Lurie's ability to provide satirical and witty commentary on life in general and on life abroad. The power of this is diluted as the focus of the book changes from that commentary to the details of a story which become overdramatized. In doing this, Lurie loses much of the cleverness contained in the first three-quarters of the book.
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Foreign Affairs
Foreign Affairs by Alison Lurie (Hardcover - Aug. 12 1984)
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