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View Diary: Books That Changed My Life: The Empty Throne (23 comments)

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  •  It can be very difficult at first.... (7+ / 0-)

    One thing that throws many people off is the way the narrative will suddenly shift into dream or drug-induced fantasy without much warning to the reader. On my first reading, I was nearly derailed by the episode where Slothrop flushes himself down a toilet to escape anal rape by a gang of black men, including the young Malcolm X. However, if you do get to the end, you find out that it isn't intended as real in any sense, but is Slothrop's paranoid fantasy while drugged with sodium pentothal as part of a British project to research white Americans' attitudes toward black people.

    Another huge problem is the very heavy use of detail in the narrative, detail which is sometimes significant to larger issues. As it happens, my mother was in London at that time, exactly the same age and with much the same occupation as Jessica Swanlake, though she worked in the Paymaster's Office of the British Army rather than on the crew of an anti-aircraft gun. She and my grandmother talked obsessively about that time while I was growing up, so I wasn't slowed down trying to remember such things as the difference between the V-1 (essentially, a cruise missile with a poorly designed fuel system that shut off the engine when the device went into its final dive, thus giving some warning) and the V-2 (a ballistic missile, which traveled faster than the speed of sound and thus hit without warning), or who Harry Pollit was (General Secretary of the British Communist Party, to save you a trip to Wikipedia).

    By the way, I've never found an outright mistake in Pynchon's reconstruction of the events and people of that time. He's apparently an obsessive researcher, and was working for Boeing at the time with access to a huge pile of captured material on the V-2. The V-2 firing sequence given at the end of the book is strictly accurate and very helpful if you are curious about that sort of thing.

    As far as larger issues are concerned, Gravity's Rainbow was the first place I heard of several historical events that have slipped out of collective memory, at least in this part of the world. The most important is probably the Herero uprising from 1904 to 1907 in German South-West Africa, by the Herero and Namo peoples, as a result of which the Herero were reduced from 80,000 to 15,000 people. Most of the Herero were forced out into the desert and left to die of thirst, which is why the uprising is sometimes cited as one of Germany's first experiments with genocide.

    "They smash your face in, and say you were always ugly." (Solzhenitsyn)

    by sagesource on Fri Mar 22, 2013 at 11:38:39 AM PDT

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