Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Book review: Flesh and Blood

I read "Flesh and Blood" by Michael Cunningham years ago in a book club in Chicago. Even though I was an English major in college I'd pretty much lost all interest in reading fiction by then -- and still to this day -- preferring instead to bury myself in books about social science and American and European history. But I DEVOURED this book for our book club. Then a couple years later I devoured it again. And for some reason, something reminded me of it last week. Then I had an opportunity to bring it up in a conversation this week. And now I want to devour it a third time. If I still own my original copy, it's currently filed away in one of more boxes than I can count in my climate-controlled storage locker across town. So I just ordered another copy. And I can't wait to devour it again.
In "Flesh and Blood," Cunningham crafts a richly complex family narrative that germinates literally from the imagination of an eight-year-old boy as he plays in his father's garden in pre-war Greece. That boy -- mightily named Constantine Stassos -- eventually emigrates to America, marries an Italian immigrant, and becomes the imperious and by degrees powerless patriarch of an expanding family dynasty whose story is told both as a beautifully messy, eminently human drama and as a faceted metaphor for the American Dream filtered through a prism of post-war immigration, the uncertain but dogged progress of cultural assimilation, and the inconstantly evolving boundaries of familial love and obligation. It's as engrossing as it is complex, and as beautiful as it is essentially American.

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