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3,7 von 5 Sternen
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am 23. Juli 2000
I won't attempt any kind of meaningful literary criticism, you can find that in other reviews (beware, it is obvious many of the published reviewers have not read the whole book) and comments, and I'm not up to it. But I will try to explain what the book is. This is the story of America's past 50 years, told from a unique perspective (kind of like a hyperactive eye of God with a 5 minute attention span). This results in a series of interconnected short stories travelling back and forth in time, connected by ephemera (a baseball, garbage, TV shows, and the degrees of separation of all the characters). The story is discovered by tracing these connections, which are made by the actions of the characters (the story is not really about the characters, but about explaining the effects of different forces on their lives).
The book switches between styles frequently. The most disturbing thing many people may find are the switches between first and third person. However, people accept these changes in viewpoint in films... Next is the repetition. However this serves to illuminate the connections between the characters' experiences, and also help the jog the reader's memory to something that happened 300 pages ago. Don't be put off by the change in style after the relatively accessible and electric first chapter, either.
Making it to the end of this book is difficult, because there is barely a sentence that does not serve to illuminate the story in a way that makes you stop and think. But if you do, it should make you think differently about life, what more can you ask for?
Perhaps the most impressive feature of this book is that the author managed to keep it coherent despite its massive size and scope, finally resolving all of the interconnected sequences of events spawned in the first chapter. It is a demonstration of rare talent.
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am 19. April 2013
DeLillo's 11th novel (published 1997) is a hefty tome, dealing with the Cold War and the strangeness of American life during that era, focusing between psyche and panoramic overview, but there are also anticipations of growing terrorism in the new millennium. The author's constant shifts while creating a patchwork of the culture in the second half of the 20th century make a review a rather difficult task. The book only seems to center on Nick Shay who is the source of various storylines that are too kaleidoscopic to get a grip on. In a very loose way they connect on a basis of general paranoia and disconnection.

The book opens with a cinematic display of the historic baseball playoff in which the Giants beat the Dodgers. The pitch by Brooklyn Dodger Ralph Branca to New York Giant Bobby Thomson, who won the game in a hit known as "The Shot Heard Round the World." Well, it's October 3, 1951, the same day America learns the Soviet Union has exploded an atomic bomb. This serves DeLillo as a way to demonstrate that two shots are heard around the world and a connection exists between the individual psyche and the realities of the cold war, how the political and the global world invade private lives and how individual events can shape world history. These two events will resonate throughout the book and along the way DeLillo tosses in a large crowd of real-life figures and historical events.

As this is Don DeLillo, the book comes with enough irony and satire to satisfy even the most misfortunate misogynist. In the Sonora Desert we find acres of decommissioned military aircraft taken over by a tribe of avant-garde painters who try to transform them into works of art. We meet a notorious graffiti artist who roams the underground of New York. We meet Sister Edgar, who, in the mid 90's, fights a lost war against the decay of the Bronx. We meet a highway serial killer and we meet countless other characters. The novel also carries a bulk of themes and devices DeLillo has employed throughout his body of work: find here the paranoid alienation of "The Names," the shadow of assassination-as-spectacle from "Libra," the intersection of art, violence, economics, and politics of "Mao II," and the exploration of the new American religion, consumerism, that underpinned "White Noise."

Underworld, despite the claims made by many critics, may not be enshrined as the Great American Novel. I might even steer readers unfamiliar with this writer first to "White Noise" before urging them to tackle this big book. Nevertheless a lot of America has found its way into this massive work, and it is the author's most ambitious novel.
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am 28. Juni 2000
Don Delillo does not traffic in plot-driven novels. Delillo specializes not in creating "stories", but in creating vignettes, in creating moments full of weight, intensity and the impact of history. In Underworld, Delillo has brought this specialty to a stunning apotheosis. As a result, attempting any meaningful summary of the plot is not only nearly impossible, it is entirely beside the point.
The opening 100 or so pages - impressionistically describing the final game of the 1951 pennant race between the Dodgers and the Giants as attended by J. Edgar Hoover, Jackie Gleason and Frank Sinatra - is an absolute tour de force: quite possibly the best 100 pages of any book in the last ten years. The omniscient narrative flows effortlessly back and forth between Hoover et al. to Cotter, the man who catches the "shot heard 'round the world." From there, the book jumps forward to the present day (or thereabouts) and flows backward through time, loosely following the caught baseball as it passes hands over the years.
All of this, however, is simply the armature which Delillo uses to explore his central theme: what living with the bomb for the last 40-50 years has done to us as a country, as a culture, and as a society. Using the Bronx as his guide (although one gets the feeling that the Bronx guides Delillo as well), Delillo suggests that the Cold War has created irreparable rifts in our society, has diminished our sense of "connectedness" to each other, has destroyed our sense of community. In his evocative epilogue, Delillo clearly hints that the Internet may create or exacerbate similar ill-effects in the future (I emphatically agree, as I sit here and type out a review that will only be seen over the Internet).
Rich in symbolism, layered in meaning, this is a book that will force you to confront serious philosophical questions, yet it is still a thoroughly enjoyable read, and never bogs down in pedantry. This is not a perfect book, however, and suffers from one of Delillo's recurrent flaws: the inability (or unwillingness) to create a fully-realized and dimensioned character (although Cotter and Shay come as close or closer than Delillo has elsewhere). Again, though, since the book is not character or plot-driven, this flaw is minor here.
I might add that I am not particularly a fan of some of Delillo's other work. I found White Noise to be practically unreadable (some great set pieces, yet annoyingly repetitive and unengaging), Great Jones Street and Mao II just plain boring. In other words, if you have not been thrilled by Delillo in the past, do not let this prevent you from considering this important book.
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am 26. April 2000
Underworld is certainly not a novel to be taken lightly. Thematically and stylistically, it is undoubtably vast and astonishingly varied, there are literally dozens of characters, and with these characters come dozens of voices. Delillo alternates between vastly different times, geographies, voices, and even points of view (whole swaths of the novel are in first person, other parts are not), and in doing so it seems to me that he ultimately achieves a structure parallel to the very American experience that he wants to evoke: diverse, fragmented, immense, and frankly rather heroic. To search for an entirely coherent plotline throughout is to miss the fun of finding the hidden connections between distant times and places (connections which become one theme of the novel) and is also a rather futile attempt to read a book on terms that are not its own. Reading Underworld ought to be an experience, not a chore, and rather than search for some formal order that is neither extant nor desirable, one should simply sit back, relax, and enjoy Delillo's wonderful ear for poetry and speech.
That being said, I would like to take issue with a reviewer below who purports that Underworld is the result of Delillo thematically plagiarising his own earlier work, White Noise. While White Noise can, in many regards, be read as an overture to Underworld, it is after all a highly individual novel, a novel about the inadequacy of language in the face of death, and about the futility of attempting to co-opt history for personal perspective.
Underworld is grander in scope and vision: and while it, too, is ultimately concerned with the inadequacy of human speech and interaction, it paints the conflicts between language, death, and history across a much broader canvas. It is THE postmodern meditation on the inherent fallacy of linguistic dichotomies. Against the background of the cold war, or two superpowers, of "Us and Them," Delillo attempts (and I believe, succeeds) to deconstruct, time after time, the dualities that we create to preserve and assure our own sense of identity. He builds, for individuals as well as for entire nations, a whole interlocking set of "Us and Them" ideals, and he continually subverts them, until ultimately the Cold War is over, the greatest dichotomy collapses, history overcomes the language's power to obscure, and there is the final word of the book . . .
And of course, there is only one way to discover what that is.
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am 2. April 2000
... Don DeLillo is an acquired taste. He loves repetition,which drives many readers mad. He has a powerful worldview, centeredon conspiracies and secret meanings. Political conservatives often despise him.
If you are new to DeLillo, you may very well enjoy his books. But please, do NOT start your DeLillo reading with this book. Start with a small, funny book like End Zone. Ease into White Noise, Mao II or Libra ... then take a crack at Underworld.
For those in touch with DeLillo's dry humor and in love with those picture perfect sentences that seem to appear out of thin air, Underworld is the ultimate feast. It is a culmination of his themes about modern America ... but it's also a miraculous collection of vignettes.
What other writer would dare imagine a series of Lenny Bruce monologues during the Cuban Missile Crisis? Or conjure up a forgotten Eisenstein film? Or rediscover the bizarre coincidence of Frank Sinatra, Toots Shoor, Jackie Gleason and J. Edgar Hoover all attending the Giants-Dodgers playoff game?
I'm in awe of DeLillo. His universe may be cold and spare, but I believe that's because he sees our world more clearly than most. He gets under the emotions and styles of the day ... he finds the secret histories. END
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am 22. Mai 2000
Read this masterwork twice, first as a literary chronicle of the last half of "America's Century" and then as a literal chunk of Americana per se, that is, as our era's own "Huck Finn."
At the tale's onset, a heroic home-run ball becomes the artifact that propels the reader through the psychodrama that has been our postmodern experience, a era shaped largely by the other event that October day in 1951: the commie detonation of an A-bomb. The effects of both "shots heard round the world " become the central interlocking theses of Nick and Klara's odyssey, one often rendered grotesquely obsessive in both tone and content by the manic consumerism of our electronically interwoven lives and its natural consequence: waste production. If a thematic Mississippi River flows here, it is waste management -- of both the actual and metaphysical sort. As such, on one level, the underworld revealed is the unseen industrial plumbing that ingests spent plutonium fuel rods, toxic trash, assorted toxic biohazards, and wayward barges of Fishkill Island refuse. Yet, on another level, the underworld is the collective cognitive wiring capable of culturally assimilating abandoned B-52's -- the ultimate weapons of mass destruction -- into a desert "art installation," or of morphing the appalling Bronx ghetto graffiti into haute showcases splashed across the pages of "Art in America." Managing all varieties of our own flotsam and jetsam has always been -- and will always be -- the primary cultural catalyst of the human condition and progression.
Delillo's narrative strategy requires both patience and faith from the reader since often few overt cues about speakers and situations are given until well into pages of dialogue. This stylistic device becomes problematic because the content spans decades and continents in this freely-associated socio-cultural panorama of America's last fifty years. Along the way, we are treated to acute portrayals of many personalities, among them J. Edgar Hoover and Lenny Bruce with his memorable riffs of "We're all gonna die!" punctuating his stand-up routine. Stitching this complex patchwork together is the sense that, in this modern era, all is as eternal -- or as ephemeral -- as an endlessly looping videotape of an apparent existence where, in the final chapters, " Everything is everywhere all the time." This ultimate modernity is counterbalanced by the image of the other universal in the human experience: Bruegel's "The Triumph of Death." That we see this allegorical painting surrealistically through the fastidiously fairy-esque consciousness of Hoover is a narrative trick only Delillo could successfully pull off. And does he ever....
I hope this review doesn't contribute to this grand work's being doomed to the "was supposed to but didn't read" stack of titles growing ever-taller in our video-driven culture. "Underworld" is certainly no beach read, but then neither was Huck -- and that title has had fairly good successes over the years.
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am 27. Juni 2000
This is a big book. That's good, because the more DeLillo, the better. Give us all you can, Don. My favorite lines are from a scene where a TV anchorwoman is interviewing the Texas highway killer on the phone on live TV. "Why are you committing these murders?" "Lets just say it's a nice seasonal day where I'm located here, with scattered clouds, and if you want to take that as a hint at my location, then take it as a hint, and if this is all a game, then take it as a game." Total perverse humor like this is typical of DeLillo.
Underworld has many diverse parts. It's the good stuff. Shall we say something doesn't belong? Shall he exclude certain realities? No. DeLillo's character is that of the author. Even though he is one man, one man's time may be complex enough to include stories of seemingly unrelated types. He is showing us how much actually goes through the mind of a being. He is showing how much can come from a style, a way of seeing.
His previous books are so good that to reach their levels of perfection is probably not possible. But that's OK. They already reached those levels. Now he's free to do the new. He has somehow learned to lock on to creative power that produces scene after scene of abnormal, interesting, intense material. Either he is drawing from ultra-rich experience, or he is playing with an imagination that can truly, as Mike Smith says, "explore the world in ways most writers can't even dream of."
Begin with any of his books, especially Ratner's Star. If your mind is structured anything like mine, you will read them all, again and again, until you can see no longer.
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am 1. Dezember 1999
Actually that comment won't apply to anyone but me. You see, when I was a bit of a younger man and this book came out, I immediately went out and bought it, having never really read Delillo but just having a feeling that THIS was a book to read, I had a recently come off the natural literary high that only greats like Pynchon and Gaddis can give you and I had an idea that this book could attempt those heights. So I went and got it and then . . . other matters occupied me, other books called for my attention, and that large eight hundred page monster just sat there patiently, waiting for me. And then the day came, about a month ago, when I couldn't wait any longer and I must say I've rarely torn through a book so quickly in my life, I'd sit there and honestly debate studying for my upcoming barrages of test or "just reading one more chapter". The opening prologue is utterly brilliant in the juxtaposition of the boy who sneaks in the stadium and the famous men throwing up on each other and the pace and tone never slacken. Unlike Pynchon, Delillo is far more emotional and his characters are people and not just devices to further the plot. The prose glistens and you'll find yourself reading over a particularly choice paragraph to embed some marvelous phrasing in your head and each page seems to have another to add to the collection. And the detail, ah, the details! He casts his eye over almost every aspect of US life during the fifty years of the Cold War and you're there, seeing it through the lives of everyone from the top down, from the people who sit on top of the garbage heaps to the ones who sift through it at the base. With all the hype and praise this book got, I didn't think it could at all surpass my expectations but it did, it ranks as my choice for one of the best books of the decade and simply demands your attention. Granted, it's a large difficult book, eight hundred pages remember and requires a good chunk of your time and focus, but careful reading rewards endlessly, his ear for dialogue has never been better and you'll feel like he's been listening to the people talking outside your house. So it's not for everyone but that doesn't mean you should leave it alone. If you see it snap it up, read it, and pass it on to all your friends. This book proves to me that literature in the tradition of the aforementioned Pynchon and Gaddis and even the older heroes Joyce and Faulkner is alive and kicking in the hands of authors like Delillo.
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am 17. September 1998
I felt compelled to read this book, especially since I paid $ for it.. I find it one of the most tedious reads ever. At times the book is interesting, at times outright boring. I have a high IQ and have read all the major literary works of our time in the last 40 years. If this is a great literary masterpiece, then plot and character development are not needed in a great literary work. I tried to read at least a mere 100 pages a week just to get through it. Instead it took me five months. The trivial accounts of uninteresting characters, the lack of any real plot definition, and the lack of any real research into historical events makes this a challenging read to even a Literature Professor. But, it's not surprising the 'literati' and media book promoters wrote warm reviews. Look at the initial reviews of Clancy's new unreadable tomb that has soared down the bestseller lists. The only review's I agreed with this summer are 'Bag of Bones', 'Alien Rapture', 'No Safe Place,' and 'Left Behind.' This book was ultimately disappointing as it LACKED compelling characters, historical insight, a coherent plot, snappy dialog, conflict, a protagonist, and a resolution.
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am 11. Januar 2000
Underworld is without doubt one of the greatest books of the century. It's a grand tour of American life during the Cold War, and ends with the uncertainty of the new world. To say that the size of this puts readers off is stupid: it has to be this big to encompass everything. There is a fantastic plot and a thoroughly real set of characters, and the dialogue and narration are stunningly beautiful. The narrative falls back in time slowly, and pieces of the plot are gradually put together. This may be demanding for the reader, but the beauty of it far outweighs any worries about tiredness. This book unravels the American past in a human way, looking at how the events of the American century - Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, detente, Reaganomics - have affected individual lives. It leaves us poised at the end of the century with a myriad of paradoxes, ironies and uncertainties. Because of its length and scope, Underworld is the sort of book you can return to and study and still find new things. It brilliantly summarises the lives of Westerners in the late twentieth century.
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