Northern Lights

Northern Lights


By (author) Tim O'Brien

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  • Publisher: Flamingo
  • Format: Paperback | 370 pages
  • Dimensions: 129mm x 198mm x 19mm | 267g
  • Publication date: 16 November 1998
  • Publication City/Country: London
  • ISBN 10: 0006551483
  • ISBN 13: 9780006551485
  • Sales rank: 741,969

Product description

An acclaimed backlist title by the award-winning author of If I Die in a Combat Zone, Going After Cacciato and In the Lake of the Woods. 'Calling Tim O'Brien a Vietnam War novelist is a bit like saying Joseph Conrad was a Polish guy who wrote some good sea tales.' Esquire Winner of the National Book Award (Going After Cacciato), Time Book of the Year (In the Lake of the Woods) and twice runner-up for the Pulitzer (The Things They Carried and In the Lake of the Woods), Tim O'Brien is widely regarded as the finest American writer of the Vietnam generation. Northern Lights, originally published in 1975, was O'Brien's first full novel, resoundingly confirming the reputation gained by his remarkable debut, If I Die in a Combat Zone - the fictionalised account of his own tour of duty in Vietnam. As in his recent bestselling novel In the Lake of the Woods, the action in Northern Lights takes place not in Vietnam but back in the USA, as Tim O'Brien explores the after-effects of that war - on those who served, and those they left behind. Set in the frozen wilderness of north Minnesota, it concerns two brothers, one who served in Vietnam, and has returned tough, cynical and world-weary; and the other who stayed at home. When they take off on a long skiing trip together through the frozen woods, they quickly get lost in a blizzard, and are tested to their limits as they face a battle against the elements and each other.

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Author information

Tim O'Brien was born in Worthington, Minnesota, and graduated from Macalester College in St Paul. He served in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970 and after graduate studies at Harvard, worked for the Washington Post. 'The best novelist the Vietnam War has produced.' Independent 'O'Brien certainly ranks among the best writers we have.' Joseph Heller 'O'Brien is the best American writer of his generation.' San Francisco Examiner

Review quote

'A thrilling story that can be read and enjoyed simply as an adventure story but digs deeper than that.' Irish Times

Editorial reviews

Two brothers, Viet-vet Harvey, and Minnesota county farm agent Paul, sons of a Finnish-American hellfire preacher (who directed Harvey to build a bomb shelter against the holocaust-to-come before he died), are weighted with their legacies of fear and doom-haunted memories. The pair are like "twin oxen struggling in different directions against the same old yoke. . . the long history: the town, the place, the forest and religion. . . human beings and events, partly a genetic fix, an alchemy of circumstance." Paul, unable to respond to the motherly devotion of his wife Grace, grows flabby, goes through the motions on his job. Harvey is a Saturday night good-time Charlie, spouting dreams and planning journeys to far places. When the brothers are lost in a blizzard, it is the weaker Paul who pulls ahead to save Harvey from death. But it is not until the men decide to sell their property that Paul confronts the frozen northland of his total impotence, and in a symbolic immersion in a polluted pond, allows the "whole architecture of his northern world to flow sweetly to ruin in the hot waters." Paul, at last truly united with Grace, prepares to leave; but Harvey cannot leave his life of circular illusion. The very earnestness and clapboard verisimilitude of this first novel, manifested in speech that marks time rather than bringing events and personality to the flood, rescues the heavy-handed symbolism. It's a long, slow trek, but worth going the distance. (Kirkus Reviews)