Northern Lights
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Northern Lights

By (author) Tim O'Brien

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The acclaimed novel from the award-winning author of 'If I Die in a Combat Zone', 'Going After Cacciato' and '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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  • Paperback | 368 pages
  • 128 x 194 x 24mm | 281.23g
  • 16 Nov 1998
  • HarperCollins Publishers
  • FOURTH ESTATE LTD
  • London
  • English
  • 0006551483
  • 9780006551485
  • 747,386

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Author Information

Tim O'Brien was born in Minnesota and served as a foot soldier in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970, and after graduate studies at Harvard worked as a reporter for the Washington Post. When 'If I Die in a Combat Zone' was published in 1973, it established him as one of the leading American writers of his generation, a status that was confirmed when 'Going After Cacciato' won the National Book Award for fiction.

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Review quote

'A thrilling story that can be read and enjoyed simply as an adventure story but digs deeper than that.' Irish Times '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 'The best novelist the Vietnam War has produced.' Independent 'O'Brien is the best American writer of his generation.' San Francisco Examiner

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Review text

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)

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