Audiobook Review: 1919

I received this book for free from Audies in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Audiobook Review: 19191919 by John Dos Passos
Narrator: David Drummond
Length: 16 hrs, 12 mins
Series: The U.S.A. Trilogy #2
Published by Tantor Media on November 9, 2010
Genres: Classics, Historical
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audies

With 1919, the second volume of his U.S.A. trilogy, John Dos Passos continues his "vigorous and sweeping panorama of twentieth-century America" (Forum), lauded on publication of the first volume not only for its scope but also for its groundbreaking style. Again, employing a host of experimental devices that would inspire a whole new generation of writers to follow, Dos Passos captures the many textures, flavors, and background noises of modern life with a cinematic touch and unparalleled nerve.1919 opens to find America and the world at war, and Dos Passos's characters, many of whom we met in the first volume, are thrown into the snarl. We follow the daughter of a Chicago minister, a wide-eyed Texas girl, a young poet, and a radical Jew, and we glimpse Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, and the Unknown Soldier.

What a seriously strange book this was. Having received a copy of this book to listen to, I was somewhat dismayed to discover that it was the second book in a series. I absolutely abhor reading or listening to things out of order. However, I decided to start in on it without attempting book one, figuring that if I liked what I was hearing, I could run out and find book one and come back to 1919. The fact that I am reviewing this, having not reviewed the first book in the series should be rather telling.

1919 has zero plot. This is by design, but that does not endear it any more to me. The book is told in various sections: headlines/jingles, stories about regular depressing Americans, autobiographical segments (called Camera Eye) and biographies of famous Americans. Although that mixture of elements sounded really intriguing to me, it came of ass just a confusing jumble, something that I suspect may have been worse in audio format, especially with the headlines.

None of the segments interested me at all, except for some of the stories of regular folk, although those tended not to keep me enthralled either. The problem was that every one of them will destroy themselves with bad decisions, as you discover in the forward by E. L. Doctorow. So, basically, even if I did like someone, it was inevitable that I would come to hate them because they would act like an idiot. Argh!

I will give the narrator his props, because I think he did a pretty good job with this confusing mess of a book. He happily sang the songs in the headline bits and did a pretty good job differentiating the sections. I think he did mispronounce some of the Italian though.

This definitely was not a book for me. In theory, it sounded interesting, but the execution of the different sections and the pointlessness of the main people’s stories just wore me down. Maybe it would have been better had I read the first book.


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