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Twain & Stanley Enter Paradise by Oscar…
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Twain & Stanley Enter Paradise

by Oscar Hijuelos

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this was an interesting reading experience. i'm not sure i really loved it, but i found it fascinating at moments, and was lulled along on the meandering paths the story took. i appreciated the different forms of storytelling hijuelos used in this novel. but, i did find myself wondering about the story's length (which is weird, because i LOVE a big, chunky novel)... in the afterword, by hijuelos' widow, she notes the book was edited down from over 900 pages to its published length. i did find the second half of the story was paced better than the first half. also, initially, i wanted more of twain's arc. stanley's side of things did get a bit repetitive. still, i am glad i finally got to this book, and found it a pleasant diversion. ( )
  Booktrovert | Sep 29, 2017 |
The real, nearly-lifelong friendship between American author Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) and British explorer Henry Morton Stanley is the basis for this historical fiction novel by Oscar Hijuelos.

The two met on a Mississippi riverboat in the autumn of 1860 when Twain was about 25 and Stanley 19. Their friendship lasted until Stanley's death in 1904. Framing this period, at both the beginning and end of the book, is Twain's last visit to England in 1907 (to receive an honorary doctorate) where he has tea with Stanley's widow, the artist Dorothy Tennant (as he truly did). There's also some coverage of both men's earlier lives (particularly Stanley's), and of the brief period between 1907 and Twain's death in April 1910.

Hijuelos died suddenly in 2013, before this book was published - the manuscript was found in his study after his death. According to an afterword by his widow, author Lori Marie Carlson, Hijuelos spent more than twelve years researching and writing the book. Amazingly, the numerous letters between the main characters, as well as diary entries and speeches they make - are ALL fiction. They sound so real, I thought some had to be from the historical record. There's even a reference near the end of the book to a supposed footnote (with page number) in a real chapter in Stanley's real autobiography (edited by his widow) - but that footnote does not exist.

Hijuelos does a good job contrasting Twain and Stanley, highlighting what they had in common and where they differed. As Twain is better known, Hijuelos wisely concentrated on Stanley (probably best known for supposedly saying "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" which turns out to be a later invention). I was amazed to learn that such an intrepid explorer suffered from recurring malaria and other gastric disorders, but if you are looking for detail on his actual expeditions, you won't find it in this book.

In his introductory author's note, Hijuelos speaks of the "paradise" in the title:

"For Twain it came down to his memories of his fairly happy, carefree youth, the sweet energies of which he put into his most famous book, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn....Twain's 'paradise' also entailed his love for a family that, as the years went by, simply vanished - two of his three daughters died, then his wife [as well as his infant son and three siblings in their youth]....What paradise remained for him came down to what he had captured so beautifully in his books and in his lingering friendships.

For Stanley, whose life began so badly - his childhood in Wales spent in a workhouse as a ward of the British state; his dangerous but successful enterprises on behalf of King Leopold in Africa eventually, perhaps unfairly, linked to the atrocities committed in that region "for rubber and ivory tusks" - this 'paradise' came belatedly, in his later years [his late marriage to Tennant, their adoption of a son, and his acquisition of his country estate]."

In the book, the two men also have frequent discussions about faith and religion (Stanley was mostly a believer, Twain mostly was not) and the notion of an afterlife.

Hijuelos also says that "as a writer best known for certain subjects, I also intend the book to give a glance at nineteenth-century Cuba, mainly through the journeys the men made in their lifetimes to that island. Stanley went there in the early 1860s, during the American Civil War,...Twain journeyed there in 1902, in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War." The novel has both men making the 1860s trip together, and the descriptions of Cuba in that era are particularly good.

Apparently this book has received some criticism because it's not like Hijuelos' other books. Not having read any of those, I am more open-minded. I do think the book would have benefited from a little more editing, as the book dragged in a few places, but Hijuelos did not have the opportunity to do that.

What kept me going were the excellent narrators. Henry Leyva voices Twain, and in my mind is perfect in that role, sounding the way I would imagine Samuel Clemens might have sounded in real life. Britisher actors James Langton and Polly Lee are wonderful as Stanley and Tennant respectively, and Robert Petkoff does the overall narration and other major characters admirably.

© Amanda Pape - 2017

[The e-audiobook, and an e-book for reference, were borrowed from and returned to my university library and a public library respectively.] ( )
1 vote riofriotex | Apr 9, 2017 |
Although this is a story of fiction with real life characters, it reads as though it is complete non-fiction. The author gives us a look into the longtime friendship between Mark Twain and Henry Stanley. The book was enjoyable to read, but did bog down in places. If you like stories that involve real life people, you will most likely like this one.

** I received this book through Goodreads Member Giveaway. The opinion is solely my own. ** ( )
  HeatherMS | Jun 5, 2016 |
Twain & Stanley Enter Paradise by Oscar Hijuelos seems nothing like his other novels. It is a bit stately and constrained by the conventions of historical writing. His efforts to make it seem as though a true history of the forty year friendship between Samuel Clemons and Henry Morton Stanley deprive us of the passion and power of his other novels such as the famous The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love.

Throughout the book we are treated to letters, narratives, diary entries and notes by Clemons, Stanley and Stanley’s wife Dorothy Tennant. All of them are fictional. Such is Hijuelos’ craft that each writer has their own voice, a voice that reflects their character. With this, he was helped by the abundance of research he did on their lives, reading their writings, visiting where they lived, handling their artifacts. It is a fact that they were friends of long acquaintance but all else is imagined by Hijuelos.

The novel focuses mainly on Stanley, probably a wise choice since today people already have a image of Twain in their minds from so many portrayals of him in books and film. Stanley is often known only for saying “Dr. Livingstone, I presume,” something he probably did not say at the time, but invented as a later embellishment.

Both Stanley and Twain were writers and adventurous men who traveled far and wide. They were very different, though, in temperament. Stanley’s childhood was cruel and without much love, raised in an orphanage, illegitimate and abandoned, he was insecure and desperate for attention and approval, often jealous, often angry. Twain had an ideal childhood, one he called a paradise, filled with love and family and the bucolic pastimes of a country life. This gave me a relaxed self-confidence and a mildly bemused temperament. Perhaps their differences were complementary, or perhaps their mutual love of adventure and writing trumped their differences. For whatever reason, they were good friends.

The rest of my review is on my blog. ( )
  Tonstant.Weader | Jan 9, 2016 |
Beautiful writing, but I struggled at times to stay with it. Library book. ( )
  seeword | Dec 19, 2015 |
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Chronicles the sojourn of journalist-explorer Henry Stanley; his wife, the painter Dorothy Tennant; and Mark Twain, Stanley's longtime friend, as they head for Cuba in search of Stanley's father.

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