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Matters of Honor by Louis Begley
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Matters of Honor

by Louis Begley

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Interesting but too flat. Reads well but leaves you with no memorable impression. The writing style is too factual, like a business report or a diary. Just a load of babbling on the life of the Harvard upperclass socialites, where you can't even distinguish the decades as they pass by, so dull are the lifes of the four main characters and friends. Nevertheless, two stars on account of the true (and autobiographical) account of the jew that strives to become "non-jewish" but, in the end, fails. ( )
  Miguelnunonave | Sep 8, 2013 |
This is a sleeper of a novel. On the surface it is simply a tale of four post-WWII Harvard freshmen and their coming of age with typical life struggles in the arenas of career, family, and relationships. However, Begley's writing subtly draws the reader into a much bigger theme which is self-invention and re-invention. We meet Sam, our narrator whose parents were not up to snuff by many standards. We meet Archie, who is a burgeoning alcoholic who refuses to transform. We meet Margot who has it all and yet has nothing. We meet our very dear Henry, a Polish, Jewish survivor of the Holocaust, who is gifted in the area of re-invention. So, the novel resonates for anyone who has wanted to re-invent themselves, leaving behind those aspects of their identity which are distasteful, socially unacceptable, frightening, and/or which stand in the way of what we seek in life. There were a few sections which seemed to drag, perhaps not feeling quite necessary to the forward motion of the story, and the use of language was subtly powerful, but not exquisite enough for a 5 star rating. Very good novel! ( )
  hemlokgang | Jul 6, 2012 |
A very familiar story in some ways-a coming-of-age story among the privileged as old as Fitzgerald. Three Harvard roommates from very different backgrounds seek to reinvent themselves and to belong. It's the Fifties and Harvard is not a very admirable place-snobbish, anti-semitic, and small-minded. The story centers on the efforts of Polish-Jewish war refugee Henry to make it in the WASP world as observed by one of the roommates, Sam. This book is well-written and engaging, despite the rather dated setting. The main female character, who is the focus of Henry's ambitions, does not seem real-her decisions make little sense, or are at least not well-explained. There are some other odd plot and character choices. Still, this is a book that draws you in and stays with you. ( )
  ayaeckel | Jun 21, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307265250, Hardcover)

From the acclaimed author of Wartime Lies and About Schmidt, a luminous story of a brilliant but haunted outsider driven to transcend his past.

At Harvard in the early 1950s, three seemingly mismatched freshmen are thrown together: Sam, who fears that his fine New England name has been tarnished by his father’s drinking and his mother’s affairs; Archie, an affable army brat whose veneer of sophistication was acquired at an obscure Scottish boarding school; and Henry, fiercely intelligent but obstinate and unpolished, a refugee from Poland via a Brooklyn high school. As roommates they enter a world governed by arcane rules, where merit is everything except when trumped by pedigree and the inherited prerogatives of belonging. Each roommate’s accommodation to this world will require self-reinvention, none more audacious than Henry’s. Believing himself to be at last in the “land of the free,” he is determined to see himself on a level playing field, playing a game he can win. The ante is high—virtual renunciation of his past—but the jackpot seems even higher—long dreamed-of esteem, success, and arrival. Henry will stay in the game almost to the last hand, even after it becomes clear he must stake his loyalty to his parents and even to himself.

Reserved and observant, Sam recounts the trio’s Harvard years and the reckonings that follow: his own struggle with familial demons and his rise as a novelist; a coarsened Archie’s descent into drink; and, most attentively, Henry’s Faustian bargain and then his mysterious disappearance just as all his wildest ambitions seem to have been realized. Love and loyalty will impel Sam to discover the secret of Henry’s final reinvention.

An unforgettable portrait of friendship and a meditation on loyalty and honor—Louis Begley’s finest achievement.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:20:16 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"At Harvard in the early 1950s, three seemingly mismatched freshmen are thrown together: Sam, who fears that his fine New England name has been tarnished by his father's drinking and his mother's affairs; Archie, an affable army brat whose veneer of sophistication was acquired at an obscure Scottish boarding school; and Henry, fiercely intelligent but obstinate and unpolished, a refugee from Poland via a Brooklyn high school. As roommates they enter a world governed by arcane rules, where merit is everything except when trumped by pedigree and the inherited prerogatives of belonging. Each roommate's accommodating to this world will require self-reinvention, none more audacious than Henry's. Believing himself to be at last in the "land of the free," he is determined to see himself on a level playing field, playing a game he can win. The ante is high - virtual renunciation of his past - but the jackpot seems even higher - long dreamed-of esteem and success. Henry will stay in the game almost to the last hand, even after it becomes clear he must stake his loyalty to his parents and even to himself." "Reserved and obedient, Sam recounts the trio's Harvard years and the reckonings that follow: his own struggle with familial demons and his rise as a novelist; a coarsened Archie's descent into drink; and, most attentively, Henry's Faustian bargain and then his mysterious disappearance just as all his wildest ambitions seem to have been realized. Love and loyalty will impel Sam to discover the secret of Henry's final reinvention."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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