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Under the Ribs of Death by John Marlyn
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Under the Ribs of Death (1957)

by John Marlyn

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This is sometimes charmingly heartfelt--the young Hungarian immigrant boy's yearning to be an Anglo Fauntleroy in a big house surrounded by beauty; the rendition of his fresh-off-the-boat sad Pierrot or "thin gypsy thief" of an uncle--but too often it seems like Marlyn, whose day job was tech writer for the Canadian federal government, felt the need to take his own rich experiences and remembered feelings and render them sensationalistic, even garish. He's simultaneously too close to the material and too eager to please, and while where it works it works well, not only for the poignant soft-focus stuff like above but also for queasy moments like the scraping-bottom scene with the rat (I've had a mental breakdown of a kind in a house riddled with rats, and the rats helped it along, let me tell you); but in other places, like all the parts where he gets weird about how ugly and "gristly" skinny women are and how only a fat thigh can support a fat heart, or the heavy-handed not-so-high-concept ending, he's obviously got his protagonist, who goes by "Sandor Hunyadi" and "Alex Humphrey" and "Alex Hunter" and compulsively writes and rips up his name(s) throughout as he tries to break through the titular ribs of his "hunky"/"humpy" Hungarian identity (oh, awful title too), also mixed up a bit too much with he John Marlyn himself, who was born a Hungarian under a presumbly Hungarian name and also went by Vincent Reid (when he wrote science fiction). So this is psychologically interesting and shows some craft but is a kind of unpleasant reading experience, where you feel like if you react wrong John Marlyn is gonna start hitting himself in the head with his shoe and going "Stupid, stupid!" ( )
2 vote MeditationesMartini | Nov 4, 2015 |
This is an important novel about the experience of growing up as a Hungarian immigrant in early/mid 20th century Winnipeg. It's a bit dated (the ending struck me as sentimental), but it deals with issues that remain relevant today, like integration and assimilation. ( )
  climbingtree | May 17, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0771098669, Mass Market Paperback)

Set in the immigrant community of Winnipeg’s North End, Under the Ribs of Death follows the progress of young Sandor Hunyadi as he struggles to cast off his Hungarian background and become a “real Canadian.” Embittered by poverty and social humiliation, Sandor rejects his father’s impractical idealism and devotes himself single-mindedly to becoming a successful businessman. Equipped with a new name and a hardened heart, he is close to realizing his ambition when fortune’s wheel takes an unexpected – and possibly redemptive – turn.

Combining social realism and moral parable, Under the Ribs of Death is John Marlyn’s ironic portrayal of the immigrant experience in the years leading up to the Great Depression. As a commentary on the problems of cultural assimilation, this novel is as relevant today as it was when first published in 1957.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:49 -0400)

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