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A Flag for Sunrise by Robert Stone
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A Flag for Sunrise (1981)

by Robert Stone

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433437,462 (3.78)8
An emotional, dramatic and philosophical novel about Americans drawn into a small Central American country on the brink of revolution.

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A big, masterful story leading up to a failed revolution in a fictional Central American country called Tecan. The book is also a product of the 1970s - messy, full of mysticism, greed, drugs (of course) and American wrongdoing. Stone follows three Americans and their long, winding path and various levels of involvement in government overthrow – from wrong-place-wrong-time to very involved yet clueless.

An alcoholic anthropologist who compromised himself by doing some work for the CIA in Vietnam and can't forget it, a dangerous Coast Guard deserter hooked on speed, and an altruistic nun who gets too involved in trying to save the country. There are also a ridiculous arms-dealing couple, a priest overcome by hopelessness, and a vicious Tecan military man who has it in for the nun. There’s a lot going on in the story and none of it really turns out good for anyone. ( )
  Hagelstein | Dec 1, 2016 |
You might call "A Flag for Sunrise" Robert Stone's Central American novel. In it we follow a troubled anthropologist, a coast guard crewman who's jumped ship, a gang of smugglers, a nun who's lost her faith, and and a dying priest on a series of tropical adventures, most of which end very badly. Though it's not named, the background suggests the El Salvadorean civil war. You might also say that "A Flag for Sunrise" is just Robert Stone: sparkling economical prose that's equally indebted to dime novels and mid-century Amercian literary fiction, amoral characters whose words can't be trusted and, everywhere, the specter of the Vietnam War, a never-ending debacle that seems to have sucked the morality of everyone who experienced it. Readers who feel that they have to like the characters they read about are advised to avoid this one, as well as Stone's other stuff. In "A Flag for Sunrise" he is, as always, fascinated by the yawning gulf that separates his characters statements and their darker motives. It isn't pleasant to see the optimistic language of the sixties gets turned on its head here and become mere window dressing for self-seeking hustlers, but Stone's writing is, as always, a joy to read, both kinetic and addled, beautiful and unsettling.

"A Flag for Sunrise" is also a much looser, more diffuse book than Stone's award-winning "Dog Soldiers," and while he brings each of these characters' narratives to a satisfactory conclusion, I rather missed that earlier book's considerable narrative drive. "Sunrise" reminded me a bit of Denis Johnson's "Tree of Smoke," a novel that danced around the dark center of the Vietnam conflict while never really threatening to plunge into it. It's a long, dense read but I also feel that the author glosses over a couple of subjects that deserved his full attention. I never felt that I really grasped the American nun's motivations for lending her support to a coming Marxist insurgency, for example. And, while it goes without saying, those looking for an accurate or sympathetic portrait of the Caribbean and its people will not find it here. This novel can be justly criticized for using this part of the world as a seedy backdrop, much as a James Bond film would, though I don't think its author would be too interested in contesting this particular objection. Still, "A Flag for Sunrise" is, by most metrics, a success, a compelling portrait of some who hover over the void and a few others who have already abandoned themselves to it. ( )
1 vote TheAmpersand | Aug 14, 2011 |
This political novel from the 1970s mixes political revolution, crime, some mystery, violence, psychology, philosophy, and theology in dense, beautiful writing. The author's descriptions of emotion and place have depth and power. He explores the psychology of his main characters in detail. The novel will be appreciated by those who have a somewhat leftist view of US-Central American political happenings in the 1970s. It is not the author's aim to promote any one political view over another: he is cynical about everyone and nihilist in his approach to ultimate values.

Readers should know they will gain little insight into the lives of Central American characters. The author's main dealings are with American expatriates, almost as types: the missionary, the spy, embassy official, the criminal, and so on. The lives of local citizens are not much explored. Moreover the expatriate characters are all mad, drunk, drugged up, or otherwise deranged, which only reinforces any prejudices that Americans have of Central or Latin American society and politics as hopelessly and impenetrably irrational.

In what is otherwise a well-paced and gripping novel, I found the many pages of ranting dialogues and interior monologues to be tedious at times. ( )
  Wheatland | Nov 30, 2009 |
From teaching this book several times and turning it inside out analytically my esteem for this book has grown and deepened. It's a highly allusive text that repays study. I've come to believe that the mysticism of Meister Eckhart is the key to unlocking the novel's symbolic riches. But the main story line is gripping enough for those who don't have the inclination to go further. The title comes from an Emily Dickinson poem ("A Wife - at Daybreak I shall be"). ( )
1 vote jensenmk82 | Sep 11, 2009 |
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