Entry for January 12, 2006

Marc Estrin’s novel, The Education of Arnold Hitler , tells the story of man from the small town of  Mansfield, Texas (also the home of John Howard Griffin, the author of Black Like Me) during the second half of the twentieth century.  Once Arnole arrives at Harvard at the height of the Vietnam war protests, he finds to his surprise that his last name both repels liberal intellectuals  and attracts Waspish proto-fascists.  From Harvard he continues on to the Bowery, where he finds his name draws as his lover a young artist, Eve,  who wants to score points with a crowd of skin heads. 

The Education of Arnold Hitler is a novel of ideas and at the same time highly entertaining.  There is a touch of magic realism as Arnold communicates with his Jewish maternal grandfather in Italy by speaking to him through his left knee, like a sort of two-way radio.  The novel  explores Jewishness, anti-Semitism, and the power of words.   

Origianlly titled, The Sad Life and Untimely Death of Arnold Hitler, portions of an earlier draft were first published by literary magazins.  “Who Put The Devil In Evelyn’s Eyes?”  appeared  in Issue 10 of InPosse Review  and “Eve of Destruction”  appeared in the Spring-Summer 2002 Issue of the Esquisite Corpse. 

On December 15, 2005, Robert Birnbaum posted his July 28,2005 nterview with Estrin on Indentity Theory.com, Birmbaum’s “literary website, sort of”.  On his life and its relationship to his writing, Estrin says,

I have a really squiggly life path and every bend has left traces. I started out studying science, and I was a theater director. And then I did work with the puppets and I went to UU seminary. I’ve done medical work, ambulance work. It’s all there and all winds up in the books. What I am doing now is basically politics, music and writing.

On playing the cello since college:

I live with a lot of very great music that, in a way, is a specific antidote for the horrible politics I deal with…the kind of abrasions and lacerations I get from the daily news and what’s going on in the world….The openness to the suffering has never changed. It’s always been that way. The suffering just changes its face. Which I suppose is what keeps it fresh. But dropping napalm on kids in Vietnam and burning up the orchards of the Palestinians has the same degree of detestable violence. It’s just always changing and is always there.

Estrin credits his editor, Fred Ramey,  at Unbridled and before that at Penguins’s Blue Hen, with being his writing teacher, as he came to novel writing in his late fifties, previously having only written things like articles, press releases and sermons.

 

 

By the way, there is a recent reissue of Black Like Me. 

 

The Free Press met last night, but I didn’t drive down to Blacksburg.  Writing Practice Group tonight and I plan to attend.  I’m at the downtown library now, complete with its hated timer on this computer.  On the way in picked up the copy of J. M. Coetzee’s novel Elizabeth Costello, Insect Dreams by Estrin.  Coetzee, a South African born in 1940 won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003.  The Guardian has a site for him here. 

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