An incisive, thought-provoking, and timely meditation, at once panoramic and synoptic, on American literature for an age of xenophobia, heightened nationalism, and economic disparity.
The distinguished cultural critic Ilan Stavans explores the nation's identity through the prism of its books, from the indigenous past to the early settlers, the colonial period, the age of independence, its ascendance as a global power, and its shallow, fracturing response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The central motives that make the United States a flawed experiment--its celebration of do-it-yourself individualism, its purported exceptionalism, and its constitutional government based on checks and balances--are explored through canonical works like Mark Twain's The Adventures
of Huckleberry Finn, Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, Emily Dickinson's poetry, F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, the work of Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Toni Morrison, and immigrant voices such as those of Américo Paredes, Henry Roth, Saul Bellow, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Jhumpa Lahiri, and others. This is literary criticism at its best-informed: broad-ranged yet pungent and uncompromising.