Hollywood, 1945. Ben Collier has just arrived from war-torn Europe to find his brother has died in mysterious circumstances. Why would a man with a beautiful wife, a successful movie career, and a heroic past choose to kill himself?
Ben enters the uneasy world beneath the glossy shine of the movie business, where politics and the dream factories collide and Communist witch hunts are rendering the biggest star makers vulnerable. Even here, where the devastation of Europe seems no more real than a painted movie set, the war casts long and dangerous shadows. When Ben learns troubling facts about his own family's past and embarks on a love affair that never should have happened, he is caught in a web of deception that shakes his moral foundation to its core.
Rich with atmosphere and period detail, Stardust flawlessly blends fact and fiction into a haunting thriller evoking both the glory days of the movies and the emergence of a dark strain of American political life.
©2009 Joseph Kanon (P)2011 Simon & Schuster
"Spectacular in every way.... wonderfully imagined, wonderfully written, an urgent personal mystery set against the sweep of glamorous and sinister history. Joseph Kanon owns this corner of the literary landscape and it's a joy to see him reassert his title with such emphatic authority." (Lee Child)
"The new Joe Kanon is one of the best, Stardust is the perfect combination of intrigue and accurate history brought to life." (Alan Furst)
"Stardust is sensational! No one writes period fiction with the same style and suspense - not to mention substance - as Joseph Kanon. A terrific read." (Scott Turow)
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"Joseph Kanon owns this little corner of history."
It's very good, but not among the top fifty, given that I've read about a thousand books, and I don't really enjoy history. Mr. Kanon, though, is a master of this little corner of the world, and Mr. Smith, whom I've never heard before, is a truly excellent narrator. The scope of the book is very large. It is about Hollywood during the period when WWII was turning into the Red Scare of the late '40's and early '50's, what came to be known as the McCarthy era. The protagonist is Ben Collier, a soldier who comes home to find that his brother Danny has died mysteriously, either at his own hand or that of another. Ben doesn't believe that his brother would kill himself. Ben very quickly becomes involved with Danny's widow, Liesl, and with the head of a movie studio, Carl Laszner. From there the plot winds around the hills and canyons of Los Angeles, with Minnesota's Senator Ken Minot standing in for Wisconsin's Senator McCarthy. The vicious hysteria which is whipped up by the anti-pinko forces is unstoppable, and it eventually comes very close to destroying the entertainment industry, taking with it, one cannot fail to note, the large expat Jewish community which has become the backbone of that industry. This is extremely good writing and narration, and held my interest in what eventually became a long book.
Yes, very much so, as I said above. The romance between Ben and Liesl is beautifully played, with the reader never really knowing what is real and what is scripted. The weasels of The Committee worm their way through the community in such a subversive and nasty way that you can easily see how good people can get caught up in the vicious finger-pointing, so very much the echo of Nazi Jew-blaming (and so very much worse, so horrendously much worse). The plot jumps around from LA to Europe to Mexico and back again, and you find yourself constantly looking over Ben's shoulder, whispering to him, "watch out, they're real!" It is brilliant writing.
I didn't have a favorite scene. I was particularly pleased with the narrator's ability to put the small touches on the German attempts on English words, making characters sound so much like Colonel Klink. The book is a pleasure to listen to, even at this length, where many authors would really start to push their luck with me (ahem, Dennis Lehane and James Lee Burke).
A lot of the book moved me. Much of the romance between Ben and Liesl was just perfectly nuanced, full of lust and the awareness of Danny and the confusion that comes with feelings that most of us don't really understand. So many of us try to make "sense" of love, when, according to the scriptwriter of the movie Oh Brother, Where Art Thou, "It is a fool who searches for logic in the chambers of the human heart." Wish I'd said that.
This audiobook is way worth your time and money.
Stardust is both brilliant and challenging. It takes "stick-with-it-ness" to get through, but the persistence is well worth the investment of time.
The book is, in some respects, like watching water come to a boil. You can see and feel the heat of the flame being applied to the pot, but there is no immediate obvious effect on the liquid inside. The heat, however, is relentless and, after a while, visible currents begin to emerge. Bubbles form, creating light turbulence. And then, suddenly, an inflection point is reached and there is chaos, as things become wildly agitated, unpredictable, and violent.
Stardust is certainly not for the impatient. Half way through, I thought I might abandon and move on to something else. The quality of the writing kept me, but I was wavering. Two-thirds of the way through, I thought the book to be an interesting character study, but rather uneventful.
Then, suddenly, with about 5 hours left, the book exploded in a spasm of activity. The rest of the book was gone in the blink of an eye.
Interestingly, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, every early word was necessary. Looking back, nothing could or should have been cut out. Brilliant.
A couple other thoughts on this novel: I was entranced by Joseph Kanon's Istanbul Passage and chose to read Stardust with only one book in-between. Though clearly penned by the same hand, the two books are very different.
Istanbul Passage is chock-full of rich details that transport the reader to a a bygone era in an exotic location filled with larger-than-life personalities. In its pages, the reader can touch, feel, smell, and taste Istanbul. You are there.
Stardust is the polar opposite. Hollywood as the ordinary place it is. A mirage of sorts.
Studio magnates, glamorous movie stars, high profile gossip reporters, and big time politicians are all rendered human in this story. Their imperfections, foibles, insecurities, and secrets are on full display. Yet, in the telling of this story, we experience in some of the characters nobility, selflessness, and honor. (We are also exposed to and repulsed by actions and attitudes of others.)
My advice to those who choose to read this book: stay with it. Pay attention when it's slow and keep on going. You'll be glad you did.
"Hollywood as a smalltown"
historical tidbits, movie making and studio craft, the red scare which reader "knows" but characters don't. gossip columnists and studio's power. Narrator was willing to clip and slur words just like a real person would do when tired or dismayed. Voices and pacing of lines was perfect. I think the read aloud version beats the printed text on this one.
authenticity and character variety
the CA pools, the on the studio sets and back lots with the "fixer" Bunny, former child star.
"The "Old Hollywood""
Yes, at least for me.
His great character voices helped to make a complicated plot with many developed characters easier to follow. Although I really liked this book and found its period descriptions fascinating, I think I may have gotten lost in reading a print version.
I grew up in California during the period this book covers with its absurd, but scary commie hearings, and the continued work on the atom bomb by the big government labs. It was fun to hear descriptions of the emigrant community, the (now old) Hollywood mansions and all the glitter. His historical coverage rings true. I was too young to recall details of the hearings, but expect they are also pretty true to detail. Great book, but you better pay attention or you'll get lost! The plot may sound far fetched today, but it wouldn't surprise me at all to find "that only the names have been changed".
This isn't even my first Joseph Kanon novel, but it's my first written review, brief as it may be. I love LeCarre, Furst, a few others, & Joseph Kanon is in that league, among the best. Anyone who can write characters you long for yourself, where a betrayal seems deeply personal to you- the reader!- as if you were actually betrayed...well, that's the type of novel I want to invest my time with. Someone who can make me really feel the story. Life is much too short for mediocrity. So read Kanon (& when T. Ryder Smith (for this book) reads, even better! He was astounding. So many different, distinct characters. Male and female. Perfect.
"Almost a Five Star"
Kanon is a favorite. His books make many another look like Ned and The Reader. He has captured the period and dialogue to a "T." As with almost I've read, the denouement is a stretch and let down. Otherwise, it's a clear five.
The narration is superb! I cannot believe it's only one person. He brings Kanon's dialogue to absolute life. The Jewish manner and speech patterns are perfectly captured.
"A bit too much soul-searching, but a good read."
Yes. The story line was interesting & the author covered a pivotal moment in Hollywood history. Well done!
"PERVERSION OF HISTORY OF THE MCCARTHY ERA"
A thousand times No! It actually deserves negative stars.
Ryder Smith should have refused to read this trash.
Incredulity. Kanon attributes the congressional witch-hunt to a twisted plot by lying, commie killers to influence public opinion and learn America's secrets. Among the plotters in Hollywood are some of the refugee German intellectuals who escaped from the Nazis. I'm old enough to recall the fear that pervaded the land in the 50s. See Woody Allen's "The Front" for the truth about Hollywood and the Un-American committee.
If the falsification of this shameful episode in our 20th century history is not enough, the sloppy writing adds insult to injury. Drawn in by the promise of a story of Hollywood and the blacklist, I was repelled and insulted by the perversion of reality.
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