November 6, 2004


Extended Interview with Mark Helprin (NPR, 11/06/04)

Mark Helprin's fiction has appeared in The New Yorker for more than 20 years and he has written on politics and aesthetics for The Atlantic Monthly and other magazines. He is also a contributing editor for The Wall Street Journal.

Helprin has a prestigious academic pedigree that includes Harvard, Princeton and Oxford; he has also served the British Merchant Navy, the Israeli infantry, and the Israeli Air Force.

A winner of the prestigious PEN/Faulkner Award, Helprin's previous titles include Winter's Tale, Ellis Island and Other Stories and A Soldier of the Great War.

NPR's Scott Simon talks with Helprin about his latest book, The Pacific and Other Stories.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 6, 2004 9:31 AM

After his takedown of Michael Moore that appeared in the Wall Street Journal back in July, and now this right after Bush's re-election, Scott's probably not the most popular guy over at the NPR offices nowadays.

Posted by: John at November 6, 2004 10:40 AM

Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale is a marvelous novel

From an Amazon review:

I certainly feel that Winter's Tale is a resounding success as literature. If I refer to the novel as a failure (and, mind you, a brilliant one), it is merely from a conventional, quotidian perspective. Those looking for a nice, unified novel, one that observes the unities both of Aristotle and Bakhtin, will probably be disappointed.

And those who see any novel solely as some sort of ideological axe-grinding exercise for its author will be disappointed as well. . . Viewed from a height, as Helprin obviously prefers, Winter's Tale is no more political than icicles hanging off the 88th-floor eaves of the Empire State Building -- only more beautiful and more delicate. . . if you are looking for a magical realist eschatology jam-packed full of saints and rogues, visions and convictions, and the wild surrealities of that most marvelous of cities, New York, you will be abundantly delighted. And if Augustinian reveries on justice and Hegelian notions of dialectical idealism tickle your fancy, there'll only be so much more icing on the glorious, proverbial cake.

Several close friends pressed Winter's Tale on me almost immediately after we first met; that sort of devotion to a book always gets my attention, but I must confess I found Winter's Tale a bit of a slow starter. It took me a few tries (okay, I'm a shiftless, lazy reader) to plow through it. Once I broke through to about page 175 or so, though, the book had me clenched tight in the fist of its prodigious imagination. I raced joyously/anxiously through the rest until the memorable conclusion, after which I sat at my kitchen table and wept openly for close to twenty minutes.

That Winter's Tale can inspire both emotional reverie like mine and a more philosophically epiphanic response is testament to its greatness. I hold it to be one of the few novels of the past twenty-five years or so that has a decent shot at being read and discussed by lit. mavens one hundred years from now. In the meantime, Winter's Tale is a love story, a rumination on the nobility of selflessness, and an acknowledgment of the inevitability of strife and clamor in the universe's slow, rapturous working out of its own design. Oh, and did I mention the exquisite prose style? I've read few novels so beautifully crystalline. I don't know how Helprin writes the way he does, but I might be willing to give up an awful lot to find out.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at November 6, 2004 3:51 PM

BTW: Is defunding NPR on the agenda? If not, why not?

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at November 6, 2004 3:53 PM


It doesn't get enough Federal dollars to matter anymore.

Posted by: oj at November 6, 2004 3:56 PM

Bob Dole's acceptance speech at the 1996 RNC, written by Helprin, is a truly deep and moving commentary on the role of the citizen in a democracy. Dole managed to make it sound good, but it reads better than he did.

"But if there is anyone who has mistakenly attached himself to our party in the belief that we are not open to citizens of every race and religion, then let me remind you:
Tonight this hall belongs to the party of Lincoln, and the exits, which are clearly marked, are for you to walk out of as I stand here and hold this ground -- without compromise."


"And when I am president, every man and woman in our armed forces will know the president is his commander in chief -- not Boutros Boutros Ghali, or any other U.N. Secretary General.

This I owe not only to the living but to the dead, to every patriot grave,to the ghosts of Valley Forge, of Flanders Field, of Bataan, the Chosin Reservoir, Khe Sanh, and the Gulf. This I owe to the men who died on the streets of Mogadishu not three years ago, to the shadows on the bluffs of Normandy, to the foot soldiers who never came home, to the airmen who fell to earth, and the sailors who rest perpetually at sea.

This is not an issue of politics, but far graver than that. Like the bond of trust between parent and child, it is the lifeblood of the nation.

It commands not only sacrifice but a grace in leadership embodying both daring and caution at the same time. And this we owe not only to ourselves.

Our allies demand consistency and resolve, which they deserve from us as we deserve the same from them. But even if they falter, we cannot, for history has made us the leader, and we are obliged by history to keep the highest standard."


"When I look back upon my life, I see less and less of myself and more and more of history, of this civilization that we have made that is called America.

I am content and always will be content to see my own story subsumed in great events, the greatest of which is the simple onward procession of the American people."

From the moment I heard Dole speak those words, I realized that MY story is also subsumed in the history and procession of the American people.

Posted by: J Baustian at November 7, 2004 7:19 PM