Politics and Fiction and Other Letters to the Editor

More Politics, More Fiction

To the Editor:

Your appealingly conceived Sept. 13 feature on political novels might disappoint some readers for ultimately confining itself to so few of the great political novels of the last 100 years.

Here are some titles that might help redress your focus on a mere handful of books: Robert Coover’s “The Public Burning” and Philip Roth’s “The Plot Against America” and, moving abroad, Arthur Koestler’s “Darkness at Noon,” Alberto Moravia’s “The Conformist,” Thomas Mann’s “Dr. Faustus,” Boris Pasternak’s “Doctor Zhivago,” Mario Vargas Llosa’s “Conversation in the Cathedral,” V. S. Naipaul’s “A Bend in the River,” Yukio Mishima’s “Runaway Horses,” George Orwell’s “1984” and Nicholas Mosley’s “Hopeful Monsters.”

Alexander Hicks

To the Editor:

There is a back story to Klaus Mann’s novel “Mephisto,” which is not noted in Margaret Atwood’s delightful short essay about reading the novel while living in Germany in 1984 (“Politics in Fiction,” Sept. 13). The novel is a roman à clef based on the legendary German actor and director Gustaf Gründgens, who had worked with Mann in the theater and briefly married his sister Erika, before making a Faust-like pact with the Nazis and becoming a protégé of Hermann Göring and director of the Prussian State Theater.

Mann committed suicide in 1949. A rehabilitated Gründgens resumed his career in postwar Germany. I recall seeing him as a teenager perform Friedrich Schiller’s “Don Carlos” in the early 1960s in Hamburg’s Deutsches Schauspielhaus, where he served as director. And of course Mann’s novel inspired Istvan Szabo’s brilliant film adaptation in 1981 of “Mephisto.”

Synnöve Trier

The Silent Half

To the Editor:

I enjoyed reading Jon Meacham’s overview of histories of white supremacy in your Sept. 6 issue, and the facing review of Seyward Darby’s “Sisters in Hate.” I’m sure most other educated, liberal readers of The Times did as well. These are well-researched, necessary histories of a crucial thread within American politics. But they probably don’t explain everything.

Fifty percent of Americans identify as “politically disengaged.” Some of them no doubt consciously align with the white supremacist tradition in American history; others do so unthinkingly, by default. Still others probably resist it in diffuse and internally contradictory ways. Until critics (historians, sociologists, journalists) successfully grapple with the race politics of this very large, very banal middle of the bell curve, we are unlikely to have a fully informed discussion of the topic.

Such books are already methodologically challenging to write. It would be nice if The Times encouraged their production by reviewing them once in a while.

Trysh Travis
Gainesville, Fla.

The author is a professor at the Center for Gender, Sexualities and Women’s Studies Research at the University of Florida.


To the Editor:

Several readers wrote in to your Sept. 6 letters page to complain about Anand Giridharadas’s use of the word (or nonword) “saxophonely” to describe Kurt Andersen’s new book.

While I don’t find his coinage especially appealing either, it’s worth noting that The Times has a long and impressive history of offering up new words to the public. In fact the Oxford English Dictionary, by its own tally, credits The Times with 730 “quotations providing first evidence of a word.”

Among the terms that made their print debut in The Times are “ritzy” (1919), “pizzazz” (1937), “grunge” (1965) and “digerati” (1992), all of which must have sounded highly suspect to many readers at the time.

Even more relevant in this case, it so happens that the O.E.D.’s earliest example of the word “sax” as shorthand for “saxophone” comes from The Times, in 1923. It seems unlikely that “saxophonely” will catch on like these other words, but then again the English language has always developed in surprising ways.

Benjamin George Friedman
New York

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