• sukhobok

U.S.A. - The 42nd Parallel by John Dos Passos

If you want to know what America is, this book is a good start.


What is America? It cannot be defined by a set of boundaries or even by ideas. America is the cacophony of voices told by a wide variety of people who identify as Americans. Jon Dos Passos takes on the monumental task of capturing as many these voices as possible, including voices of down-on-their-luck Americans who moved West for opportunity only to discover there is nothing for them there, the stories of women who ended up settling both career-wise and marriage-wise because the American dream did not fully apply to them, the stories of those who came from humble beginnings to build business empires but sacrificed much along the way, and more. All of these are the true voices of America, and every one is as legitimate as another.


No writer has more comprehensively portrayed the 20th century American experience than Dos Passos, in my opinion. However, even his work is not without limitations. The first limitation is that Dos Passos focuses primarily on white Americans. Perhaps, like many writers, he did not feel like it was his place to write about the black experience, for example. After all, it can be argued that only black writers can faithfully write about that. The second limitation is that Dos Passos wrote this book during a period of his life when he was very much on the left of the American political spectrum. Personally, I thought he accurately depicted many aspects of society without resorting to caricatures so I doubt the modern reader will find that objectionable, but it is worth keeping in mind if you are on the opposite side of the political spectrum.


The writing style is eerily similar to Joyce's Ulysses, with the use of multiple story telling techniques, including stream of consciousness, which makes it a difficult book to hit the ground running with, but the majority of the novel is told is a straightforward narrative, so readers should not give up after the few few pages.


Overall, I am glad I read this novel, and I look forward to reading the next two in the trilogy.