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Admirable Achievements

February 3, 2015
Jacket copy, hardcover edition of Anand Gopal's "No Good Men Among the Living" (Metropolitan Books, 2014).

Jacket copy, hardcover edition of Anand Gopal’s “No Good Men Among the Living” (Metropolitan Books, 2014).

My copy of Anand Gopal’s No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes (2014) arrived today. I find this inadvertently ironic blurb on the back:

No Good Men Among the Living is a masterfully told narrative of how, after 9/11, the Americans defeated the Taliban only to revive them. An admirable achievement. —Jon Lee Anderson, author of The Fall of Baghdad and The Lion’s Grave

Couldn’t have said it better myself, and I haven’t even opened the book.

Is the copyeditor in Henry Holt & Company’s marketing department a wag? I’d like to think so, but I doubt it. (Holt, incidentally, is now a subsidiary of the Georg von Holtzbrinck Publishing Group.) Nor would I chalk any mischief up to Jon Lee Anderson, a staff writer at The New Yorker.

In any case, the book was issued by Holt’s Metropolitan Books imprint. And the first sentence of the blurb, omitted as I quote it above, is also inadvertently good: “If you read one book on Afghanistan today, make it this one.” So much for Tuesday, which it is here it in Kyoto. I’ve got my work cut out for me. It’s already 4:31 PM. And as it happens, I’m in the middle of Guantánamo Diary.

Postscript, 5:02 PM: 

In an email, my friend Mark Scott notes also the redundancy in “told narrative.” I’m tired today. Didn’t see that. (Why not “masterful narrative”?) The formula “masterfully told” is so familiar as to obscure whatever flies under its colours. I Google Ngrammed the phrase: index case, circa 1900. Upward arc ever since, as you see in the screenshot below. Interesting that the epithet really got launched, like the masterfully told Apollo program, in the 1960s. By the way, “masterfully told narrative” doesn’t return any instances at Ngram. And, of course, I’ve penned a few thousand unhappy phrases myself.
Google Ngram Viewer

Post-postscript: I append here, at random, and run together for a lark, instances of the bloc “masterfully told” to which Google Ngram directs me (almost all from the last 15 years or so, the majority of them blurbs). There are more master tellers among us than I knew. NB: The penultimate example is a rare early one, from 1916, and the last is from 1903 (as its syntax might suggest).

The story of the manifold vagaries that travel with the modern preoccupation with the epistemologically defined problems of meaning and reference has been masterfully told by Richard Rorty in his book, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. The stories of the Biblical women who have been pained by men are masterfully told by a man who “has sought to befriend women in our struggle for identity, liberation and wholeness.” Besides being a masterfully told story, full of wit and humour, it is an assault on absolute values, racial prejudice, and authoritarian arrogance. Many of Harold Talbert’s masterfully told reminiscences evoke small-town America, both North and South, but many more carry special Southern accents. This detailed account of Joseph and the dreams is masterfully told. It provides the background to understand the pivotal event toward which the narrator was moving. The tale has been masterfully told by Clifford Geertz in his brief, durable book, Islam Observed, which appeared in 1968. The exploitation of the migratory agricultural worker, masterfully fictionalized in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, is equally masterfully told, chronologically and factually, by Carey McWilliams in this book. Andrew Gulliford has masterfully told the story of how Exxon’s sudden departure affected both the landscape, which is marked by abandoned projects and empty buildings, and the residents. Gene Edwards has crafted a masterfully told and profoundly moving story. Gripping. Authoritative. Masterfully told. I cannot praise this book highly enough. The revelation that the younger son Keith was not dead but actually disguised as hippie Jonah Lockwood was masterfully told. In order to keep his secret, Keith/Jonah sent many a character to an early grave. A great story, masterfully told. There are, just as in a dynastic novel, revelations in every chapter. We Called Each Other Comrade is a classic work in the history of American media and the American left. Allen Ruff has masterfully told this extraordinary story about a book publisher at the heart of our nation’s most important struggles for social justice. This richly nuanced look at the Charles Kerr Company has stood the test of time … This outstanding novel is masterfully told, richly textured, and deeply moving. It deserves to stand in the front ranks of Christian classics for young people. This section is masterfully told in Rose Annie’s confused and crazy voice. A beautiful story, told simply in a few words—only three short pages—and yet it is so masterfully told by a gifted teller of tales. Rereading it this past week refreshed my ageing memory … A poignant story, masterfully told with heart, Minka’s journey comes to light in this beautiful work. And it is a story to be treasured. The story of the narrow route kabuki of the pre-World War II years had to navigate is masterfully told by James R. Brandon in Kabuki’s Forgotten War: 1931-1945. Her coast-to-coast reputation for masterfully told, spine-tingling tales is hailed by critics, storytellers, and ghost story lovers alike. I re-analyze an account of the incident as masterfully told by Stephan Wilkinson … Success kept eluding him, and he is virtually known nowadays solely as the composer of I Pagliacci, a one-act opera in which a story of love, jealousy, and murder is masterfully told in a matter-of-fact, veristic style. Language added to the legislation in 1996 by Expansionist Senator Spencer Abraham dramatically narrowed its application. It was a task completed by subsequent INS administration—a story masterfully told in Jessica Vaughan’s “Bar None,” CIS Backgrounder (July 2003). Masterfully told with the sensuality and drama that Brenda Jackson does best, this is an unforgettable story of relationships at their most complex … Carefully researched and masterfully told, The Colony is a searing tale of individual bravery and extraordinary survival, and stands as a testament to the power of faith, compassion, and the human spirit. In the finest tradition of Christian story telling, which dates back all the way to the Lord’s parables, this masterfully told tale contains the very heart—the highest truth of the gospel as it pertains to living the Christian life. Internationally bestselling author Adam Zamoyski’s Rites of Peace is a meticulously researched, masterfully told account of these extraordinary events and their profound historical consequences. Masterfully told, immensely ambitious, yet also immensely moving, A Desert in Bohemia deserves to follow Walsh’s last novel, Knowledge of Angels, on to the Booker shortlist. Thought-provoking, life-affirming, triumphant and tragic, this is a novel of breathtaking scope, masterfully told. This series is described as the biggest motion picture story ever written, being masterfully told and lavishly illustrated—an epic of the new art, plus the human charm of a supreme personality. There is about his style a delicate balance and restraint which give to the work a rare fascination, the fascination that comes from a story that is masterfully told rather than inherently good.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. February 28, 2015 6:08 PM

    “For a masterful discussion of correspondence between poets and the natural world, see M.H. Abrams’ ‘The Correspondent Breeze: A Romantic Metaphor’ in Kenyon Review 19 (1957) . . . ” James Barszcz, “Robert Frost and The Provocation of Religion,” in Robert Frost in Context, ed. M. Richardson, 2014.

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