Corollary question, more out of curiosity

Bill Marvel's post to my 9/11 novel musings about the unexamined assumption that novelists today should deliver "topical musings" (see immediately below) has prompted this question: Can anyone think of a novel that came out immediately after an earthshaking event (say, within a year or two), and that novel remains a real literary achievement, something that changed or deepened our understanding of the event yet the book can also be appreciated without extensive knowledge of the relevant history?

I'm going to discount a number of WWI and WWII novels because those tragedies lasted so long that an author could have conceivably started writing a novel during the war that reflected on it, yet have plenty of time to layer the work so that, upon release, it would seem both immediate and the product of long, artistic gestation. Obviously, the event in question could be a disaster -- atom bomb, hurricane, flood, shooting -- but it could as likely be an invention, social upheaval, change in political administrations.

I'm asking because I'm curious about where this expectation, the media-pundit pressure came from: That after any cataclysm, novelists had better get busy pondering it to produce the definitive work that somehow manages to stand as a literary achievement yet be immediately newsworthy?

The first suggestion, posted in a comment to "9/11 as a novel: Why?", by Marion James is Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky, which was begun as her diaries during the war and transformed into the first part of a longer novel even as she and her family were being rounded up.

An impressive choice. A tremendous Holocaust novel written even as the Holocaust began. Of course, the interesting factor with Suite Francaise is that its release was delayed by a half-century (which in itself made the book "newsy" for very different reasons), yet that "time capsule quality" made the novel feel so incredibly immediate and fresh.

Any other suggestions?

May 12, 2007 9:04 AM | | Comments (3)



Hm... While a little bit of a stretch on your time constraints, what about The Grapes of Wrath?

Andre Malraux - Man's Hope?

Murakami tried after sarin attacked Tokyo: Kafka I thought brought WWII and Hiroshima (Kafka on the Shore) up.

Bjork refuted 9/11 on topic of art. I think objectives like politics need will that musicians don't need or want. Why should pain be linked right? Art is weak politically well I think.


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