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Reviews 363 West of the West: Imagining California. Edited by Leonard Michaels, David Reid, and Raquel Scherr. (New York: HarperCollins, 1991. 332 pages, $10.95.) “California . . . is something more than merely the richest and most populous state of the Union, the first among equals. It is a state of mind; a state of being. The dogma has it that what California is doing today, the rest of the United States will be doing tomorrow.”These words by Shiva Naipaul in West of the West:Imagining Californiasuggestwhy anyone living outside the Golden State might be curious about its grandeur, its fads and quirks and craziness, not to mention its preoccupation with itself. California is a “seminal ground for new ideas,”says Naipaul, “one vast laboratory of the human spirit.” Westofthe West, originally published byNorth Point Press in 1989, tracks this human spirit from sound stages in Hollywood to backyard barbecues in Fresno. “Most of the writing in this book,”according to the editors, “was done after 1945 and reflects the great transformation that began during the Second World War.” Organized geographically from south to north, the varied selections range from idyllic sketches ofpristine California in the 1940s to hip documenta­ ries of the free speech, free love, and cult movements during the ’60s and beyond. The array of topics, genres, styles, and moods is vast. Nothing is slighted, with the possible exception of the “silent majority”—rural, working, and middle classes that comprise the bulk of the state’s population. While this group is mentioned in several essays, from the preponderance of selections on Charles Manson, movie moguls, and the founder of “est,” one might assume that freaks, millionaires, and gurus outnumber average citizens. Could this happen in California? Some of the best writing in West ofthe Westis by big names, yet many pieces by lesser-knowns are equally fine.Joan Didion’s “Notes from a Native Daughter” comes closest to the announced theme of the book. “It is hard tofind, California now,”says the exile from Sacramento, “unsettling to wonder how much ofit was merely imagined or improvised.” The evanescent myth, the vanishing dream: these themes crop up repeatedly. David Thompson argues, in contrast, that “California remains a stirring reality, even ifits ecology struggles to keep up with the mythology.” The collection also depicts Californians themselves from a variety of per­ spectives. Jonathan Lieberson finds at Big Sur a “pretty blonde”whose “empty eyes and toneless” speech suggest a lifetime “strung out on hypnotic drugs among the Frisbee crowd.” Peter Viertel views California youth as “Greeks without brains,” while Ishmael Reed praises his Oakland neighbors as “loyal Americans,”who vote, pay taxes, and offer to watch your house. For variety West of the West would be hard to beat. From Hollywood to Modesto to Marin County, we glimpse California’s glittering surfaces and hid­ den depths. The diversity of its people is seen through the eyes of Amy Tan, Maya Angelou, Gary Soto, Maxine Hong Kingston, Thom Gunn, and a myriad of others—film stars, beats, hippies, valley gangs, Glendale school girls, Zen plumbers. The stereotypes form and crash like waves at Bodega Bay. ROBERT S. HUGHES,JR. University ofHawaii Czech Voices:Storiesfrom Texasin //¿«Amerikan Narodni Kalendar. Translated and edited by Clinton Machaan and James W. Mendle, Jr. (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1991. 147 pages, $18.95.) Willa Cather made the experiences ofCzechs in Nebraska world-famous in her fiction. Now, in Czech Voices, the editors provide information about nine­ teenth-century Czech immigrants in Texas. The ten short autobiographies included were selected from a large number first published periodically in the national Czech language almanac, Amerikan Narodni Kalendar. While they illustrate the unique experiences of Czechs in a small area of Texas, the stories mirror those of their countrymen and women who settled in Nebraska, Ohio, Illinois, and elsewhere, with the exception ofthe difficulties encountered by the Texas Czechs during the Civil War. Because most of these people came to Texas in the 1850s, their histories reveal a little-known aspect of thatwar, the harassment immigrants experienced at the hands of a desperate Confederacy. The Czechs had come to escape poverty, political upheavals, and religious persecution in Europe...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 363-364
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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