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THE VALLEY OF THE FALLEN: And Other Places

Donald Katz, Author
Donald Katz, Author . ARRAY(0x25b0cf8) $9.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-8129-9182-6 ISBN 0-679-64722-8
Reviewed on: 07/30/2001
Release date: 09/01/2001
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This collection of essays written between 1976 and 1992 by Katz (Home Fires), a contributing editor to Rolling Stone, falls squarely within the first-person literary journalism genre. Katz visits foreign political hotspots and out-of-the-way American places, talks to people who are often in grave danger, inserts himself into each environment as thoroughly as possible, and writes to share his reactions and observations. He is in Basque country to report Franco's death, in Ethiopia as the revolutionary forces that toppled Haile Selassie turn inward with indiscriminate cruelty, in Italy during a 1977 uprising of leftist students, and in the Sinai as Israel prepares to return it to Egypt in accordance with the Camp David agreement. Other essays focus on various American subcultures. For example, Katz explores life as a trader at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, spends time with one of the few remaining practitioners of the art of "grappling," catching catfish in the Louisiana bayou by diving beneath the water's surface and pulling the 10-to-60-pound fish to shore by hand, and visits the rural Arkansas home of his great-great-grandfather, where the governor is a 33-year-old politician named Bill Clinton. Katz is an observant reporter and a strong writer. He effectively conveys an Ethiopia filled with pervasive menace, a Louisiana bayou governed by the homilies of eccentric, homespun Cajuns, and an Arkansas filled with a new ethos and new energy. But for all the fine writing, the collection's impact is limited because many of the stories are no longer topical—Spain has been transformed, Israel battles not with Egypt but Hamas, and in Africa, AIDS captures headlines. Postscripts would have strengthened the effort. (Sept. 4)

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