American notes ; and, Pictures from Italy

by Charles Dickens

Paper Book, 1957




Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 1987, c1957.


The German war machine is in retreat as the Russians advance. In Warsaw, Resistance fighters rise up against their Nazi occupiers, but the Germans retaliate, ruthlessly leveling the once-beautiful city. American Adam Nowak has been dropped into Poland by British intelligence as an assassin and Resistance fighter. During the Warsaw Uprising he meets Natalia, a covert operative who has lost everything¬ójust as he has. Amid the Allied power struggle left by Germany’s defeat, Adam and Natalia join in a desperate hunt for the 1940 Soviet order authorizing the murders of 20,000 Polish army officers and civilians. If they can find the Katyn Order before the Russians do, they just might change the fate of Poland.

User reviews

LibraryThing member JBD1
I enjoyed "American Notes" more than "Pictures from Italy" since I happened to be reading this while traveling in some of the same American cities as Dickens as I read, and found it fascinating to make the comparisons. I was greatly bemused by Dickens' repeated discussions of spitting, which were
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frequent and lengthy.
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LibraryThing member AlanWPowers
Despite some questions on America, Dickens admires Boston institutions, like the Perkins Institute for the Blind, and the Asylum for the Insane, and the Juvenile Jail. He devoted many pages to specific children at Perkins, especially one who is deaf, blind and mute, from scarlet fever. This girl
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learned shapes of letters, forming with her finger, eventually very quickly (before Braille). He observes that in provincial life like Boston, the "Pulpit has great influnece"-- the Puritans discouraging amusements like theatres, which hence are attended by few, mostly women. He met Channing the Unitarian (the one church that supported amusements) and admires Unitarian "disgust of Cant" and Carlyle's"follower" Emerson: "If I were a Bostonian, I think I would be a Transcendentalist"(57). Emerson was minister at my New Bedford UU church for six months before he gave up being clergy, objecting to communion, which he may have learned from Mary rotch who walked out every communion. (Fine bust of him in the church, as there's also a huge Tiffany mosaic behind the pulpit.)

Attending one small church on the harbor, he admires the former seaman preacher, "a weather-beaten, hard-featured man of six o eight and fifty, with deep lines graven into his face, and a stern, keen eye. Yet his general character was pleasant and agreeable." "The little choir in the gallery opposite the pulpit featured a violincello, and a violin." This church too small, too poor for an organ, had arguably better music.
He tours Lowell's mills, finds the mill "girls" housing includes a piano some can play, and books fom circulating libraies, as well as bank accounts. They publish a paper, the Lowell Offering, and they often come from farms, work a few mill years and return home. He refrains from comparing English mills, where a lifetime, and "great haunts of desperate misery."
He admires Worcester, takes train to my hometown Springfield; then , a small water craft down the Connecticut river, with a rocking chair in the cabin. A lady on the boat is the most beautiful he's met.
When he gets to D.C. he notes that the House of representatives is too big, "beautiful to look at, but singulalay bad for purposes of hearing" (118) while the Senate room, smaller, "well adapted." While in the waiting room to meet the US President Tyler (CD, "not vey popular") he sees a man from Kentucky who is 6'6", leaning against the wall with his hat on; another does nothing but whistle; another, nothing but spit--from chewing tobacco-- ignoring the spittoons. Our editor Sitwell cuts a great passage editor M. Slater includes: "The rest balanced themselves, now on one leg, now on another, and chewed mighty quids of tobacco. They all constantly squirted forth upon the carpet, a yellow saliva which quite altered its pattern." President Tyler had a smaller room, and desk covered with papers. "He looked somewhat worn and tired as well he might, being at war with everybody, but his demeanour mild and manner unaffected. He became his station singularly well."

Next, in his Pictures from Italy, Dickens' first sight of rome, coming from Siena, looks like London-- large domes in each city. (He wonders if he should say this.) He's there for Holy Week, 1842. Critiques the ceremonies as entertainment: the candles being lighted from a tall step-ladder, "only" 112 candles one night. Both Keats and Shelley are buried in the same small cemetery. Sistine Chapel, so crowded when a Lady faints, brought out, 100 people think they can enter to her place. The Pope's feet-washing of 13 (12 apostles +) a high point, the 13 on raised seats so feet high enough to see. Evidently angels not musicians, but shown playing fiddles in St Peter's. After washing feet, the Pope, in scarlet robes, serves a meal-- fish and veggies-- and wine, white and red. Judas looks depressed, while St Peter eats everything. Someone asks if there's a mustard-pot; one saw oil in cruets (402).

Leaving the city, they see carts full of wine heading back, a shaggy peasant directing each. They head to Napoli, where I spent a month one year--researching Giordano Bruno, who was born nearby in Nola--, followed by a week the next. See my two books, the Worlds of Giordano Bruno, and his play, Candelaio. Spoke on 'em at Harvard Astrophysics, Oct 1 2013: google "Giordano Bruno Harvard Video." Bruno studied at San Domenico Maggiore 11 years. A painting in that church spoke to St Thomas Aquinas.

CD, "Everything is done in pantomime in Naples. All over Italy, a peculiar shake of the right hand from the wrist, the foefinger stretched out. expresses a negative--the only negative beggars understand. But in Naples, those five fingers are a copious language." Two people in carriages meeting, "one touches his lips, twice or thrice, holding up the five fingers of his right hand, and gives a horizontal cut in the air with the palm. The other nods briskly, and goes his way. He has been invited to dinner at half-past five o'clock, and will surely come."

This "most beautiful and lovely spot on earth"(413). I left feeling the most beautiful city was San Francisco, or Napoli. CD, "Whether we turn towards the Miseno shor of the splendid watery amphitheatre, or take the other way, towards Vesuvius and Sorrento, it is one succession of delights" (414). From Sorrento, where the poet Tasso drew inspiration, the clusters of white houses in Naples "dwindle down to dice."
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LibraryThing member TheGalaxyGirl
I like Dickens, but these two travelogues just weren't that interesting to me. American Notes is more engaging, but only just. Pictures from Italy is more like reportage, and (to me anyway) just barely readable.


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