A Flag for Sunrise : a novel

by Robert Stone

Hardcover, 1981




New York : Knopf, 1981.


A Flag for Sunrise is a novel of Americans drawn into the maelstrom of Tecan, a small Central American country on the brink of revolution. At a mission on the coast a priest is lapsing into alcoholic mysticism, while a young American nun is veering towards commitment to the cause. In a bar in Brooklyn, Frank Holliwell is lunching with an old CIA friend who is begging for a favor. On the Tex-Mex border, Pablo, a Coast Guard deserter, loco on speed, is about to take a job carrying mysterious contraband to Tecan. As these lives converge, as this small, crowded world erupts, the novel builds to an electrifying climax.

User reviews

LibraryThing member jensenmk82
From teaching this book several times and turning it inside out analytically my esteem for this book has grown and deepened. It's a highly allusive text that repays study. I've come to believe that the mysticism of Meister Eckhart is the key to unlocking the novel's symbolic riches. But the main
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story line is gripping enough for those who don't have the inclination to go further. The title comes from an Emily Dickinson poem ("A Wife - at Daybreak I shall be").
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LibraryThing member TheAmpersand
You might call "A Flag for Sunrise" Robert Stone's Central American novel. In it we follow a troubled anthropologist, a coast guard crewman who's jumped ship, a gang of smugglers, a nun who's lost her faith, and and a dying priest on a series of tropical adventures, most of which end very badly.
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Though it's not named, the background suggests the El Salvadorean civil war. You might also say that "A Flag for Sunrise" is just Robert Stone: sparkling economical prose that's equally indebted to dime novels and mid-century Amercian literary fiction, amoral characters whose words can't be trusted and, everywhere, the specter of the Vietnam War, a never-ending debacle that seems to have sucked the morality of everyone who experienced it. Readers who feel that they have to like the characters they read about are advised to avoid this one, as well as Stone's other stuff. In "A Flag for Sunrise" he is, as always, fascinated by the yawning gulf that separates his characters statements and their darker motives. It isn't pleasant to see the optimistic language of the sixties gets turned on its head here and become mere window dressing for self-seeking hustlers, but Stone's writing is, as always, a joy to read, both kinetic and addled, beautiful and unsettling.

"A Flag for Sunrise" is also a much looser, more diffuse book than Stone's award-winning "Dog Soldiers," and while he brings each of these characters' narratives to a satisfactory conclusion, I rather missed that earlier book's considerable narrative drive. "Sunrise" reminded me a bit of Denis Johnson's "Tree of Smoke," a novel that danced around the dark center of the Vietnam conflict while never really threatening to plunge into it. It's a long, dense read but I also feel that the author glosses over a couple of subjects that deserved his full attention. I never felt that I really grasped the American nun's motivations for lending her support to a coming Marxist insurgency, for example. And, while it goes without saying, those looking for an accurate or sympathetic portrait of the Caribbean and its people will not find it here. This novel can be justly criticized for using this part of the world as a seedy backdrop, much as a James Bond film would, though I don't think its author would be too interested in contesting this particular objection. Still, "A Flag for Sunrise" is, by most metrics, a success, a compelling portrait of some who hover over the void and a few others who have already abandoned themselves to it.
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LibraryThing member Wheatland
This political novel from the 1970s mixes political revolution, crime, some mystery, violence, psychology, philosophy, and theology in dense, beautiful writing. The author's descriptions of emotion and place have depth and power. He explores the psychology of his main characters in detail. The
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novel will be appreciated by those who have a somewhat leftist view of US-Central American political happenings in the 1970s. It is not the author's aim to promote any one political view over another: he is cynical about everyone and nihilist in his approach to ultimate values.

Readers should know they will gain little insight into the lives of Central American characters. The author's main dealings are with American expatriates, almost as types: the missionary, the spy, embassy official, the criminal, and so on. The lives of local citizens are not much explored. Moreover the expatriate characters are all mad, drunk, drugged up, or otherwise deranged, which only reinforces any prejudices that Americans have of Central or Latin American society and politics as hopelessly and impenetrably irrational.

In what is otherwise a well-paced and gripping novel, I found the many pages of ranting dialogues and interior monologues to be tedious at times.
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National Book Award (Finalist — 1982)
Pulitzer Prize (Finalist — Fiction — 1982)
LA Times Book Prize (Finalist — Fiction — 1982)
National Book Critics Circle Award (Finalist — Fiction — 1981)
PEN/Faulkner Award (Finalist — 1982)


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