Thursday, August 14, 2014
The Armies of the Night 
Though Capote’s devastating masterwork In Cold Blood possibly remains the greatest work in the school of literature known as New Journalism, Norman Mailer’s Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winning non-fiction novel The Armies of the Night, too, was a fine example of it. He infused traits of narrative fiction, personal commentary and subjectivity into traditional reporting, and provided a complex, layered and deeply personalized account of the famous October 1967 March to Pentagon for protesting the ugly war that US was waging in Vietnam. Interestingly, the previous book that I read, viz. Greene’s astounding The Quiet American, had touched upon America’s covert activities in the country post WWII in order to root out Communism. In keeping with the thematic and stylistic choices made by Mailer, he divided the book into two sharply contrasting halves – the first half, titled ‘History as a Novel’ and based over a few days, provided his experiences of being part of the march, starting from a gathering on the evening before the march to the actual walk to the Pentagon along with intellectuals, poets, students, hippies, etc., his arrest followed by a night in prison, and he managed to get him released much to the authority’s opposition; the second half, titled ‘The Novel as History’, covered a wider temporal and spatial span as it detailed study of march, starting from the preparatory stages and negotiations with the government prior to the event, and its aftermaths. By infusing novelized and historicized accounts, the book didn’t just documented the symbolic event, it dealt a powerful blow against the socio-political system and foreign policy of the technology and corporation land called the US, while it also questioned how we interpret history. The rambling style, interspersing of narration with opinions on wide array of topics including his personal life, and the sharp and deprecatory sense of humour (directed at himself as well as others), can be really distracting to start with, but fascinating once one gets a hang of the flavour.
Author: Norman Mailer
Genre: Non-Fiction/New Journalism