Four Freedoms: A Novel

Four Freedoms: A Novel

by John Crowley


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"So rich and so evocative and so authentic." —Tom Brokaw, author of The Greatest Generation

"John Crowley is a virtuoso of metaphor, a peerless recreator of living moments, of small daily sublimities.” —New York Times Book Review

 From the critically acclaimed author of Lord Byron’s Novel and The Translator comes a novel set in World War II America that follows the stories of a group of aircraft factory workers—in particular, the enigmatic figure of draftsman Prosper Olander. Named one of the Best Books of 2009 by the Washington Post, Four Freedoms is a beautifully crafted story of liberation and redemption from an author who has been compared to Robertson Davies, Thomas Mann, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061231513
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 05/18/2010
Pages: 389
Sales rank: 1,225,335
Product dimensions: 5.36(w) x 8.08(h) x 0.96(d)

About the Author

John Crowley lives in the hills of northern Massachusetts with his wife and twin daughters. He is the author of ten previous novels as well as the short fiction collection, Novelties & Souvenirs.

What People are Saying About This

Tom Brokaw

Four Freedoms is so rich and so evocative and so authentic.”

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Four Freedoms 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In the early days of WW II, FDR orders production companies to manufacture the weapons needed to fight the Nazis and their axis partners. In Ponca City, Oklahoma, brothers Henry and Julius Van Damme establish an airplane factory to build the B-30 Pax, America's largest warplane However, the siblings know there biggest handicap is finding experienced workers as most are in the military. They feel fortunate to hire Prosper Olander whose 4F due to a severe curvature of the spine kept him out of the war. The brothers also are pleased with employing street corner philosopher Pancho Notzing; whose religious fervor encourages all types of people to be all they can be but do so while living in a Harmonious City regardless of race, religion, ethnic background as he claims we are all humans and must share and support one another. The brothers also hire enthusiastic women who will accept working blue collar jobs away from home; most have never turned a screw or hammered a nail and few ventured more than a few miles from their family house. Still they come from all parts of the country with various backgrounds to learn how to build the plane and then mass produce the bomber. This is a terrific WW II saga that obviously tells the tale of life and relationships while mass producing the war machine. However, the subtly thrilling profound story line also implies through the strong cast that this setting all over the country led to future generations of the disenfranchised demanding the same Constitutional FOUR FREEDOMS that FDR said were in jeopardy by the Nazis. Prosper sets the tone with his uplifting "sermons", but the entire ensemble shows why this is considered the "Greatest generation". Harriet Klausner
adzebill on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was surprised both by how good this was, and by how mainstream. It's a pretty straight historical novel that does a beautiful job of evoking the people and mores of WWII, and has no traces of the fantasy/science fiction found in most of his other books. I really enjoyed it, almost as much as his masterpiece Little, Big.
mcurry on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The story of a handicapped man¿s life before and during WWII doesn¿t sound like something I¿d normally read, but John Crowley is a good enough writer that I ended up quite liking this book. While I might quibble with some of his structural choices, the prose, atmosphere, characters and voice were all great.
kenf on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of Crowley's clearest and most compelling novels ever. Eschewing the multi-level baroque storylines of his more fantasy-oriented work, he tells the story of a bunch of misfits gathered in a midwestern company town to build a new bomber. The evocation of the privations and mood of WW2 America is beautiful, and the characters and story are simple and sad. If "Little, Big" is an intricate cloisonne, this is a sepia photograph.
VisibleGhost on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
John Crowley is not an undiscovered author but he is an underappreciated one. His subtle airy style is one that is not easily duplicated. It works well in the fantasy genre he has traditionally plied. Four Freedoms is not fantasy, it's historical fiction. His underlying style is still there with hints of deeper meanings. He won't knock one over the head with obviousness, instead, he just reveals glimpses of a bigger picture. Just one example: long-time readers of Crowley's will notice there's another character named Violet and that she's tall. The novel takes place in a fictional aircraft manufacturing plant set in Ponca City, Oklahoma during World War II. Rationing is in effect and times are trying. So many males have been called up for military duty that there is a shortage of workers in the traditionally male dominated industrial facilities. Women, the disabled, and others on the fringe of American society at the time enter these places of works by the tens of thousands. Changes are set in motion that started remolding attitudes and gender roles.Four Freedoms is broken into four sections that focuses on four different people that found themselves just hanging on in the depression years just before this period. They all find themselves caught up in this burgeoning industrial ramp-up. Life throws up obstacles along with the new opportunities. It is historical fiction based on the lives of everyday men and women not the power brokers of the time. They get shifted around the chess board in ways that such people always have been. Crowley does very well in the historical fiction arena although at times it seems he wants to jump out into a bigger picture format. He doesn't though. He stays within the boundaries albeit with his usual flair.
veevoxvoom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Summary: At the height of World War II, those Americans who aren¿t fighting overseas are entering the work force back home. At the Van Damme airplane factory, four people converge: Prosper, a disabled man, Connie, a single mom, Vi, a softball pitcher, and Diane, a pregnant woman married to a pilot.Review: One thing I can definitely say about Four Freedoms is that reading it feels like stepping into the 1940s. It¿s the little details that really do it ¿ the brand names, the small habits, things like that. Crowley is one writer who has done his research, and it makes reading his novel that much more enjoyable because it¿s not flat, and it doesn¿t read like a twenty-first century story superimposed on an old-fashioned narrative.His characters are interesting, especially for being the people left behind in the war: that is, women and men who are unable to fight. In a lot of books about war, these characters are left out, so it was good to see them get explored. Prosper, Connie, Vi, and Diane are all short but poignant portraits of human lives and complexity. However, at times the ventures into their back stories made the four narratives feel disconnected and disjointed. Prosper was the one focal point where they all combined, so those moments without Prosper made it feel like I was reading four novellas centering around the same theme, instead of a single novel.Four Freedoms really doesn¿t feel like a novel. There is little plot or central concern outside of the meta-narrative. The language is also dense and the rhythm is heavy. Despite what it sounds like, I¿m not trying to be critical. Crowley writes good stuff. I just mean that at the end of the day the structure and style are not really to my taste. But objectively, as well as in the subject matter and the exquisite details, I can recognize that here is real literature that deserves to be widely read. Conclusion: A stylized, intelligent book about the experiences of the World War II American home front. The way the story was told didn't work for me, but I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to others with different tastes.
paradoxosalpha on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Heading into my read of an advance review copy of John Crowley's forthcoming Four Freedoms, I was unsure what to expect. The publisher's blurb told me that it was a book about "a disabled man...among a crowd of women" at "the height of World War II." It didn't seem obvious that this scenario would be a setting suited to the artful exploration of ideas I had enjoyed in the author's AEgypt cycle, a set of four novels that develop a complexly interwoven text about the human experience of magic and the magic of human experience. I needn't have worried. The Four Freedoms of the title are the ones articulated in FDR's 1941 State of the Union speech: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, freedom from fear. The fact that the novel is divided into four parts suggests a correspondence, but there's no obvious one-to-one relationship between those parts and the freedoms. They seem more like the four movements of a symphony, and here is the key to the esoteric dimension of Four Freedoms: the Théorie des quatre mouvements et des destinees generales (1808) of Charles Fourier. Crowley is very coy about this element of the novel--unlike his free admission of the historical and scholarly grist for his mill in AEgypt--he never even mentions Fourier by name, either in the novel or in the afterword that discusses his research sources. Still, the unavoidable fact is that Four Freedoms character Pancho Notzing's "Bestopianism" is Fourierist though and through: a magical ur-socialism founded in "Passionate Series" generating "Harmony" through the satisfaction of dynamic and heterogeneous desires. Pancho himself is even a biographical cipher for Fourier. Where Fourier was the son of a prosperous cloth merchant and had a career as a traveling salesman, Pancho is retiring from a career as a traveling salesman of luxury cloths.The Theory of Four Movements is Fourier's earliest and most bewildering exposition of his system. The mouvements themselves are enumerated only in a footnote and some brief glossary material, where they are given as social, human, animal, and organic--in descending order. The hierarchy of the Fourierist movements perhaps accounts for the sparing but curious use of the first-person plural in the frame of Four Freedoms. The "we" narrating the novel could be the collective identity of the quasi-phalanx of the Van Damme Aero manufacturing plant, a "Temporary Harmonious Zone"--cousin maybe to Hakim Bey's Temporary Autonomous Zone. Both the little society of the Ponca City plant and the greater society of WWII America with its socialized command economy are especially worth readers' attention at a time when the US is confronted with a need to fundamentally reorganize its material and industrial bases. The historical setting of Four Freedoms is bracingly topical while we confront a "great recession" or even "greater depression" that seems bound to displace what "postwar" generations have been taught to consider the American "way of life." A gasoline ration of four gallons per week? That was a reality of the home front. I cried once in the course of reading this book. If it has that effect on anyone else, I wouldn't necessarily expect it to be at the same place: there's a lot emotional power distributed through many personal stories over the course of the novel. As I have come to expect from Crowley, his narrative voice is sure--both efficient and beautiful--and his characters are compelling. The plot is largely subordinate to the characters, and tends to fan out from them in individual tributaries of memory, told to one another or simply recalled.Crowley's AEgypt (especially as read backwards from the final realizations of Endless Things) can be considered a meditation on "neurodiversity": the idea that there are many necessarily partial and complementary ways of perceiving and understanding the world. Four Freedoms can be read as a correspond
fourbears on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
John Crowley¿s Four Freedom¿s takes its title from FDR¿s speech to Congress in January 1941 in which he says, ¿In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms:¿¿The first is freedom of speech and expression -- everywhere in the world.¿¿The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way....¿¿The third is freedom from want....¿¿The fourth is freedom from fear¿.¿Crowley¿s use of the term, however, doesn¿t focus on a world made secure after winning the world war, but on specific segments of the US population for whom the war¿and specifically the need to mobilize all available workers¿brought access to freedoms they¿d never known before: to women, to the handicapped, to minorities and to other marginalized citizens. The nameless narrator begins the story with his childhood memory of playing in a derelict airplane near the Ponca City, Oklahoma, airport. (That got my attention because I played in a deteriorating WWII plane while my father was taking his flying lessons. It was parked at our small town airport, and the instructor¿s son, who had made it his playhouse, wasn¿t above inviting a girl to join in.) The narrator, who never really intrudes into the story, seems to be a Ponca City native ¿documenting¿ his city¿s role in the war effort. He infuses the story with a certain enthusiasm and love of place that¿s attractive.Crowley creates a fictional aircraft plant¿Van Damme Aero¿building a fictional plane¿the B30 Pax¿outside Ponca City. The Van Damme brothers were early flying enthusiasts and Henry in particular had visions of building a ¿city of the hill¿ out of his factory, a self-sufficient town which came to be called Henryville where the workers who flocked to Ponca City for ¿war work¿ could live and work and be entertained. Everything was organized and ritualized, but Henry was no ¿big brother¿, no profiteer bent on profiting from the government¿s needs, but rather an aircraft enthusiast, interested in involving his employees in the great task entrusted to them.Crowley obviously researched the WWII homefront¿particularly ¿war work¿¿in great detail, and yet the novel doesn¿t read like an historical novel pieced together out of tidbits of history. That¿s largely because of the compelling characters who march through the novel, with the focus falling on several characters in different situations, rather than focusing exclusively on one set of characters. It starts out with the Van Dammes but the bulk of the novel focuses on Al and Sal Maas who are midgets, on Vi Harbison, who left a deteriorating ranch and had her moment of fame at Van Damme Aero using her softball skills, on Pancho Notzring, an idealist always planning the perfection of human society, on Bunce, who left his wife up North to get ¿war work¿ that would keep him out of the war but then found another woman to keep him company in Henryville, and on Connie his wife, who felt her way to independence and competence¿first getting a job in a plant at home and then when that firm folded, following Bunce to Ponca City where she finds her way on her own skills. If there is a ¿main character¿, it¿s Prosper Olander, whose spinal fusion operation as a kid left him completely unable to walk without braces and crutches. (The similarity of his disability¿though not caused by polio¿was extraordinarily like the President¿s, though Crowley, rightly so, doesn¿t push that.) Prosper¿s father left when he was a child, partly because he couldn¿t cope with a handicapped child, and his mother died while he was in the hospital. He¿d been living a very restricted life with two aunts when the war brought possibilities for self sufficiency he¿d never dreamed of. And possibilities for love (and sex) most people assumed he was incapable of. Damaged himself, he¿s a healer for others, never sentimentalized though.Speaking of which, the real danger of a novel like this would be falling into sentimentality, but it
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