ISBN: 0679754857
ISBN 13: 9780679754855
By: Joan Didion

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Reader's Thoughts


I didn't know what to make of this novel at first, but after getting into it more, I got used to Didion's writing style. It was a very quick read that flowed smoothly as the book went on. An interesting choice for my American Lit class. At first, I did not like this novel, but as I read it, I became more engrossed in the character's lives. The characters that most intrigued me were Billy Dillon, Jack Lovett, and Inez. After finishing this book, I was satisfied. Pretty decent if you are looking for a quick read about a dysfunctional government family.

Nicole Cheslock

"The Year of Magical Thinking" is the first Joan Didion book I read. I picked it up a couple weeks ago and was hooked. Looked forward to delving into more of her work - both nonfiction and fiction. Next up - "Where I was from". I struggled through the first dozens of pages, maybe because I'm not a natural history buff, didn't instantly connect with the names, the content. Pushed it to the other side of the nightstand. Then I picked up "Democracy." It's the only book I've ever immediately turned back to the first page after reading through the first time. I found it that interesting and intriguing. I loved...hearing directly from Didion, falling for the characters - the allure of Lovett, the romance between Jack and Inez, the relationships, the dialogue, the fast moving pace of the writing and narrative. See what you think![I don't like using a period inside quotations marks when marks are used for anything other than a person's quote so I tap English standards ...]


Structurally this book sort of demolished my mind. I'm in awe.


Joan Didion has to be one of the top 10 best living writers of a. fiction and b. non-fiction. Seriously, she is downright amazing. Democracy is filled with lines that are so f***ing good, it's nuts that one person thought of all of them. In my eyes this book is worth the ink used so we could read it because you know as it's going down that you want it to end just so you can wait a few months/years to enjoy it all over again. I wish Didion had a time machine that she could go back into and write some more books.


I enjoyed this book so much that while in a used book shop recently, I almost purchased a second copy of it. Didion introduces the reader to facets of the tumultuous decades of the 60s and 70s in America that I for one did not know or understand. At the same time, as she follows characters through their interactions with each other, she writers herself brialliantly into the story as well. Just as we ourselves find suddenly the sand of Pacific islands and enormous blossoms of East Asia, she too finds herself amid the minds and desires of her characters.


War, post-colonialism, presidential politics, murder, international intrigue, sibling rivalry, betrayal, parental failure, enduring love--all of this in just over 200 pages of Joan Didion's inimitable prose.

Kim Fay

As much as I am a fan of "Slouching Toward Bethlehem," I think that this is my favorite Joan Didion book. It presumes so much on the part of the reader -- that we already know about the intricacies of the characters' lives and the underbelly of the Vietnam War, and more so, that we care about any of it. In this book, Didion does not seem to write at all for the reader. She seems to be writing to answer some question whispering to her inside her own thoughts. While the novel "The Descendants" (I read the book and saw the movie) clearly strives to explain/explore/speak to the bizarre aristocracy/social hierarchies of the Hawaiian Islands, "Democracy" is the book to turn to if a person wants a truly insightful view into this world (not to mention the worlds of politics and dysfunctional families). Because, as with any insider, this book does not give away all of its secrets. It builds a (very loose) foundation based on the murder of the daughter of a prominent Hawaii family (she is also the sister-in-law of a prominent senator), then skims and skirts around this event with a litheness and absolute disinterest in me as the reader that makes me green with envy.

Ronald Wise

Though much the same style as in her novel A Book of Common Prayer, this story takes place in the time of, and in locations most affected by the American withdrawal from Vietnam. Didion actually introduces herself by name as the narrator, further blurring the distinction between fiction and reality. As in her other book, a couple of women seem to be the only reality-based characters among scheming and/or heartless men and their female accomplices. The only male character who seems to have any integrity is, eventually, the one who's integrity is officially challenged. I added this novel to my list after reading the author's memoir The Year of Magical Thinking in June 2006.

Juanita Rice

My first experience of Didion! And I'm enthralled. Above all, I am relieved to finally find a book I unequivocally enjoyed. The last three or four books I've read have all been disappointing and I was beginning to feel like the Grinch, assailing a happy world I didn't like. All these well-liked books, and I was not amused or pleased: Austerlitz, White Noise, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and Broken for You: worse and worse. I was beginning to suspect myself of being an arrogant crank, reading books in order to sniff in superior disdain in the very attitude I deplored in Hedgehog.What a delightful discovery. Joan Didion: lean, mean, keen. A quieter John LeCarre, a sketch or watercolor where LeCarre writes in full-color cinematography. Democracy, for instance, could be made into a movie but it depends, as a book, much less on its plot than most cinema. The plot is like a skeleton in Democracy; its frame supports the book, but the book is a slow fleshing-out, a study of parts being revealed. Or an unearthing of the story: one corner is revealed, pondered, put aside. Another piece of the puzzle emerges slowly, with much discussion of the methods of excavation that are tried and then abandoned. What emerges is a shimmering reflection of Inez Victor's experience of a historical moment. And much of it has to be reconstructed because as Inez says in an interview, the main cost of living a public life married to an ambitious politician is memory. Memory is contaminated with the public versions of her story until the pressure builds up to the point at which-- "You drop fuel. You jettison cargo. Eject the crew. You lose track."Didion diffuses and disperses reader focus away from plot, away from suspense or final outcome. She speaks about how she wrote this story and not other possible stories, how she found out certain facts and certain multiple versions of events. She reflects on the challenges and the tenuous moments of writing. She narrates the book but as if she were a real participating reporter or biographer. She starts the book with a record of an audio track that takes place in the final year of the story: 1975. Chapter One, part 1, consists of three pages of what was said, like a transcription except for occasional lines like these: He said to her. Jack Lovett said to Inez Victor. Inez Victor who was born Inez Christian.Two pages later there is another short insertion in the long monolog of Jack Lovett. He said to her. Jack Lovett said to Inez Victor (who was born Inez Christian) in the spring of 1975.Finally, a full paragraph reels out the context: " 'Oh, shit, Inez,' he says one night in the spring of 1975, one night outside Honolulu," a night when planes are shuttling between Honolulu and Anderson and Clark and Saigon all night long. The spring of 1975. The liberation of Saigon. The chapter concludes: "This is a hard story to tell." And Part 2 begins with the line, "Call me the author," followed by a reference to Trollope, lines from a Wallace Stevens poem, Inez Victor's explanation of why she stayed on in Kuala Lumpur: "Colors, moisture, heat, enough blue in the sky." The narrator dreams of green, dense, moist tropical vegetation, maybe banana, but there are no bananas so "symbolists can relax." All this slows the reader, it condenses, delights and deflects. It introduces exposition in curious ways, like the description of the novel that didn't get written. It paints an atmosphere of the wealthy and the forthright, the tropics, politicians, and the Vietnam war. It blurs the line between fictional narrator and actual novelist. A preamble, a hesitation, a false intimacy with the story teller. A set-up. Beating around the bush. And the story does not fly out, startled at last from its reticence. All this in nine pages.By this point, I was absolutely mesmerized. I devoured the book between three and seven p.m., and immediately turned back to savor the palette, the touch, the soft wash of the background and the keen ink-strokes of characterization. Inez Christian, a wealthy white Hawaiian, marries Harry Victor who is a serious politician with aspirations to become a liberal U.S. President. In 1972 his campaign is defeated, and in 1975 disasters strike his in-laws, Inez's family. One of the most compelling characters is Harry's spin-doctor, campaign manager, and general political factotum, Billy Dillon. I wish I could cite a particularly revealing of his cheerful schmoozing of facts. Instead, I'll end with one of the little nuggets tucked throughout this novel: The code names for the American evacuations of Cambodia and Vietnam respectively were EAGLE PULL and FREQUENT WIND. The amount of cash burned in the courtyard of the DAO in Saigon before the last helicopter left was three-and-a-half million dollars American and eighty-five million piastres. The code name for this operation was MONEY BURN. I wouldn't say this is a great immortal book, but I absolutely adore it. Present tense.

Patrick McCoy

I am slowly making my way through Joan Didion's oeuvre and Democracy (1984) is easily one of her best works of fiction. I think it incorporates many of her interests and themes. For example, Inez victory is unhappily married to a politician and gets involved with a former lover, a behind-the-scenes fixer in faraway locales, Jack Lovett. She shuttles from Honolulu (Hawaii is special place for Didion), California, to distant capitals in SE Asia: Manila, Jakarta, and Kula Lumpur. The novel is set in 1975 as America disgracefully disengages from Vietnam and the repercussion that are felt in Cambodia and throughout the world. It is a turbulent time in world history as well as Inez's personal history. The story is being told by a confidant of Inez, a certain writer named Joan Didion. Some people might find the author inserting themselves into a novel as a character as narcissistic, but I find it interesting--creating a sort of meta-narrative. Inez's children also offer a insight into the troubled would of youth culture in the mid 70s: Jessie is a recovering heroin addict who seems adrift in the world and her soon Aldali is idealistic and somewhat unfocused in his attempts to be political, but unconventionally form his politician father. This was a compelling and somewhat fractured chronicle of a the private life of a public person with complicated relationships with her family and the world in general.


I'm slowly making my way through Didion's novels, and this one was a surprise. In her non-fiction, she has a way of writing about things and inserting herself into subjects like "Hawaii" and "water sources in southern California" - always interesting; however, I've never seen her do it in her fiction until this novel.She acts as another character nearly, at first just as the writer and divulges in how she means to introduce these characters and their tragedy. In this way, it almost reads like a true first-person account. Once again, many great sentences I relished in, as I usually do with Didion.

Ron Mckinney

On DEMOCRACY, A NOVEL BY JOAN DIDIONThe other day I was asked: “What are you currently reading?” I happened to have “Democracy” close to my elbow at that moment. So that was my answer, but it wasn’t true, because I was actually reading some drivel about Aldus Huxley on the monitor and wishing I hadn’t fired up the computer.I’ve actually read Democracy four times, maybe five, and enjoy it more with each reading. Why? Because Joan Didion is not only a damn fine story teller, but she narrates the story, whether fiction or fact. She’s told us where she is from, where she’s been and has given us more personal information than we’d ever get from a “friend.” So it’s easy to sympathize with her characters while watching, as it were, Joan struggle to find the story buried within her notes, and then marveling at her knack for walking that tightrope high above the crowd without a safety net. Democracy is a love story. I must add that it is an historical romance comprised of scenes spanning the middle of the Twentieth Century up to the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Didion’s clock starts ticking as she reminisces about her visits to the Hawaiian Islands, her interest in geology and the rise and fall of islands, which are mirrored in the rise and fall of her main characters in business, politics, and romance. Democracy is a quick read, a thin book, and is an appetizer for Joan Didion’s other fiction and non-fiction works. It was my first taste and since then I’ve collected her body of work. My favorite Didion novels are Democracy, Play it as it Lays, and The Last Thing He Wanted.


I love Joan Didion's style. I haven't read much by her and look to remedy that.1. The way Democracy is narrated, with Joan Didion, author, being a person the characters interact with, makes the story feel like non-fiction. Very cool.2. There is a fixation on certain details that feels realistic. Who ended up with Leilani Thayer's koa settee? (While reading this, I learned that my maternal grandmother's mahogany bedroom set is the bedroom set that my paternal grandparents had when they were first married. This movement of furniture seems important, and I like to know I'm not the only one who thinks so.) Other details fall away. The major cost of public life is memory, says Inez.3. "'Anyway we were together,'she said. 'We were together all our lives. If you count thinking about it.'" Killed me.

Hank Stuever

After feeling disappointed by "Run River" and "A Book of Common Prayer," and having worked my way through all her other books that existed at that point, I took it slow with "Democracy." (It was her journalism I wanted more of, circa 1991, which was coming at a slow but somewhat steady clip in pieces she wrote for The New York Review of Books and, less occasionally, the Robert Gottlieb-era New Yorker. I began to realize that I was running out of new Didion stuff to discover.)Anyhow, "Democracy." This one has more resonance for me -- in terms of era and setting and theme -- than the Central American political backdrop of "A Book of Common Prayer." Though both novels have that same vibe, where personal narratives become part of a larger tapestry of contemporary history and conspiracy. Style is still the real show here. You can just luxuriate in the spare sentences and strange structure. Anyone wanting a traditional novel or any sort of plot-related thrill is going to be flummoxed and disappointed. Which I suppose is a real question for the group: At what point is a novelist obligated to deliver something we can all recognize as a novel? Could anyone but Joan Didion turn in a manuscript like this and be well on her way to publication?


When I first read this book in 1984 I was absolutely staggered. Immediately, I flipped back to the beginning and read it again. I'm sure I've read it a couple of more times since, and this latest re-read has merely confirmed that this must be my all-time favorite book. Although I've been land-locked for the past number of years, I am -- in essence -- a person of the Pacific, and Didion's book IS the Pacific.Still, it's a complicated little book and demands more from the reader than most. One must pay attention to all the tiny details and have more than a passing knowledge of the locales -- from Hawaii, to Southeast Asia, Hong Kong, the Philippines, and the scattered island in between (Guam, Kwajalein, Johnston) -- including the names of the airports, the capitals and the history of these places in the 50s, 60s, 70s.The title is curious. I've never heard a definitive explanation for it, only hints of it being compared to Henry Adams' book of the same title. My take is that it's an ironic title. The book is actually about American colonialism -- our original takeover of Hawaii and our hubris in thinking a war in Vietnam was 1) winnable and 2) appreciated by that country.But mostly I love this book for the sound of it -- the prose is like poetry and begs to be read aloud. It is, in fact, a mystery, a romance, and a political critique -- but clothed in shear elegance.

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