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Brand-New 'Cadillac'

Mahatma Gandhi In a Cadillac
By Gerald Rosen
Berkeley: Frog, Ltd., 1995; $12.95

Reviewed by Zack Stentz

In his new novel, Mahatma Gandhi In a Cadillac, author and Sonoma State professor Gerald Rosen takes a stab at that most American of genres, the Road Novel. (Or Road Movie or Song, for that matter. If you doubt that assertion, try imagining On the Road as a trip from Marseilles to Calais, or listen to Billy Bragg's hilarious cover of "Route 66" with all the place names Anglicized.)

Like the heroes of Jack Kerouac's On the Road or Clancy Sigal's Going Away, Mahatma Gandhi's protagonist, Danny, chafes against the confines of prosperous, post-WWII America. Danny is a Bronx-bred, Ivy League-educated Jewish kid working for a huge defense contractor in Seattle, drowning his discontents in alcohol and the local jazz scene, which Rosen writes about with an insider's passion and erudition.

Rosen's fresh twist on the form is that he's taken the protagonist's initial decision to embark on the journey toward enlightenment and self-discovery--which usually takes up the road novel's first chapter--and turned it into the bulk of the story. Danny's catalyst to chuck his life of missile design and M.B.A.s arrives early, in the form of farm girl and free spirit Leslie, but it takes another 200 pages of talking, arguing about movies and politics, and making love before the pair make their final break for it.

While not always successful, Mahatma Gandhi sustains the reader's attention by brilliantly evoking the sunnier, more youthful America of the early 1960s. At what other point in U.S. history would Danny's decision to join the Army be viewed as an act of liberation, as it is here?

Best of all is the novel's heartbreaking last scene, where the young couple's sense of optimism and endless possibility jars with the audience's knowledge and dread of what's about to happen at this juncture of history. It's the literary equivalent of the famous old movie scene where the loving couple sits on the deck of an ocean liner, speaking with breathless anticipation of the new lives they're to start in America. Then the camera pans over a nearby life preserver with the logo "S.S. Titanic."

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From the Feb. 15-21, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent

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