Friday, August 11, 1995

The Liberty Campaign, by Jonathan Dee

A review of The Liberty Campaign, by Jonathan Dee
Published August 11th, 1995, in The Minnesota Daily’s Nightly Magazine

By Jonathan Dee
Washington Square Press, $10

Newly released in paperback is Jonathan Dee’s 1993 novel, The Liberty Campaign. Like in his first novel, The Lover of History, Dee delves into the meanings, both personal and political, of contemporary history, and with shattering results.

At the tender age of sixty-five, Gene Trowbridge strikes up a bizarre friendship with Ferdinand, a reclusive neighbor who may or may not be in trouble with the law. Having been confronted by a reporter with questions about Ferdinand, Trowbridge finds himself becoming obsessed with his friend’s past, as well as with his own.

As their friendship becomes more intimate, Trowbridge confronts Ferdinand about the reporter’s questions, and immediately both of their worlds are changed. As he reveals the truth (he was a torturer in the U.S.-supported regime in Brazil), Ferdinand slowly opens up a whole new way of thinking for Trowbridge.

What makes this novel especially poignant is that it dares to confront Americans with their own ignorance and complacency. As Trowbridge was working for “the man” (an ad agency), Ferdinand was torturing leftists, and knowledge of this brings up questions about whether or not there is any real difference between the two. They’ve ended up in the same place, so is it possible that Trowbridge could have become the same thing as Ferdinand?

In the end, this theoretical question is overshadowed by the immediacy of whether or not to help Ferdinand escape his persecutors. Facing his own moral obligations to history, Trowbridge must decide if this monster deserves the rights he denied so many others. Dee gives an answer, but ultimately the question goes unresolved, leaving the reader and a book that will resonate long into the future.

—David Wiley

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