The Bonfire of the Vanities // Tom Wolfe
EN,  Fiction

The Bonfire of the Vanities // Tom Wolfe

A Wall Street bond seller and his extra-marital affair drive over a young black man in the Bronx

Sometimes, you finish a book and feel like you should read it again immediately to truly appreciate it. The Bonfire of the Vanities was such a book for me.

Getting through the first third of The Bonfire of the Vanities was quite a chore but after that I enjoyed the – unlikable and through and through crazy – characters, the story that evolves like a game of domino, and the very noisy writing.

Most characters (except for the women) are introduced in excruciating detail, which makes the book a bit dragging in the beginning but it pays out in the end when the action can pick up without further explanations of characters.

The book raises questions about privilege as well as about law and power. To me, the probably most interesting questin is: what kind of justice system does a society need, what kind does it want, and what kind does it have? The ideal of justice is, of course, that it always works and that everyone is treated fairly under a just system. The Bonfire of the Vanities shows the limitations, on a systemic as well as on a personal level, of this concept.

Who gets to talk, who gets to tell (and make) a story, who will be believed? It is poignant that, while critiquing the dominance of the white U.S., The Bonfire of the Vanities itself does not let underprivileged young black men speak (except for very rare and short cases that are usually mediated by white men), although they’re are constantly talked about.

In the end, The Bonfire of the Vanities seems a bit dated and describes a very particular vibe of New York in the 1980s (I guess, not that I was there at the time). Female characters are bland and cardboardy, but at least the male characters are all masterfully evil and corrupt. Don’t expect to find anyone likable or relatable in this book.


Title: The Bonfire of the Vanities
Author: Tom Wolfe
First published: 1987

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