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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Perfect American

Peter Stephan Jungk

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To purchase The Perfect American

Title: The Perfect American
Author: Peter Stephan Jungk
Genre: Novel
Written: 2001 (Eng. 2004)
Length: 186 pages
Original in: German
Availability: The Perfect American - US
The Perfect American - UK
The Perfect American - Canada
Der König von Amerika - Deutschland
Le roi de l'Amérique - France
  • German title: Der König von Amerika
  • Translated by Michael Hofmann
  • The New York City Opera commissioned Philip Glass to compose an opera based on The Perfect American

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Our Assessment:

B : workmanlike but uninspired

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Christian Science Monitor . 13/7/2004 Ron Charles
FAZ . 9/10/2001 Bernd Eilert
FAZ . 27/11/2001 Peter Thomas
Le Figaro . 8/1/2009 Bruno Corty
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 18/12/2001 Stephan Krass
Die Welt . 7/10/2001 Friedemann Sittig
Die Zeit . 29/11/2001 Paul Michael Lützeler

  Review Consensus:

  No consensus, some thought it quite successful, others consider it a failed attempt

  From the Reviews:
  • "Ultimately, this is a haunting story not so much about the wonderful world of Disney as about the corrosive effects of personal obsession, the porous membrane between adulation and hatred. (...) There are some wonderful rides here, and it's often impossible to distinguish the factual from the fantastic, but the insights are true -- and troubling." - Ron Charles, Christian Science Monitor

  • "Jungk gelingen gegen Ende seiner Geschichte einige Szenen, die zumindest Disneys Krankheit und Tod eindrucksvoll illustrieren -- mit dessen Leben und Werk tut er sich dagegen schwer." - Bernd Eilert, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "(B)ei dem Versuch, die hehre Illusion zu zerstören, die Disney um sich und die unter seinem Namen produzierende Unterhaltungsindustrie errichtet hat, scheitert Jungks Buch am Übereifer. (...) Das Buch hinterlässt den Eindruck von Beliebigkeit, wenn eine emotionsgeladene Szene die nächste ablöst." - Peter Thomas, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Le dossier est lourd, pourtant l'écrivain évite la diabolisation absolue de Disney, écueil évident, et réussit, par quelques jolies scènes (...), à équilibrer la balance." - Bruno Corty, Le Figaro

  • "Jungk erzählt die facettenreiche Bilderbuchgeschichte einer amerikanischen Hollywood-Karriere mit akribischer Detailkenntnis und einem Faktenreichtum, der auf gründliche Recherchen schliessen lässt. (...) (I)n der Tat krankt die Konstruktion dieses Textes daran, dass sich der Autor nicht entscheiden kann, ob er eine fiktive Geschichte, eine Biographie oder eine Art literarisches Doku-Drama verfassen soll. Für einen Roman fiktionalisiert er den Text zu wenig, für eine Biographie enthält sie zu viele fiktive Anteile" - Stephan Krass, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Peter Stephan Jungk, der für sein Buch monatelang an Originalschauplätzen in den USA recherchierte, hat aus diesen Zutaten eine spannende Geschichte konstruiert." - Friedemann Sittig, Die Welt

  • "Jungk hat das Hollywood-Monster wieder in einen Menschen zurückverwandelt. (...) Wer einmal aussteigen will aus einem Alltag der real existierenden Demotivation, dem sei diese gelungene und packende Romanbiografie zur Lektüre empfohlen." - Paul Michael Lützeler, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Perfect American is narrated by Wilhelm Dantine. A talented artist, he was employed by Walt Disney but got himself fired in 1959. He is unable to move on, and instead becomes completely obsessed with Disney, essentially stalking him, looking for a final confrontation.
       Most of the novel is set in 1966, near the very end of Disney's life. With sources close to Disney, Dantine is privy to many of his secrets and to many of the details of his final months. The Perfect American -- or "The King of America", as the German title had it -- is about the contrast of that legend and the less-than-perfect man behind the name.
       Dantine is particularly bothered by the fact that Disney gets all the credit, yet is almost incapable of doing anything artistic himself:

Not even your cute, round signature -- and this certainly represents the single most revealing detail about your whole doubtful personality -- not even your signature is your own !
       His own failure, set against Disney's incredible success, is also something he can't comprehend:
The immeasurable gift that I, Wilhelm Dantine, possess, gets me nowhere. Whereas his lack of talent takes him to immortality.
       Dantine practically gets inside Disney's head: a good deal of the book consists of what Disney is thinking and accounts of what he has experienced, pieced together from what Disney's confidantes have passed on to Dantine, or what the narrator has learned elsewhere -- an odd, generally forced perspective. Still, the novel gives a good general impression of the man and his grand ambitions and delusions. He's shown to be a crank (more interested in making sure he will be deep-frozen when he dies (so he can be de-thawed and cured of whatever killed him in the future) than getting medical attention in the here and now), as well as a rather small-minded racist and conservative -- but Disney can also be extraordinarily generous.
       Disney thinks and acts big, and lets little stand in his way, but he also seems removed from reality much of the time. One of the few people he can talk to openly is a robot of Abraham Lincoln, Disney also being the only one the automaton seems to respond to when it breaks down -- but even that relationship doesn't last.
       Jungk manages to paint a broad portrait of Walt Disney in this novel, getting in most of the salient biographical facts, as well as suggesting some of what made and moved the man. Unfortunately, it is very much an artificially constructed biography, the pieces stuffed in this very awkward fictional frame. The weakest aspect is the narrator, whose obsession never comes across as entirely convincing and whose story doesn't meld well with Disney's own. (Dantine is never fully realised as a character, and many of his flaws and actions left unexplored or too simplistically explained; as is, he seems just a dense, naïve fool who pretty much gets what he deserves and who it's hard to have much sympathy for.)
       Disney's biography -- and his odd success - is fascinating, but Jungk seems to have thought that that, and a few entertaining anecdotes (Andy Warhol wants to visit Disney in hospital, etc.) are enough to make a compelling novel. It is certainly readable enough, and much of the information interesting, but the work as a whole feels painstakingly and quite artificially constructed. It is by no means a bad book, but perhaps especially because of the rich material one feels disappointed because it could have been so much more.

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The Perfect American: Reviews: Wlat Disney: Peter Stephan Jungk: Other books by Peter Stephan Jungk under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American-born (in 1952), German-writing Peter Stephan Jungk is the son of Robert Jungk.

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