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Hannibal Rising: A Novelby Thomas Harris
Synopses & Reviews
He is one of the most haunting characters in all of literature.
At last the evolution of his evil is revealed...
Hannibal Lecter emerges from the nightmare of the Eastern Front, a boy in the snow, mute, with a chain around his neck.
He seems utterly alone, but he has brought his demons with him.
Hannibal's uncle, a noted painter, finds him in a Soviet orphanage and brings him to France, where Hannibal will live with his uncle and his uncle's beautiful and exotic wife, Lady Murasaki.
Lady Murasaki helps Hannibal to heal. With her help he flourishes, becoming the youngest person ever admitted to medical school in France.
But Hannibal's demons visit him and torment him. When he is old enough, he visits them in turn.
He discovers he has gifts beyond the academic, and in that epiphany, Hannibal Lecter becomes death's prodigy.
"When last seen in the novels of Thomas Harris, Dr. Hannibal Lecter — clinical psychiatrist, criminal mastermind and grisly gourmand — was dancing with former FBI agent Clarice Starling on a terrace in Buenos Aires. The discomforting finale of 'Hannibal' (1999), which suggested that Clarice had succumbed to Lecter's chemicals, if not his charm, was rejected in the movie version in favor of a more... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) (dare we say?) palatable confection. Now Harris eludes the dissonance of those alternative endings by writing a suspense-driven prequel, 'Hannibal Rising': a portrait of the cannibal as a young man. The novel also consummates Lecter's transformation from nemesis to antihero. Introduced as a secondary character in 'Red Dragon' (1981), then brought to center stage as Starling's malefic mentor in 'The Silence of the Lambs' (1988) and 'Hannibal,' Lecter supplanted Professor James Moriarty as popular fiction's villain laureate. Maroon-eyed, six-fingered and beyond diagnosis, he is notorious for more than murder — having, perhaps most famously, eaten a census taker's liver with 'fava beans and a big Amarone.' Locked down in a hospital for the criminally insane, he became the eminence grise of serial crime and psychological manipulation, capable of chatting visitors into tears and fellow inmates into suicide. His shadowy presence fueled Harris' dark and increasingly weird anti-mysteries, whose detectives solved crimes of grotesque violence only by pushing past deduction and forensic science to embrace the insane and the inhuman. With 'Hannibal Rising,' Harris delves deep into Lecter's history and unearths a primal urge for justice only hinted at in earlier books. Presented in a suitably serial structure, the story opens in 1930s Lithuania at bucolic Lecter Castle, home to the aristocratic descendants of the medieval warlord Hannibal the Grim. After glimpses of his namesake at ages 8 and 13, the novel settles, for its central action, in Hannibal Lecter's 18th year — but not until his genteel childhood is bloodied and scarred by Hitler's blitzkrieg, the Soviet occupation and scavenging Lithuanian collaborators who pillage the family home and kill Hannibal's beloved little sister, Mischa, for food. 'His heart died with Mischa,' we're told — but his appetite came alive. Orphaned and alone, Hannibal becomes the ward of his uncle, whose alluring wife, Lady Murasaki, oversees his domestication in postwar Paris, introducing him to haiku, opera and, of course, the culinary arts, where his education proves transcendent: 'The best morsels of the fish are the cheeks. This is true of many creatures.' Adept at anatomy — and art, a defining element of all four Lecter novels — the precocious 18-year-old enters medical school, where his talent for murder is perfected. The discovery of a family heirloom — a looted painting — in a Parisian gallery sends Hannibal home to the site of his sister's murder, where he finds the dog tags of her killers: those Lithuanian scavengers, now operatives in a black-marketeering, white-slaving cabal that ranges from the Soviet bloc to Canada. The hunt is on, and their ferocious and dramatic deaths at Hannibal's hands drive the story to a fitting, if foregone, conclusion. Harris' writing is assured, with elegant shifts of tense and point of view; perhaps it is the focused plot or the insistently visual style that acknowledges the inevitable movie adaptation, but simply in terms of craft, 'Hannibal Rising' is arguably the best of his novels. And until its final pages, we're spared the ghoulish bons mots that too often defined Lecter's cinematic personae. Vengeance leads Hannibal, in time, to North America and his residency at Johns Hopkins; but enthusiasts will welcome the knowledge that some 20 years remain uncharted, their stories not yet told, until his fateful rendezvous with Will Graham, the FBI evidence tech who brought him (if only briefly) to justice. Those 20 years present a challenge for Harris. In 'Hannibal,' an orderly noted that Lecter preferred deserving victims — the 'free range rude' — forgetting the policemen who'd died in the line of duty and Graham's near-fatal encounter with Lecter's linoleum knife. In 'Hannibal Rising,' Lecter's retribution is nearly heroic: justified, even perversely honorable. That it's unlawful and horrific seems, in the greater context, almost trifling. But vengeance is what police officers and psychiatrists and even book reviewers call a motive, something human and explicable — unlike the Hannibal Lecter who first captured our imagination. As 'Hannibal Rising' draws to a close, the French police inspector Popil — who, as Hannibal archly observes, 'will never know anything about my taste' — confirms what earlier novels taught us: 'What is he now? There's not a word for it yet. For lack of a better word, we'll call him a monster.' With his origins told, however, Hannibal Lecter and his creator must consider the fate of too many monsters, real and imagined: The more we know about them, the less fearsome they become." Reviewed by
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"Hannibal Rising [is Harris's] final (please!) effort to cash in on a once-fine franchise that fell from grace....The reader who begins with this new book will have no idea why any of [Harris's] older ones are well regarded." Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"[W]hile it is not Harris's best book — that would still be Red Dragon — it comes in second....I read Hannibal Rising in one day, and I was entertained throughout. But when I put it down, I wasn't longing for more. What I wanted instead was to see what other kinds of stories this gifted storyteller has to tell." Newsweek
"[Harris] is ruining one of the great villain franchises of all time....Tom, that very profitable Hannibal franchise is played out. Come home." USA Today
"Harris' handling of the wartime violence is...impressive, as swift and vicious as the blitzkrieg itself....The Hannibal of this novel isn't the monstrously evil being who enthralled us in The Silence of the Lambs." Los Angeles Times
"Hannibal Rising is a book of gore, and while it means to explain how Hannibal's obsession with Clarice is rooted in the trauma of Mischa's death, there's just too much blood on the pages to see anything all that clearly." New York Daily News
"The violence, though stunning, is so poorly described it doesn't frighten....Harris should have stifled Lecter after Silence. Hannibal gave me indigestion, and Hannibal Rising didn't leave me hungry for more either. (Grade: D)" Entertainment Weekly
"Harris has fashioned a banal if violent revenge saga that owes more than a little to Jerzy Kosinski's The Speckled Bird....Harris has pretty well worn out the killer/epicurean dichotomy." Philadelphia Inquirer
"Hannibal Rising would have been truly interesting, and more disturbing, if Mr. Harris had presented us with a moment when Hannibal could have turned back — or even thought about stepping away from violence. But he doesn't." Dallas Morning News
"While Harris has explained, in gripping detail, Hannibal Lecter's mysterious origins, perhaps Lecter is a more frightening character in Silence of the Lambs, where his childhood traumas, his dark closet of memories remained tightly shut." Boston Globe
About the Author
Thomas Harris began his writing career covering crime in the United States and Mexico, and was a reporter and editor for the Associated Press in New York City. His first novel, Black Sunday, was published in 1975, followed by Red Dragon in 1981, The Silence of the Lambs in 1988, and Hannibal in 1999.
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