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MacMillan, Ian 1941-

MacMillan, Ian 1941-

(Ian T. MacMillan)

PERSONAL: Born March 23, 1941, in Teaneck, NJ; son of Donald and Elizabeth MacMillan; married September 2, 1963; children: Julia, Laura. Ethnicity: “Caucasian.” Education: State University of New York College at Oneonta, B.A., 1963; University of Iowa, M.F.A., 1965. Hobbies and other interests: Tennis, spearfishing.

ADDRESSES: Office—Deptartment of English, Kuykendall 421, University of Hawaii at Manoa, 1733 Donaghho Rd., Honolulu, HI 96822. Agent—Neal Olson, Donadio & Olson, Inc., 121 W. 27th St., New York, NY 10001. E-mail—[email protected] edu.

CAREER: University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, professor of English, 1966—.

AWARDS, HONORS: Associated Writing Programs award, 1979, for Light and Power; Hawaii Award for Literature, 1992; O. Henry Award, 1997, for “The Red House”; PEN USA West fiction award, 2000, for Village of a Million Spirits; Cades Award, 2008; Pushcart Prize.

WRITINGS:

Light and Power: Stories, University of Missouri Press(Columbia, MO), 1980.

Blakely’s Ark (fiction), Berkley Publishing (New York, NY), 1981.

Proud Monster (novel), North Point Press (San Francisco, CA), 1987.

Orbit of Darkness (novel), Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (San Diego, CA), 1991.

The Red Wind (novel), Mutual Publishing (Honolulu, HI), 1998.

Exiles from Time (short stories), Anoai Press (Honolulu, HI), 1998.

Squid-Eye (short stories), Anoai Press (Honolulu, HI), 1999.

Village of a Million Spirits: A Novel of the Treblinka Uprising, Steerforth Press (South Royalton, VT), 1999.

Ullambana: Short Stories of Hawaii, Anoai Press (Honolulu, HI), 2002.

The Braid (novel), Mutual Publishing (Honolulu, HI), 2005.

The Seven Orchids (novel), Bamboo Ridge Press (Honolulu, HI), 2006.

The Bone Hook (novel), Mutual Publishing (Honolulu, HI), 2008.

Work anthologized in Best American Short Stories. Contributor of short fiction to periodicals, including Yankee, Paris Review, Iowa Review, and Gettysburg Review. Fiction editor, Manoa: Pacific Journal of International Writing.

SIDELIGHTS: Ian MacMillan has focused some of his writing on the Holocaust. His episodic novels told from an omniscient viewpoint—Proud Monster, Orbit of Darkness, and Village of a Million Spirits: A Novel of the Treblinka Uprising—form a World War II trilogy of horror. According to a Publishers Weekly reviewer, Proud Monster contains seventy chronologically arranged, “stark episodes” that “forcefully illumine that unimaginable catastrophe.” These episodes include such terrible images as a Polish cavalryman facing down an oncoming German tank, SS leader Heinrich Himmler witnessing a mass execution, and a gypsy woman being sexually assaulted. “These exquisitely private scenes, captured with such clarity, humanize the horror,” maintained Barbara Fisher Williamson in the New York Times Book Review.

In a similar vein, Orbit of Darkness contains vignettes that portray a German filmmaker recording atrocities at a concentration camp, Soviet troops overrunning Berlin in the spring of 1945, a German soldier pursuing Russian sympathizers, and a Catholic priest whose faith and goodness provide hope for other inmates of the Auschwitz concentration camp. “This is a disturbing book,” observed Andrea Caron Kempf in her Library Journal review.

Sybil Steinberg, writing in Publishers Weekly, likened Orbit of Darkness to The Painted Bird, a semiautobiographical novel by Jerzy Kosinski that detailed Kosinski’s horrific experiences as an orphan in the wake of World War II. Calling Orbit of Darkness “extraordinary,” she pointed out the novel’s “dark poetry, compassion, and anguish.” About both Proud Monster and Orbit of Darkness, Zofia Smardz of the New York Times Book Review commented that the vignettes combine “to create a mosaic of horror that had the unmistakable look of truth.”

With Village of a Million Spirits, MacMillan narrowed his focus to include only the activities at the Treblinka concentration camp, specifically an attempted escape by some six hundred inmates that resulted in the survival of about forty former prisoners. These survivors told their stories, which were published in nonfiction accounts that MacMillan may have used in researching background for his novel. He portrayed such events as Jews being sent to the gas chambers, the guards searching through the corpses for loot, and a Ukrainian guard who, while hating the Nazis, does their bidding while plotting his escape with his Polish lover.

Although Library Journal critic Molly Abramowitz described the characters as “artfully presented,” and a Publishers Weekly critic described the work as a “new benchmark in Holocaust literature distinguished by its unflinching fidelity to the truth,” the Village of a Million Spirits generated controversy. In the Boston Phoenix, Adam Kirsch noted that MacMillan is not himself a Holocaust survivor and thus had to rely on the knowledge of others for his fiction. Calling the Holocaust “an impossible subject for fiction,” Kirsch added, “fiction, like any art, enjoys an essential irresponsibility, a freedom that comes from being aesthetically rather than ethically committed. And when a writer tries to create aesthetic pleasure out of the ethically atrocious, he comes close to blasphemy.” professed, “I cannot help but feel that, in this case, MacMillan has tried to do something that fiction cannot, and should not, do.” Another critic strongly supported the opposite position, however. In answer to the question of why one should use fiction to portray the Holocaust when the actual events were so memorable, Smardz explained, “It is the experience only of those who saw and remembered and came back to tell us. But to understand completely, we must go beyond all this to the rest of the story, to the truth and the experience of the millions who died.” “The only way to get at that truth is to imagine it. And the only way to imagine it is through art,” concluded Smardz.

In addition to his episodic war novels, MacMillan is the author of more than seventy short stories. These stories have been published in commercial and literary magazines and in anthologies of “best” short stories, among them the Best American Short Stories, the Pushcart Prize, and Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards. Critics acknowledged the quality of these stories, which portray characters dealing with challenges that will affirm or deny their self-worth. In a study of many short story collections for Sewanee Review, George Garrett called Light and Power: Stories “good and strong.” He added that MacMillan’s stories “brim with power and energy.” So, too, Mary Soete of Library Journal found the collection to be “consistently rewarding” for its energy, quality of writing, and thematic unity.

MacMillan once told CA: “The extreme geographical isolation of living in Hawaii is thought of as unacceptable by most writers, but for me it has been almost all blessing and hardly any curse. It amounts to the kind of professional solitude that Rilke advised. After so many years, I can’t imagine any other life.”

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, May 1, 1980, review of Light and Power: Stories, p. 1259.

Boston Phoenix, March 25, 1999, Adam Kirsch, “Ian MacMillan’s New Novel Dares to Go Where Perhaps No Novel Should.”

Library Journal, June 1, 1980, Mary Soete, review of Light and Power, p. 1326; February 15, 1991, Andrea Caron Kempf, review of Orbit of Darkness, p. 222; March 1, 1999, Molly Abramowitz, review of Village of a Million Spirits: A Novel of the Treblinka Uprising, p. 110.

New York Times Book Review, July 26, 1987, Barbara Fisher Williamson, review of Proud Monster, p. 16; November 21, 1999, Zofia Smardz, “Hell with the Lid Off,” p. 68.

Publishers Weekly, June 12, 1987, review of Proud Monster, p. 72; January 11, 1991, Sybil Steinberg, review of Orbit of Darkness, p. 91; January 25, 1999, review of Village of a Million Spirits, p. 69.

Review of Contemporary Fiction, fall, 1999, Michael J. Martin, review of Village of a Million Spirits, p. 175.

Sewanee Review, summer, 1980, George Garrett, “Technics and Pyrotechnics,” pp. 412-423.

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