Libra (novel)

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Libra (DeLillo novel - cover).jpg
First edition
AuthorDon DeLillo
CountryUnited States
PublisherViking Press
Publication date
15 Aug 1988
Media typePrint (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages448 pp
813/.54 19
LC ClassPS3554.E4425 L53 1988

Libra is a 1988 novel by Don DeLillo that focuses on the life of Lee Harvey Oswald and offers a speculative account of the events that shaped the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

The book takes the reader from Oswald's early days as a child, to his adolescent stint in the US Marine Corps, through his brief defection to the USSR and subsequent marriage to a Russian girl, and finally his return to the US and his role in the assassination of Kennedy.

In DeLillo's version of events, the assassination attempt on Kennedy is in fact intended to fail; the plot is instigated by disgruntled former CIA operatives who see it as the only way to guide the government to war on Cuba.

Oswald is portrayed as an odd outcast of a man, whose overtly communist political views cause him difficulties fitting into American society. He is not portrayed sympathetically, nor is he castigated; he is treated fairly in the novel, yet is not a character easy to attach to. He loves his wife, yet beats her; he dotes on his children yet he mistreats his mother. He is not shown to be a madman with absurd ideologies, but well-read and intelligent. However, the book also indicates that he is dyslexic and has great difficulty both in writing letters and reading books (he is described reading the works of Karl Marx slowly). He could be described as a pawn easily manipulated by others. But there is also continually a tendency to use this dyslexia as a wider theme in the issue of 'reading' situations, and more widely still the human difficulty in understanding themselves and the human situation.

Other characters are touched upon in the book, such as Win Everett, Lawrence Parmenter and Guy Banister, who are presented as the chief conspirators of the assassination plot. A parallel story follows Nicholas Branch, a CIA archivist of more recent times assigned the monumental task of piecing together the disparate fragments of Kennedy's death. Branch concludes that the effort will be never-ending and the whole truth ultimately unknowable. Branch is an example of the reader appearing in the novel itself, one of the postmodern phenomena that marks DeLillo's work. He is also a contribution to the book's theme of the struggle to make sense of life and his conclusion may be taken to some extent to be DeLillo's own. There are patterns, but what is a significant pattern (intention, motivation, human or divine creation) and what is coincidence (an idée fixe of one of the book's characters) is impossible to tell. The title of the book comes from Oswald's astrological sign, and as a picture of a scale, symbolizes for Nicholas Branch the outside forces of history literally weighing in on Oswald's fate as well as the fate of the entire assassination plot.

The novel blends historical fact with fictional supposition. Real-life characters intermingle with DeLillo's own creations. In an author's note at the close of the book, DeLillo writes that he has "made no attempt to furnish factual answers to any questions raised by the assassination."[1]

James Ellroy has mentioned Libra as an inspiration for his novel American Tabloid, another take on the causes of the assassination.[2][3]

DeLillo's work on Libra earned him the first International Fiction Prize sponsored by The Irish Times.[4]


  1. ^ Mitgang, Herbert (July 19, 1988). "Reanimating Oswald, Ruby et al. in a Novel On the Assassination". The New York Times. Retrieved April 30, 2017.
  2. ^ M.G. Smout (April 15, 2001). "Lunch and tea with James Ellroy". The Barcelona Review.
  3. ^ Stephen Capen (January 17, 1997). "James Ellroy Interview". Worldguide Interviews. Archived from the original on March 23, 2006.
  4. ^ "Don DeLillo Wins Irish Fiction Prize". The New York Times. New York. September 24, 1989. Retrieved May 15, 2013.