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The Autograph Man Paperback – 22 May 2003

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Product details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (22 May 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140276343
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140276343
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 3 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 74,202 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Zadie Smith was born in north-west London in 1975. She is the author of the novels White Teeth, The Autograph Man and On Beauty, and of a collection of essays, Changing My Mind. She is also the editor of The Book of Other People.

Product Description

Amazon Review

In her second novel, The Autograph Man, Zadie Smith has set herself the unenviable task of following up a certain segment of recent literary history. Her first novel, the bestselling, award-laden and much-hyped White Teeth wore its ambitions lightly: an exuberant comic foray into the lives of three disparate families living in suburban north London, it dealt simultaneously--and deftly--with wider multicultural and political motifs.

The Autograph Man has a similar ebullience and an equally dazzling panoply of characters. Its hero Alex Li-Tandem is "one of this generation who watch themselves", a Chinese-Jewish north Londoner who is first introduced as a child accompanying his father to a wrestling match between those two larger-than-life scions of 1970s Saturday afternoon television--Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks. When Alex's father dies in the pandemonium surrounding the pursuit of Big Daddy's autograph, the twin themes of the novel are launched--one is the bereaved Alex's search for a replacement to fill the gulf, the other his obsession with tracking down, buying and selling autographs. Alex seeks one autograph in particular and seemingly in vain--that of Kitty Alexander, a fading film star. The route he follows in his search has much to say about the nature of celebrity and the privacy of souls, of fantasy and reality--all narrated in Smith's breathless prose.

The Autograph Man plays on many strands and clever observations--in particular Jewishness, goyishness and Zen Buddhism. Smith is a superbly assured writer whose images stick in the mind; for example, Alex's girlfriend Esther has "hair plaited like a puzzle". The dialogue is vivid and there is much humour but at times the convoluted plot threatens to spill over into anarchy and the humour can be self-conscious. Though this does not diminish the entertainment value of The Autograph Man, it does--frustratingly--make it appear insincere. --Catherine Taylor --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Intelligent. . . . exquisitely clever. . . . an ironic commentary about fame, mortality, and the triumph of image over reality." --"The Boston Globe ""The same bracing intelligence and salty humor that distinguished her debut. . . . Smith scatters marvelous sentences and sharp insights on nearly every page." --"LA Times" "A lovely surprise. Zadie Smith . . . has come out with a second book that is actually "better" than its predecessor: its dialog funnier, its language even more plugged in, more wired." --"Esquire ""A preternaturally gifted . . . writer [with] a voice that's street-smart and learned, sassy and philosophical all at the same time." -"The New York Times""Savvy, witty and exuberant." -New York "Daily News""Smith is young and smart, and . . . she proves to be an amazingly gifted writer." -"Washington Post Book World" "Smith writes sharp dialogue for every age and race-and she's funny as hell." -"Newsweek" "[Zadie Smith] possesses a more than ordinary share of talent." -"USA Today""Absolutely delightful." -Alan Cheuse, "Chicago Tribune" "Smith's clever, aphoristic observations and snappy dialogue are so delightful they tend to become addictive. . . . [The Autograph Man is] always entertaining." -"Elle"

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Customer Reviews

2.8 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By John Self on 3 Oct. 2002
Format: Hardcover
The Autograph Man is the most disappointing second novel since Harper Lee owned up to ghosting that Britney Spears book. I loved White Teeth - and yahboo to those who just praised its precocity; it was a great read whatever the author's age - and expected to be entirely bowled over by The Autograph Man. And perhaps that was the trouble - my expectations were so high that I'd be bound to feel let down if I didn't actually die of pleasure.
But on any reading it's just not that good. Where White Teeth was warm, Autograph Man is trying-to-be-cool but just ending up cold; where there was colour, now there is monochrome; where that was amiable, this is standoffish. The main characters are colourless and mostly ciphers for Smith's points-to-be-made on Judaism and celebrity. And most of the jokes had my toes curling all the way up to my spine ("Alex had read about dignified silences in novels. This was his first attempt." Stop trying so hard!!). It rises to Smith's unquestionable potential only in two places: the prologue, with its excellent digressive and funny narrative on Victoria and Albert and 1980s wrestling; and the third quarter of the book, set in America, where we meet the only interesting characters in Kitty Alexander and Honey Richardson.
Overall The Autograph Man - astonishingly and crushingly - seems like a step backwards from White Teeth, and not a flowering. Still, she's only 27 and has got her c**p book in early. Fingers crossed that it's all up, up and away from here.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jimbo on 20 April 2004
Format: Paperback
I tried to go into the Autograph Man with an open-mind, determined not tocompare it to White Teeth, Smith's debut novel and one of the best Britishnovels of the last ten years. It always seems unfair to compare new workto the best an author, or indeed has produced, especially a book aspopular as White Teeth. However, by the end of The Autograph Man I wasleft feeling slightly disappointed that she has turned in a mediocrenovel, and not the promise she showed in White Teeth failed to completelyshine through.
The initial premise of the book, focussing upon a group of friends unitedby their love of autograph hunting, was an interesting choice of matter,if not an obvious commentary on Smith's brushes with fame since thepublication of her debut novel. She attempts to get to the bottom of abizarre and interesting hobby, and makes a number of witty and subtleobservations on the nature of fame and celebrity.
However, this appears to be lost with the characters she chooses toexamine it through. She appears to have attempted to write the mostpolitically correct series of characters ever to have graced literature -the central characters are Jewish, but each is from a separate ethnicminority. None of them ring true, especially when compared to thestruggles of identity contained within White Teeth. As the characters aremore united by autographs than by their faith or identity, it is hard tosee why she chose a set of such unrealistic characters.
Alex Li-Tandem, the chief protagonist, is a deeply unsympathetic character- he is uncaring, selfish and effuses to take responsibility for his life.It is hard to care what ultimately happens to him. His friends areone-dimensional, and do not really seem to develop.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By "baker_robertj" on 21 Jun. 2003
Format: Paperback
Having read the brilliant, and truly five-star White Teeth, I must confess to being more than disappointed by Zadie Smith's follow-up The Autograph Man. Admittedly, the fact that I read it in fits and starts didn't help with my attempts to view the novel as a coherent whole, but maybe that's the point: I simply wasn't motivated to read more than bitesize chunks at a time.
Smith is undoubtedly talented, and the novel is filled with chinks of light, but I didn't warm to the central character, Alex-Li Tandem, and certainly wasn't impressed by the endless references to Goyish and Jewish, and the suffocating presence of Jewish mysticism as embodied by Alex's friend Adam. On the whole, indeed, the novel presents a remarkably unenlightened picture of Judaism, with Alex at best agnostic, the predilections of the aforementioned Adam, and their friend Rubinfine, who loons around London with a cabal of militant fellow rabbis, apparently in search of items of furniture and the like.
The plot is interesting, particularly in the way in which Smith threatens to fail to resolve the future of Alex and Esther's relationship, before giving us a hint of the truth at the end. The ending is thoroughly unsatisfactory. Alex's quest for the Holy Grail that is a genuine Kitty Alexander, and the unusual twists and turns which it takes, is the most engaging feature of the book, particularly in the way that Smith contrasts Kitty first with the more overtly sexual Honey Alexander, and then with the long suffering Esther whom, lest we forget, Alex abandons on the eve of a heart operation to jet off to an autograph convention.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Trevor Coote on 3 Nov. 2008
Format: Paperback
After her impressive debut novel White Teeth and the hype surrounding it there was always a danger that Zadie Smith would join the ranks of literary Establishment luvvies and begin penning works more unstructured and impenetrable under the pretence of `pushing back the boundaries of creativity'. This has almost happened with the disjointed and rather pretentious Autograph Man, though it is saved by regular injections of sardonic humour.
Stimulated by a visit to a celebrity wrestling match with his dad, Chinese-Jewish boy Alex Li-Tandem grows up to become an professional autograph dealer with one elusive Hollywood signature as his Holy Grail. Its possession would change his life. Although The Autograph Man is generally regarded as a swipe at the vacuous nature of celebrity obsession the protagonist is really more of an anally-retentive collector of trivia and memorabilia than an obsessive celeb freak. Zadie's novel is original and inventive but with the characters being little more than names on a page, and no convincing sense of place or time, it is all too long and cold and the interest cannot be sustained. And I am not sure what was gained by making all the characters Jewish other than to cloak the work with an aura of faux-Hebraic mysticism. Overall assessment: disappointing, but an extra star for The Joke about the Pope and the Chief Rabbi.
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