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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hard going but worth reading
Now we are post credit-crunch this is probably a very good time to read this unusual American novel. At times it was hard to believe that Manhattan Transfer is describing the New York of 80+ years ago, so contemporary did it sometimes feel to me. The blurb on the back implies it is a novel about early 20's N.Y., but this is rather inaccurate. My grasp of history is not...
Published on 2 April 2009 by Alun Williams

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lost in the crowd
Having heard about this author relatively recently I was keen to read some of his work.
I had been forewarned that he uses a kind of cut and paste technique to give an impression of a diversity of characters living their busy lives together in a bustling city, and I rather liked that idea. However, in practice I found the individual storylines just a little to...
Published on 7 Jun. 2010 by messageinthemoon


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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hard going but worth reading, 2 April 2009
By 
Alun Williams "mathematician manqué" (Peterborough,England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Manhattan Transfer (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
Now we are post credit-crunch this is probably a very good time to read this unusual American novel. At times it was hard to believe that Manhattan Transfer is describing the New York of 80+ years ago, so contemporary did it sometimes feel to me. The blurb on the back implies it is a novel about early 20's N.Y., but this is rather inaccurate. My grasp of history is not good enough to be precise, but the story certainly spans a period of over twenty years, and only reaches the twenties in the third of the three sections into which it is divided.

The prose style is idiosyncratic to say the least: the author loves creating German-style compound words, and frequently employs very individual spelling and punctuation. Some people might want to employ the dread phrase "prose poem" to describe it. The novel flits from character to character every few pages, sometimes even more often, with many appearing only once (so that very often I found it necessary to rifle through the earlier pages to try to confirm whether a character had appeared previously, and to see what had happened to him or her before)

This novel will probably tax the patience of many readers, but though I found it difficult to read more than 10 or 20 pages in one sitting, I was determined to finish it. I enjoy meeting people in pubs, even if I never see them again, and so I felt very comfortable with this book, because much of it is set in bars or restaurants, and characters are presented very vividly whether or not they will reappear later, and with something of the same intensity that one drink too many sometimes brings about. Although the city of New York always dominates over the humans I found the characterisation very satisfying.

Dos Passos was more or less contemporary with F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Manhattan Transfer is, like the Great Gatsby, a book about New York and the American Dream. I far preferred Manhattan Transfer - I don't "get" Gatsby, and it is a mystery to me why it is so highly thought of. Though Manhattan Transfer occasionally drags, and though I sometimes wished for the kind of notes present in "real" Penguin Classics, I am very glad to have been introduced to this book. If you know nothing more about it try the "Look Inside" facility, as this gives a good impression of what you are in for if you decide to read this fascinating novel.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent, 3 Mar. 2011
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This review is from: Manhattan Transfer (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I haven't finished it yet and am trying to slow my reading of it because I do not know what I will do when I am finished! You don't read this book so much as view the images it creates. I have missed stops on the bus numerous times while reading this book because I have been so enthralled. I see what the other reviewers are saying about it being fragmented and the characters do come and go but a number of them do remain throughout the book and once you get used to his unusual style it is easy to follow.

The fact that the author can evoke such imagery in a few short lines is a testament to his unique and undoubted ability.

It is one of the most evocative and beautifully written pieces of work I have ever read and if you are interested in American society from the 1900's through to the 1920's then this is a must read.

I wonder will I enjoy Ulysses as much??
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lost in the crowd, 7 Jun. 2010
This review is from: Manhattan Transfer (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
Having heard about this author relatively recently I was keen to read some of his work.
I had been forewarned that he uses a kind of cut and paste technique to give an impression of a diversity of characters living their busy lives together in a bustling city, and I rather liked that idea. However, in practice I found the individual storylines just a little to fragmented to carry me along. I had such little time with the characters I just had no real empathy for them. In fact for me the experience really was like being in a very large group of people in that the faces of the characters and all the things that might make them individual to us were simply lost in the confusion of the crowd. Furthermore it really did seem to me that like the old cliche, they were all busy going nowhere.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a sublime Jazz era novel, 19 Jan. 2007
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This review is from: Manhattan Transfer (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
One of the finest American authors I have read; as suggested, this novel uses a 'cut and paste' technique, where you don't follow every step of the major character. The novel follows the interwoven lives of several characters going through the 1920's New York scene. Dos Passos gets you inside the head of the main character, but moves you forward, occasionally leaving the action behind.

A superb novel to read, and then re-read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a fantastic read, 30 May 2010
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This review is from: Manhattan Transfer (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
I presented this book as one of 4 with 'New York' as the theme for choice at a book group and was surprised that it was chosen as it sounded a little 'odd' from the reviews I took along. BUT I am sooooo glad it was chosen; what a wonderful book. I just loved the prose, some of which has a feel of poetry. Whilst reading this 'historical novel', which starts at the turn of 19th/20th century and continues into the 1920s, I could not get over that fact that it was, in fact, published 85 years ago. It feels so fresh and modern. The characterisations are brilliant and I wanted to read on to find out where their stories were taking me. A story of success and failure, riches and poverty, changes and challenges and the melting pot that was (is?) New York. They talk of escaping the City but don't; it holds them under its spell - or is it curse? I want to read this book again, and soon, so that I can re-explore the style and the characters, and the roles roles assigned to them by the author. A highly recommended piece of 'modern' literature.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Different Read, 14 Aug. 2009
This review is from: Manhattan Transfer (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
From the outset you know you're reading something expansive, something just as massive and varied as the city of Manhattan itself. It's characters are from all pasrts of society, especially as regards the financial spectrum which I suppose is at the heart of this book. Characters die, go bankrupt and shoot to prominence in a web of criss-crossing stories where no one is the main character; you're not reading a narrative on one person's life, you're watching the events of a living, breathing city. If anyone is a main character, it's the city itself; perfectly depicted in the time of the novel; it's a great comparison to Faulkner's depictions of rural America too. It's an adventurous piece of wiritng and if you're looking for some modern American lit. I highly recommend it.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Great Collection of Characters, 3 Feb. 2011
This review is from: Manhattan Transfer (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
A great book. I love that great collection of characters that have occasionally an entangled life. They live for money, success but they don't find love and happiness. Their existences are often void of sense or bound to nowhere and wreck.

At the beginning of the book you get a bit confused by the sudden changes of characters and situations. You need to go ahead reading to understand the construction of the book because there are many characters or situations that only after a while you notice as more important than others. For some characters Dos Passos gives a glimpse of them, then you quickly understand how they are made and for what reasons they are living for. Some other characters are very appealing and you may feel close to them as well as to their living situation. I liked how the author jumped from one main character to the other as well as from one time/space society to another time/space society. It is also fantastic how Dos Passos showed that some main characters changed as the time has passed. That is shown only through their living situations: convictions are lost, loves are ending, betrayals are possible. The city has a low impact on any particular character only the attraction of NYC is a great mover for everyone. It is not true that it is a book all about New York City but it is just the background of scenes. I believe that these stories may have happened everywhere in any other big cities in America but in a very materialistic world.

Main drivers of life for the characters are money and prestige while all the rest seems just a complement. They are married, worked, deprived, killed only for money. However, those who get money have not especially more happiness in return. Indeed I believe it is primarily a book about people who search for happiness and true relationships but no one seems aware that these may be the real values. They find that material life leads mainly to hypocrisy while I would say that there is no one happy in that novel exception for some moments. You also see that some characters are suffering for their hypocrisy because they are conscious. Only one of the main character refuses that logic of falsity and feels unease about his way of life. Indeed, Dos Passos did not present a solution for happiness, he only provided a picture "in negative" or some "exit strategy" of all that farce. Enjoy the reading!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tale of billionaires and paupers, 18 Feb. 2014
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This review is from: Manhattan Transfer (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
Follows a number of Manhattan characters living interconnecting lives in the boom and bust of 1920s America. Dos Passos writes about the billionaires and servants of Twentieth Century New York with keen detail, and produces an fast, powerful book that highlights the reality of the times.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Very good book, 28 Jan. 2013
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A pre-cursor to bright lights big city, Manhattan transfer is a very detailed look at casual class and life in 20's New York. The story introduces us to all sorts of life and intertwines there involvement with the city and themselves. Beautifully written albeit in a way you wouldn't expect, its social commentary sets it apart and it towers like the skyscrapers it is inspired by, above the rest.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A Good Novel, 2 April 2013
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This is a stylish literary novel interweaving numerous stories of people living in New York at the beginning of the 20th century. Reads like a classic and recommended by Bukowski.
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Manhattan Transfer (Penguin Modern Classics)
Manhattan Transfer (Penguin Modern Classics) by John Dos Passos (Paperback - 31 Aug. 2000)
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