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Motherless Brooklyn (Vintage Contemporaries) Paperback – 1 Oct 2000

4.3 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books USA; First Edition edition (Oct. 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375724834
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375724831
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 1.8 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,636,200 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Amazon Review

Petty hoodlum turned owner of a small time detective agency, Frank Minna assembled a team of four orphans and made them his loyal servants: the Minna Men. When Frank is stabbed to death on what was supposed to be a routine job, Lionel, one of the four, is determined to track down Frank's killer and avenge his death. One thing makes this something of a problem--Lionel has Tourette's syndrome, a collection of tics and compulsions which make him constantly break out in nonsense syllables or cause him to touch every object he sees. His advantage is that most people confuse his disability with stupidity; when he gets up a head of steam, the large slow-moving Lionel is extremely formidable. Taking us from a Zen study centre to a dangerous car park on the New England coast, Motherless Brooklyn is at the same time a brilliantly characterised detective novel and an inventive exploration of a particular tone of voice.

"Meanwhile, beneath that frozen shell, a sea of language was reaching full boil. It became harder and harder not to notice that when a television pitchman said 'to last the rest of a lifetime' my brain went 'to rest the lust of a loaf tomb' that when I heard 'Alfred Hitchcock', I silently replied 'Altered House clock' or 'Ilford Hotchkiss'."

What might have been exploitative--the portrayal of Lionel and his compulsions--is attractive, affirming and compassionate. The sense of Brooklyn as a city full of borderlines between communities, the legal and the illegal, life and death, is overwhelming. --Roz Kaveney --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

" The best novel of the year. . . . Utterly original and deeply moving." --"Esquire"
" Philip Marlowe would blush. And tip his fedora." --"Newsweek"
" Finding out whodunit is interesting enough, but it's more fun watching Lethem unravel the mysteries of his Tourettic creation. In this case, it takes one trenchant wordsmith to know another." --"Time"
" Immerses us in the mind's dense thicket, a place where words split and twine in an ever-deepening tangle." --"The New York Times Book Review"
" Who but Jonathan Lethem would attempt a half-satirical cross between a literary novel and a hard-boiled crime story narrated by an amateur detective with Tourette's syndrome?...The dialogue crackles with caustic hilarity...Jonathan Lethem is a verbal performance artisit...Unexpectedly moving." --"The Boston Globe"
" With one unique and well-imagined character, Jonathan Lethem has turned a genre on its ear. He doesn't just push the envelope, he gives it a swift kick... A tour de force." --"The Denver Post"
" Wonderfully inventive, slightly absurdist... [Motherless Brooklyn] is funny and sly, clever, compelling, and endearing." --"USA Today"

"The best novel of the year. . . . Utterly original and deeply moving." --"Esquire"
"Philip Marlowe would blush. And tip his fedora." --"Newsweek"
"Finding out whodunit is interesting enough, but it's more fun watching Lethem unravel the mysteries of his Tourettic creation. In this case, it takes one trenchant wordsmith to know another." --"Time"
"Immerses us in the mind's dense thicket, a place where words split and twine in an ever-deepening tangle." --"The New York Times Book Review"
"Who but Jonathan Lethem would attempt a half-satirical cross between a literary novel and a hard-boiled crime story narrated by an amateur detective with Tourette's syndrome?...The dialogue crackles with caustic hilarity...Jonathan Lethem is a verbal performance artisit...Unexpectedly moving." --"The Boston Globe"
"With one unique and well-imagined character, Jonathan Lethem has turned a genre on its ear. He doesn't just push th

"The best novel of the year. . . . Utterly original and deeply moving." --"Esquire"
"Philip Marlowe would blush. And tip his fedora." --"Newsweek"
"Finding out whodunit is interesting enough, but it's more fun watching Lethem unravel the mysteries of his Tourettic creation. In this case, it takes one trenchant wordsmith to know another." --"Time"
"Immerses us in the mind's dense thicket, a place where words split and twine in an ever-deepening tangle." --"The New York Times Book Review"
"Who but Jonathan Lethem would attempt a half-satirical cross between a literary novel and a hard-boiled crime story narrated by an amateur detective with Tourette's syndrome?...The dialogue crackles with caustic hilarity...Jonathan Lethem is a verbal performance artisit...Unexpectedly moving." --"The Boston Globe"
"With one unique and well-imagined character, Jonathan Lethem has turned a genre on its ear. He doesn't just push the envelope, he gives it a swift kick... A tour de force." --"The Denver Post"
"Wonderfully inventive, slightly absurdist... [Motherless Brooklyn] is funny and sly, clever, compelling, and endearing." --"USA Today"

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio Cassette
This is the best book I have read this year. Lethem is an excellent storyteller, inventive and unusual in his character depiction and engaging throughout. The dialogue is sharp, witty and perceptive between a collection of orphaned individuals whose universe revolves around the leadership of an exploitative father figure in a shadowy area of Brooklyn. It is part coming of age, part detective story, part sheer inventive storytelling and I liked it immensely.
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By Eileen Shaw TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 27 April 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A group of teenagers from the local Brooklyn Orphanage find themselves recruited by a local man, Frank Minna, for various jobs to do with his taxi work and moving house business, though they soon find out some of the work they are doing has an edge of illegality. The story of their coming of age, if such it can be termed, is told by Lionel Essrog, who has Tourette's Syndrome and is casually nicknamed Freak and sometimes worse. Tourette's Syndrome is an inherited neuropsychiatric disorder with onset in childhood, characterised by multiple physical (motor) tics and at least one vocal tic. Most cases are mild and the severity of tics decreases as the sufferer ages. Children between ages of 5 to 18 may have symptoms such as transient and chronic eye-blinking, coughing, throat clearing, sniffing and facial movements. Extreme Tourette's in adulthood is a rarity and does not adversely affect intelligence or life expectancy.

The condition has not abated in Lionel unfortunately, and he is subject to verbal tics, counting and the almost uncontrollable urge to touch people, mostly around the collar (he relentlessly rights any carelessness or untidiness around this region. Understandably perhaps, this does not endear him to casual acquaintances, such as policemen, for instance. But it is not something he can always control, as he says, "For me counting and touching things and repeating words are all the same activity. Tourette's is just one big lifetime of tag really..."

The book opens with Lionel and Gilbert (another of the Minna man gang) following their boss by means of a secret microphone linked to an Ear in their car. Only it doesn't look good for Frank, who has been seen by Lionel getting into a car with a giant of a man.
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By Marty From SF HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on 19 Dec. 2002
Format: Hardcover
Jonathan Lethem is a true original. His latest, "Motherless Brooklyn" manages to spin a tale of orphan misfits, detectives, gangsters and a main character that suffers from Tourette Syndrome into an impressive, rapid paced melee. The descriptions of the Brooklyn area, the characters and all the necessary sensory perceptions needed come through in snappy prose. Lethem's description of the 'impulses' and 'partly contollable' symptoms of Tourette are dead-on. Never has this reviewer read anything that so accurately captures the essence of Tourette and the personality in a novel. The reader can feel the symptoms of Tourette welling up in themselves as strongly as the character does on the page.
Half detective story and half a case study of a young man with Tourette, Lethem intertwines the two deftly, giving the reader little time to breathe between events.
The detective story may be slightly hackneyed and the closeness of the orphans and thier Fagan-like detective mentor could have been more intimately detailed, but Lionel Essrog and his Tourette's make fantastic fodder. Lethem goes for broke. This novel describes Tourette and real life on the streets like no other author has before.
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There is a danger that Gangster fiction and Tourette's is a recipe for crass novelty: not in this case. Lethem's prose is spare but sympathetic and insightful; one is aware the narrator is quirky and perhaps a tad unreliable, but this is a wholly absorbing journey around the underworld, with moments to laugh out loud, and others to ponder the human condition. I came to this apprehensive having previously read Lethem's masterpiece Fortress of Solitude, but need not have worried - both will stay with me for a long time.
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Lionel Essrog is part of a detective agency or maybe part of a group serving the needs of a couple of elderly mafiosi, along with three other orphans from Brooklyn (hence 'motherless Brooklyn'). This despite his Tourette's syndrome, which makes life difficult for him, and relationships. His boss is killed. Lionel would like to know why...

This is not the kind of 'hard-boiled' world of Raymond Chandler, though, to whom the narrative refers a couple of times as a reference point, with admiration. There's not the same cynical take on the world, nor the same manic and diabolically complicated plotting. Rather there's a continuous interesting, but highly literary text.

As such, I enjoyed reading it, from the start right through to the end and including all the diversions en route. It's creative in its take on the detective story, and original in its use of language. Sometimes it's amusing (as in the rare scenes where the elderly mafiosi turn up in person), sometimes it's touching (as Lionel understand the limits of his world vies and tries to reach out to others). And the conclusion is definitely satisfying.
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Lionel Essog is one of the Minna Men on the edge of the law in modern New York. When their leader Frank Minna is knifed to death Lionel expects to find out whodunnit, 'just like in detective stories' but to his disbelief he discovers the tight little 'crew' fractures and he must investigate alone. He must also do so whilst overcoming advanced Tourettes Syndrome.

Ostensibly the book is thus set up as a crime whodunnit yet really we have a story about living with Tourettes. As such we see a Tourettian world; what is it like, what causes a reaction and what doesn't, how you can fight it and when you can't? The book is an excellent day by day (non-medical) intro to Tourettes and the detective story is really an unusual,engaging vehicle for that purpose.

The author tells lengthy jokes, Lionel talks directly to the reader,the 'tics' are itallicised and in truth become grating to read (thus also illustrating how frustrating this becomes if you have to live with it for real!).Lots of self-deprecating humour, 'I think I'll change my name to Shut Up to make it easier for everyone'.

Mr Lethem really makes Lionel a rounded, engaging character. He is not stupid nor is he Einstein. Furthermore he is not an avenging angel but he is savvy,street-wise and no pushover. He seeks a nice quiet sandwich rather than bloody mayhem. Check out the reviews before you buy as this is much more than a modern crime thriller.
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