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Ragtime (Penguin Modern Classics) Paperback – 2 Feb 2006
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‘As exhilarating as a breath of pure oxygen . . . this highly original novel is enormous fun to read’ Newsweek --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From the Inside Flap
Published in 1975, Ragtime changed our very concept of what a novel could be. An extraordinary tapestry, Ragtime captures the spirit of America in the era between the turn of the century and the First World War.
The story opens in 1906 in New Rochelle, New York, at the home
of an affluent American family.
One lazy Sunday afternoon, the famous escape artist Harry Houdini swerves his car into a telephone pole outside their house. And almost magically, the line between fantasy and historical fact, between real and imaginary characters, disap-
pears. Henry Ford, Emma Goldman, J. P. Morgan, Evelyn Nesbit, Sig- mund Freud, and Emiliano Zapata slip in and out of the tale, crossing paths with Doctorow's imagined family and other fictional characters, including an immigrant peddler and a ragtime musician from Harlem whose insistence on a point of justice drives him to revolutionary violence.
The Modern Library has played a significant role in American cultural life for the better part of a century. The series was founded in 1917 by the publishers Boni and Liveright and eight years later acquired by Bennett Cerf and Donald Klopfer. It provided the foundation for their next publishing venture, Random House. The Modern Library has been a staple of the American book trade, providing readers with afford-
able hardbound editions of impor-
tant works of literature and thought. For the Modern Library's seventy-
fifth anniversary, Random House redesigned the series, restoring
as its emblem the running torch-
bearer created by Lucian Bernhard in 1925 and refurbishing jackets, bindings, and type, as well as inau-
gurating a new program of selecting titles. The ModernLibrary continues to provide the world's best books, at the best prices. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
America of the early twentieth century- his punt at writing the great American novel was pretty much spot on for this is both beautifully crafted and resonant in its use of real characters and multiple storylines blended with his fictional take and recreation of the sounds, smells and noise of American life.
He both manages to be forensically detailed about the minutiae of Americana, whilst maintaining the lightest of touches with prose that is neither overwritten or clunky. Hence, the stories (some familiar) of Evelyn Nesbit, Houdini, J P Morgan, Henry Ford and a Black protagonist who almost literally explodes the latter part of the novel are both compelling and freshly hewn. I was surprised about how easy this book was to read (that classic label can be a warning as well as a recommendation) and about how Doctorow's learning was so cleverly and compellingly deployed. A thoroughly impressive novel that continues to live in the mind long after the last page is turned and sends one off to the non fictional stories of these characters. i will now read The Architect of Desire ( a book that has languished on my shelf for many years unread and neglected) about the Evelyn Nesbit/Stanford White case and follow a few other lives- the prose is unlikely to be as good as Doctorow's and I will need to seek more work by this hithero overlooked (by myself) writer.
Ragtime is a masterpiece- you heard it here - last...........I was late to the party....
What Doctorow is suggesting is that this serene surface was already infected, with a host of social ills festering beneath it. A shift was occuring that would lead to labor riots, race riots, change in mores (sexual attitudes), loss of faith in institutions, etc. that would define the 20th century. If this were all of Doctorow's plan however, it would have been interesting Sociology, but a pretty boring novel.
Doctorow is above all an interesting storyteller. He knows how to keep a plot moving and how to invest it with enough intellectual hardware to make the reader feel that his/her time has been worth the effort. He can bring a scene to life with a few fresh (never shopworn) details. He doesn't spend a great deal of time elabortaing over these details, as James or Wolfe do, but he makes the reader just as cognizant of them. A few brushstrokes and we are there. His writing is cinematic, in that we can "see" the scene he is depicting, without burdening us with excess verbiage. This is the hallmark of a really good author. Ragtime is a primary example of this kind of shorthand acumen. The novel flashes by as seen in a kinescope. I, for one, was delighted I had inserted my nickle.
Set in the early part of the Twentieth Century, this takes us up to just past the First World War. Doctorow's novel for the majority takes place in the State of New York. With fictional characters as well as real life ones this novel creates a kaleidoscopic swirl that takes in so many issues, with politics from anarchy and socialism through to capitalism, with other issues, such as racism, home grown terrorism, poverty and entrepreneurship, as well as religion and cults, and the occult. Into this seething cauldron of ideas Doctorow does give us a plot of sorts, but the best way is just to go with the flow of this energetic book. For something that is actually under three hundred pages, when you finish this it seems to have been longer, due to the range of topics covered. Packed full of incident this is never boring to read and full of humour, from more subtle to outright funny, including some of it quite dark.
First published in the mid-Seventies you can see that although this is an historical novel as such, Doctorow had his eye firmly on what was happening when he wrote this, and as you read this you can also think of the US today and its problems, meaning that this has never really dated. This is a great read, and surely the contender for the 'American Novel'.
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