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3.6 out of 5 stars
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3.6 out of 5 stars
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VINE VOICEon 2 April 2009
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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on 19 January 2007
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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on 3 March 2011
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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on 30 May 2010
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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on 14 August 2009
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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on 11 September 2016
This book was written in 1925 by Passos (more famous for the USA trilogy). It is a series of snapshots of pre-WW1 and prohibition era New York - it depicts the roaring twenties extremely well. It includes many characters (I gave up trying to keep track after 15) and develops several major characters who appear throughout story notably Congo Jake the waiter turned gangster; Jimmy Herf orphan turned business man; George Baldwin lawyer turned womaniser. The tale is told in order but is in a very jumbled, disjointed style – it is most like novels by Camilo Cela e.g. The Hive or Boxwood or O'Brien's At-swin-two-birds. Likened to Joyce’s Ulysses although it clearly doesn’t have breadth of styles or language wordplay – it is much more readable. I’m used to and enjoy odd novel constructions but unfortunately not so much this one; I suppose I found that it was too disjointed given it clearly had a story to progress yet not disjointed enough to render me able to read each snapshot in isolation and not a clever as a Faulkner.
Overall 2 stars for me
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on 18 February 2014
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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on 7 June 2010
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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on 28 February 2002
Don Passos uses techniques borrowed from the cinema to examine the lives of many different people living in New York. His aim is clear - this novel is intended to provide a portrait of 1920's New York society as a whole rather than portray the life of individuals. This he does well, but maybe I wasn't paying enough attention when I started to read this book - I quickly became confused with the characters - how they related to each other, and their own stories within the novel.
As a big fan of Bonfire of the Vanities (Tom Wolfe), and a Human Geographer, I am keen to read anything relating to New York society. But I found this 'hard-going.' I am glad I persevered, as things did become clearer towards the end. Perhaps next time I'll read it more carefully from the beginning!
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on 10 October 2016
Reasonable quality overall although a previous owner had scribbled various pencil markings of my particular order or sense.
Perfectly legible and fine for a book group read. The book arrived very quickly.
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