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Necessary Errors: A Novel (2013)

by Caleb Crain

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1424140,180 (3.62)6
"It's October 1990. Jacob Putnam is young and full of ideas. He's arrived a year too late to witness Czechoslovakia's revolution, but he still hopes to find its spirit, somehow. He discovers a country at a crossroads between communism and capitalism, and a picturesque city overflowing with a vibrant, searching sense of possibility. As the men and women Jacob meets begin to fall in love with one another, no one turns out to be quite the same as the idea Jacob has of them--including Jacob himself."-- From front cover flap.… (more)



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Showing 4 of 4
Like Magic Mountain? If yes, then read this. The background lurker is not TB; it's capitalism. (Don't worry--no one catches it, even though the young expat English teachers are accused of being missionaries for the new order)

The setting, not a mountaintop sanitarium; it's Prague after the Velvet Revolution.

And Miss Chauchat; well there are several passive young men--remember this is the twenty-first century.

And dissipation--not really, just everything is on pause. I wont give away the plot because there is none--at least it's not very important.

The book is a pleasant slog through youth and 90's Prague, in case you missed them. ( )
  kerns222 | Aug 24, 2016 |
I liked this book about a young American teacher rebounding from a relationship in the US, arriving in Prague, looking for the European experience. Some reviewer here have mentioned the leisurely pace of the plot. Caleb Crain's novel doesn't double as a potential film script. It doesn't rush into Jacob's entry into the newness of Prague's ex-pat scene. A working person's portrait of Prague, it's back streets, neighborhoods, transit routes, little restaurants and bars, not just its touristy monuments, enhance the realism of the story. Without getting too "literary", there's a Proustian flavor where plot meshes with surroundings. While the main characters are ex-pats from various countries, good attention is given to Jacob's landlord and family, revealing portraits of the locals, and even his pet guinea pig, ( )
  mckall08 | Sep 26, 2013 |
I'm finally finished with this, and enjoyed it. The book covers nearly a year in the life of a young American man living in Prague, and felt like it took nearly that long to read... though not, I should add, in a bad way. The novel meanders and is not heavy on plot, to say the least, but it does a wonderful job of capturing a particular time of life—what it's like to be in your 20s, starting to discover your place in the world and your sense of it, forming allegiances and friendships, incorporating a sense of adventure and novelty into the everyday aspects of your life... It's a very sensitive and rather sweet portrayal. Recommended if you feel like reading with a sense of non-urgency, and maybe have a second book on the side to pick up when you don't feel like being quite so becalmed. But quite lovely, in the end, without being too sentimental. A real review on LF to follow, one of these days.(less) ( )
1 vote lisapeet | Sep 26, 2013 |
It’s the fall of 1990, and Jacob is a young American expat who has arrived in Prague on a quest for self discovery. Although he is a year too late to witness the revolution, he hopes to catch the spirit of change and to observe the transition from communism to capitalism. He begins teaching at a language school, where he falls in with a group of fellow expat English teachers.

Necessary Errors is a long, meandering novel about Jacob’s experiences in Prague… his struggles in love (made more complicated because he is gay, and Czechoslovakia is less open than America), his growing friendships, and his observations of the transitioning country. It’s an everyday epic; although nothing terribly major happens, it chronicles the incidents and reflections that make a life.

Replete with philosophical conversations about the meaning of love and art, communism and capitalism, friendship and romance, this book feels so realistic. Although I sometimes thought the characters a bit pretentious — half the time I had no idea what they were talking about — it felt right. The conversations of these characters reminded me of the seemingly deep, philosophical late-night conversations that were some of my favorites in college. And of course these 20-something expats complaining about the increase in tourists since the revolution are kind of pretentious — but I had to love them anyway. Their relationships, complete with imagined slights, awkward crushes, and late nights in bars, felt real, and I really enjoyed reading about them. Reading their long, in-depth, analytical conversations got to be a bit tedious, though.

The descriptions of Prague were wonderful. Crain does a fantastic job describing not only the physical beauty of the city, but the people and the very atmosphere. It was interesting to read about the changes that occur in the year or two following the revolution, as businesses begin to privatize, English becomes more in-demand, and tourism increases. He really excels at evoking the setting and mood of Prague.

This isn’t a page-turning book; it’s a quiet, reflective sort of novel that needs to be read slowly so you can soak up the setting and the tone. I had some trouble getting into it for this reason; it’s no fault of the book, but I don’t always have the patience to take it slow! The writing sometimes felt a bit clumsy but was lovely for the most part.

My biggest gripe while reading this book turned out to be a matter of my own stupidity. Crain sometimes uses quotation marks and sometimes uses dashes to indicate dialog, and I hate that kind of inconsistency. It wasn’t until I was 10 pages from the end that I realized he was using quotes for English speech and dashes to show that the characters are speaking Czech. I’m probably dumb to not have figured that out sooner, but I thought I would mention it to save anyone else who reads this from the frustration!

I liked this book, but I didn’t love it. I would definitely recommend it to people who are looking for a quiet, rambling read about trying to find oneself in a country on the brink of change, but it might not be the right book for someone looking to read about a rollicking good time abroad.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

More book reviews at Books Speak Volumes. ( )
  LeahMo | Aug 22, 2013 |
Showing 4 of 4
In this novel set in Prague one year after the 1989 Velvet Revolution, young Harvard graduate and budding writer Jacob Putnam navigates the chaotic and exhilarating landscape of a city in transition. Living among a group of colorful expatriates while teaching English, he longs to identify the spirit of the revolution, but it seems forever out of his grasp.
added by DorsVenabili | editBooklist, Kerri Price (pay site) (Jul 24, 2013)
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