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Make Me a City by Jonathan Carr

Make Me a City

by Jonathan Carr

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I was delighted to be a LibraryThing Early Reviewer for Jonathan Carr’s debut novel. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it as a fan of historical fiction and of the City of Chicago. The book is well written and the story interesting as told from various characters’ points of view. I highly recommend it to anyone but especially to those with ties to Chicago.

It is hard to believe Chicago became a major city twice in 100 years. I visit Chicago every year and read its authors old and new (e.g., Farrell, Bellow, Just, Larson), but have not steeped myself in the City’s early history. I am now inspired to return to the Chicago Historical Society.

While I read, I kept a history of Chicago handy to check the index and often went online. While I do enjoy historical fiction, separating out the facts can be frustrating. For the most part, the characters in the book are real people who played fairly notable roles in the early days of the city but Carr has given them life and dimension. He has also created some characters who are representative of immigrant groups who endured incredible hardships while laying the foundation of the city. Other fictional characters help to round out some of the real people for whom there may not be a great deal recorded. But they all come together in the story, which spans a century and stays true to events of that time span.

This is a long book but I read it quickly. The characters and their stories are compelling and their lives are made to intersect in inventive ways. Carr does an amazing job of capturing the voices, hopes and dreams of the various ethnic groups as well as the American politicians and adventurers with their stakes in Chicago’s future. I was thrilled when in consulting my history index, it was discovered a favorite character was real. I kept wishing, however, that this might have been set out plainly somewhere from the outset.

The book is sectioned off by various time periods and each chapter has a date associated with it. The larger sections have an old photograph of the city but it is the same photograph in each case so I hope that the final book will have photos that represent the time period of the section. I also hope there is a preface that describes Carr’s motivation for writing it and how he went about his research.

Make Me A City brings the history of a great city to life in a new way and I hope the book gets a lot of attention for its scope and creativity – and for bringing alternative voices to the Chicago story. ( )
  Laura1124 | Jan 21, 2019 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I devoured this sensational debut by Johnathan Carr. It sits right at the confluence of history and fiction. It's a story of Chicago from it's foundation to 1900. Reading this fantastic tale made me want to drop everything and fly to Chicago. I've followed up by studying some of the people, places and events covered in the book, by way of compliment. (Note to self: write a biography of John Stephen Wright, when you get a spare minute).

Carr skillfully weaves generations of Chicagoans together to give us a compelling story of the men and women, and their dreams, building a behemoth in the marsh and prairies of Potowatomie country. I especially liked Eliza, Chesbrough and the admirable Mr. Wright. The story is beautifully paced and unerringly accurate in its depictions of the details in each vignette. I also found some of the civic discourse to be particularly relevant in today's divided America.

It's hard to believe that this is a debut novel. I found it simply outstanding, and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it.

Disclaimer: I received an advance copy from LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program in return for an impartial review. ( )
  fizzypops | Jan 16, 2019 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Overall, I liked this book. It's kind of a historical novel, kind of an alternative history of Chicago, and kind of a series of linked stories. The stories show that a place's real history is different than the recorded history, and address the erasure of Native Americans, Women, and working people in the building of Chicago. The book could have used a little more plot, and at times the writing is overly studied, but I found the characters interesting and enjoyed the shifting viewpoints. ( )
  banjo123 | Jan 6, 2019 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A very long, epic debut. The story of the making of Chicago with real and fictional characters mixed. Who was the real pioneer of the city - the man in the history books or the mulatto who first built a house on the barren land. The land prospectors and the lumberers and the politicians all mix together with typical everyday dramas.
A little too epic for my liking, but well written novel. ( )
  aimless22 | Dec 30, 2018 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I received an advanced reader copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

To start with, I will ‘admit’ that I have lived in Chicago for most of my life and have studied history and local history in college.

There have been many great novels written with Chicago as the main character. Unfortunately, Make Me A City by Jonathan Carr is not one of them. Told as a series of connected chapters / vignettes, this is the story of Chicago and the people who shaped its growth through the nineteenth century. In each chapter we are told that Chicago is a city on the move, growing towards a great destiny. While this message is told over and over again, it never moves past being just that – a message that needs to be repeated. Even though we are introduced to many interesting people, at no point did I feel any real interest in any of them. It feels more like a history book written over a hundred years ago (which is supposedly where much of the background for the book comes from) than the story of one of the most vibrant cities in America.

Given the wealth of great books that should be read and re-read (Sinclair, Turkel, Dreiser, Wright, Cisneros, and Bellow just to name the obvious) I can not recommend this book. ( )
  Felliot | Dec 23, 2018 |
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