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Manhattan Transfer by John Dos Passos (1925)

  1. 20
    The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (lucybrown)
    lucybrown: Both deal with the quest to be part of the American Dream. Both deal with corruption and innocence. And both have a unique rhythm and lyricism which captures well the time and place.

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Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
At about a third of the way through I was sure that this was going to be a favourite. The writing was cinematic, New York of the early 20th century was vibrant and pulsed from every page. Then the scope narrowed, Ellen and Jimmy Herf took centre stage, and the pacing dropped. Still, a wonderful read and a gorgeous depiction of big city life. ( )
  deckehoe | Nov 27, 2015 |
The ferry-slip. A ferry, and a newborn baby. A young man comes to the metropolis and the story begins. It is a story of that metropolis: "The world's second metropolis." But it is really the latest in a line that extends backward in time to "Nineveh . . Athens . . . Rome . . . Constantinople . ." and others since.

John Dos Passos presents stories of some of the people who call this metropolis, Manhattan, home near the beginning of the twentieth century. The novel is about New Yorkers and their stories -- numerous characters whose commonality is only their status as New Yorkers brought them together, impersonally and randomly. He does so with an engaging style that encompasses the sights, sounds, feelings, and excitement encountered by those who peopled this island metropolis. Each chapter begins with passages comprising observations of city life, newspaper headlines, bits and pieces of dialogue, and phrases from advertisements. All these passages emphasize that "Manhattan Transfer" is a collective novel about the city of New York, about its shallowness, immorality, and grinds of the urban life. The characters' lives only depict some of them.

There are the dreams of new parents whose daughter, Ellen, is born at the opening of the novel. Her life and career will be one of two that span the course of the novel. But there are also young lovers, young men, down-and-outers, immigrants, swells, and others on the make with little but their dreams to keep them going. Some stories are about dreams shattered or those whose lives are stillborn,limited by poverty or lack of vision. The angry rebels are present as well -- those found on the street corner protesting for better treatment, better pay, or mimicking the ideas of radicals and anarchists of the day.

Among the many stories some stand out. There is James Merivale who is born to wealth and a prosperous future and John Harland who has seen better days and lives on the verge of losing it all. There is the family man Ed Thatcher with his wife and newborn daughter Ellen (mentioned above). There is also the other character whose story will span the novel, Jimmy Herf, whose path will cross that of Ellen. Jimmy Herf works with the "Times" in a job that he finds unfulfilling eventually leaving this job. Jimmy's search for his dream will form another arc that provides a link for all the stories bringing the reader ultimately back to the ferry with which the book began. This arc is not unfamiliar in the sense it is similar to the arc of young Nicholas Rostov in War and Peace and many other young men since.

Dos Passos' style is mesmerizing and fits perfectly with the story he tells. The characters form a mosaic that blends with the sights and sounds of Manhattan to create a world that is alive with all the possibilities, both successes and defeats, that humanity may experience.
British novelist D. H. Lawrence wrote Manhattan Transfer is "the best modern book about New York" because it "becomes what life is, a stream of different things and different faces rushing along in the consciousness, with no apparent direction save that of time".
The historical references include discussion of the "bonus marchers" of veterans requesting their military bonuses, references to Sarajevo, and other events; all of which provide a background that provides context for these peoples' lives. I found this book an exciting read that gripped my attention and did not let it go. I would highly recommend this modern classic. ( )
  jwhenderson | Mar 31, 2014 |
I learned the hard way that it is probably not a good idea to read this book if you are already feeling restless. ( )
  LizaHa | Mar 30, 2013 |
Ils durent changer de train à Manhattan Transfer. Ellen avait un gant neuf, en chevreau, dont le pouce avait craqué, et elle ne cessait de le frotter nerveusement avec l'index. John portait un imperméable à martingale et un chapeau mou gris rosâtre. Quand il se tourna vers elle, en souriant, elle ne put s'empêcher de détourner les yeux et de fixer la pluie qui miroitait sur les rails. — Voilà, chère Elaine. Oh, fille de prince, voyez, nous prenons le train qui vient de la gare de Penn... C'est drôle d'attendre ainsi dans la brousse de New Jersey.
  PierreYvesMERCIER | Feb 19, 2012 |
This book is hard to follow. It's like a Russian novel with lots of characters that appear and disappear at random. It's also very depressing, with lots of alcohol, marital cheating, and so on. It does give an impression of what New York City was like in the 1910s and 1920s. ( )
1 vote baobab | May 29, 2011 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Dos Passos, Johnprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bech, ClausTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Golüke, GuidoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Three gulls wheel above the broken boxes, orangerinds, spoiled cabbage heads that heave between the splintered plank walls, the green waves spume under the round bow as the ferry, skidding on the tide, crashes, gulps the broken water, slides, settles slowly into the slip.
Let's have another rye Charley. That's the stuff to make a man of you. I been laying off it too much, that's what's the matter with me. You wouldn't think it to look at me now, would you friend, but they used to call me the Wizard of Wall Street which is another illustration of the peculiar predominance of luck in human affairs.
He lay on his back on top of the sheet. There came on the air through the window a sourness of garbage, a smell of burnt gasoline and traffic and dusty pavements, a huddled stuffiness of pigeonhole rooms where men and women's bodies writhed alone tortured by the night and the young summer. He lay with seared eyeballs staring at the ceiling, his body glowed in a brittle shivering agony like redhot metal.
You understand them things Mr 'Erf. but a feller like you, good education, all 'at, you don't know what life is. When I was seventeen I come to New York... no good. I tink of notten but raising Cain. Den I shipped out again and went everywhere to hell an gone. In Shangai I learned spik American an tend bar. I come back to Frisco an got married. Now I want to be American. But unlucky again see? Before I marry zat girl her and me lived togedder a year sweet as pie, but when we get married no good. She make fun of me and call me Frenchy because I no spik American good and den she kick no out of the house an I tell her go to hell. Funny thin a man's life.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0618381864, Paperback)

Considered by many to be John Dos Passos's greatest work, Manhattan Transfer is an "expressionistic picture of New York" (New York Times) in the 1920s that reveals the lives of wealthy power brokers and struggling immigrants alike. From Fourteenth Street to the Bowery, Delmonico's to the underbelly of the city waterfront, Dos Passos chronicles the lives of characters struggling to become a part of modernity before they are destroyed by it.
More than seventy-five years after its first publication, Manhattan Transfer still stands as "a novel of the very first importance" (Sinclair Lewis). It is a masterpeice of modern fiction and a lasting tribute to the dual-edged nature of the American dream.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:40 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

The story unfolds against a backdrop of towering skyscrapers and filthy tenements, over meals at the Waldorf and nights in boxcars. Dos Passos reveals the lives of the wealthy power brokers and struggling immigrants alike, and documents their struggles to become a part of modernity before they are destroyed by it.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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