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Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem
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Motherless Brooklyn (original 1999; edition 1999)

by Jonathan Lethem

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,817701,358 (4)143
Member:sturlington
Title:Motherless Brooklyn
Authors:Jonathan Lethem
Info:Vintage (1999), Trade paperback, Later printing
Collections:Marty's Library
Rating:***1/2
Tags:FIC, Noir, 1990s, US, NY, NYC, ALA

Work details

Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem (1999)

  1. 50
    The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (jeanned)
  2. 30
    The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (InvisiblerMan)
  3. 20
    Men and cartoons : stories by Jonathan Lethem (Smiler69)
    Smiler69: A great collection of short stories by the same author.
  4. 20
    Chinaman's Chance by Ross Thomas (Bookmarque)
    Bookmarque: Murder & deceit in the underworld...no one has tourette's but it's a great read.
  5. 10
    The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (InvisiblerMan)
  6. 10
    Eight Million Ways to Die by Lawrence Block (Darco)
  7. 10
    Not Me by Michael Lavigne (ehines)
    ehines: Not me is a different kind of novel than Motherless Brooklyn, but with a very similar spirit. The subject matter is more serious, but the protagonist is a comedian, with an attitude quite similar, to my mind, to the narrator of Motherless Brooklyn.
  8. 00
    Crooked Little Vein by Warren Ellis (InvisiblerMan)
  9. 00
    The Madman's Tale by John Katzenbach (jeanned)
  10. 00
    Pop. 1280 by Jim Thompson (Darco)
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» See also 143 mentions

English (68)  Danish (1)  Spanish (1)  All (70)
Showing 1-5 of 68 (next | show all)
This is a brilliant author. The main character has Tourette's syndrome, the story told from his point of view. The writing reflects this in more than meets the eye at first. Four orphans from a local home work for Frank Minna, a small-time gangster, and they mature under his influence. Readers with no experience with the condition will learn quite a bit about Tourette's. The story is realistic with wonderful details. It's about city kids learning more than they already know about the streets, learning to be something more than they thought they could be, becoming adults and trusting in things unseen, trusting in each other, and what happens to them along the way. It's about how other people affect our lives.

I'd suggest reading anything by this author, which I will now do myself.

This book is a winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction.

( )
  Rascalstar | Jan 21, 2017 |
This novel is a ton of fun. Made me laugh out loud on several occasions, and it has an underlying tenderness that's really moving. ( )
  jalbacutler | Jan 10, 2017 |
(49) A recommendation from a friend. At first this was laugh out loud funny. Four orphans are used as errand boys for a Brooklyn small-time mobster, Frank Minna. He becomes like a father figure to the boys as they age especially to Lionel Essrog who is tortured by his yet unnamed affliction of Tourette's syndrome. As the book progresses the boys are grown and work for Minna as a car for hire service which is a front for their 'detective' work. They then have to solve the case of their life. . .

In general, I enjoyed this novel and found Lionel endearing and hilarious. His deadpan way of narrating his compulsions - smoothing collars, tapping shoulders, petting cats - never mind his verbal explosions -- was really funny. So I really enjoyed the first half of this book. After awhile as I got used to Lionel and his tics did not have the power to shock anymore, the plot just seemed to get a little random and the mystery did not hang together for me. Lionel all of sudden seemed to put things together yet said reader was clueless as to how he came to the proper conclusions about what was going on. Anyway, I was ready for things to wrap up and I liked the very end. But the climactic scenes and the the last 1/3rd were the achilles heel for me.

Overall, I can respect the National Book award and I enjoyed this. I don't laugh out loud while reading very often. ( )
  jhowell | Dec 17, 2016 |
I was pretty entertained when I read this - it had some of the humor that Absurdistan tried to have and, well, failed. The descriptions of the orphanage in NY were insightful. The boys didn't live like Dickens but their circumstances were not necessarily much better. Tony's adoption by the Quaker family was poignant, and it, too, made me think: do these young people and others like them want a family, or after a certain age, do they only think they want a family? And growing up in an orphanage - what chance to these young boys have to have a decent life when they grow up? They don't have much of a basis for becoming doctors and lawyers and professionals. But they are entrepreneurs!

Lionel, the central character around whom most of the action happens, has Tourette's syndrome. His syndrome is a part of him: it defines his actions (obsessively hitting the dashboard 6 times because there are 6 Krystal burgers in the bag) and it never lets him forget it exists. I think that's an insight I gained from this book - when you have a disability of whatever genre, you can't think it away. Your friends and family will have their own lives in their own skin and they will be able to see and adapt to your disability when you are there, but you cannot escape it.

Several humorous parts come to mind - young Lionel finding that he must kiss the boys in the orphanage (part of his Tourette's), the absurdity of moving pieces of furniture and band equipment out of trucks and moving vans and into warehouses and apartments (reminds me of Existentialist plays and their brand of L'Absurde), and the six doormen who realize that they are not thugs. (They're students in a Zen studio, but that's a whole different story!)

Definitely recommend it as a fun, quick, quirky read. ( )
  threadnsong | Jun 18, 2016 |
I liked this quite a bit but didn't ever feel an urgency to read it- hence the 3 stars. Great characters though. ( )
  ltfitch1 | Jun 5, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 68 (next | show all)
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Jonathan Lethemprimary authorall editionscalculated
Buscemi, SteveNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Context is everything. Dress me up and see. I'm a carnival barker, an auctioneer, a downtown performance artist, a speaker in tongues, a senator drunk on fillbuster. I've got Tourette's. My mouth won't quit, though mostly I whisper or subvocalize like I'm reading aloud, my Adam's apple bobbing, jaw muscle beating like a miniature heart under my cheek, the noise suppressed, the words escaping silently, mere ghosts of themselves, husks empty of breath and tone.
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Ik ben een schreeuwende carnavalsvierder, een veilingmeester, een straatartiest, een mystiek brabbelaar, een senator die brooddronken is van zijn eigen lange redevoeringen.
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Wikipedia in English (1)

Book description
Motherless Brooklyn is a Jonathan Lethem novel published in 1999. It is a detective story set in Brooklyn. Lethem's protagonist has Tourette syndrome, a disorder marked by involuntary tics.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375724834, Paperback)

Pop quiz. Please complete the following sentence: "There are days when I get up in the morning and stagger into the bathroom and begin running water and then I look up and I don't even recognize my own _." If you answered face, then your name is obviously not Jonathan Lethem. Instead of taking the easy out, the genre-busting novelist concludes this by-the-numbers string of words with toothbrush in the mirror.

This brilliant sentence and a lot of other really excellent ones compose Lethem's engaging fifth novel, Motherless Brooklyn. Lionel Essrog, a detective suffering from Tourette's syndrome, spins the narrative as he tracks down the killer of his boss, Frank Minna. Minna enlisted Lionel and his friends when they were teenagers living at Saint Vincent's Home for Boys, ostensibly to perform odd jobs (we're talking very odd) and over the years trained them to become a team of investigators. The Minna men face their most daunting case when they find their mentor in a Dumpster bleeding from stab wounds delivered by an assailant whose identity he refuses to reveal--even while he's dying on the way to the hospital.

Detectives? Brooklyn? Is this the same Lethem who danced the postapocalypso in Amnesia Moon? Incredibly, yes, and rarely has such a departure been pulled off with this much aplomb. As in the "toothbrush" passage above, Lethem sets himself up with the imposing task of making tired conventions new. Brooklyn accents? Fuggetaboutit. Lethem's dialogue is as light on its feet as a prize fighter. Lionel's Tourette's could have been an easy joke, but Lethem probes so convincingly into the disorder that you feel simultaneously rattled, sympathetic, and irritated by the guy. Sure, the story is a mystery, but Motherless Brooklyn could be about flower arranging, for all we care. What counts is Lionel's tic-ridden take on a world full of surprises, propelling this fiction forward at edgy, breakneck speed. --Ryan Boudinot

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:13 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Lionel Essrog has always respected Frank Minna, who helped him out when he was young, and when Frank is found dead, Lionel and his friends, the Minna Men, scour the streets of Brooklyn in search of the killer.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 3 descriptions

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