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World's Fair by E. L. Doctorow

World's Fair

by E. L. Doctorow

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1,0372112,153 (3.83)67
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    My Ántonia by Willa Cather (k8_not_kate)
    k8_not_kate: Recalls a specific time in America vividly; deals with childhood memories and relationships.

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Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
A well-written story that's enormously evocative of the day-to-day life of a boy growing up in 1930s New York City. Doctorow does seem to wander a bit, especially in the middle of the book. Additionally, he tries to tell the story from different points of view (the protagonist's mother and brother all get first-person chapters), but there's no regularity to these shifts in viewpoint, which can be a bit jarring when reading. Overall a decent read. ( )
  L_Will | May 14, 2018 |
I am always delighted to pick up and re-read a book by E.L.Doctorow - easily one of my favourite authors. Once again, this book did not disappoint. Doctorow is a literary time traveller who takes us with him - in this case to New York in the 1930's. World's Fair feels like a thinly disguised autobiography. The author was able to tell a coming-of-age story through the eyes of Edgar, the youngest child of the family. Occasionally, he includes chapters narrated by other adult family members to help underscore how the impressions of a boy are not always what he thinks they are.

Edgar's dad was a charming dreamer, losing money hand over fist and firmly attached by the apron strings to his own family. His mum was too harried and too overworked to wring much enjoyment from life. Still, Edgar is reassured that they loved him and that he loved them right back. It’s probably that way with most families. When all the grudges and grievances wear down, what remains is the love.

Towards the end of World’s Fair, Edgar enters an essay-writing competition on the theme of the typical American boy. “The Typical American Boy is not fearful of Dangers,” he writes. “If he is Jewish he should say so. If he is anything he should say what it is when challenged.” In a more sappy coming-of-age story this effort would win first prize and its author be hailed as a literary star in the making. In the real world, though, magic takes softer, more subtle forms. So no, Edgar’s earnest, heartfelt essay can’t mend his parents’ failing marriage or save his dad’s floundering music shop. But it does earn honourable mention in the local paper and affords the family the opportunity to attend the World's Fair in its waning days.

For me, this is a quiet little perfect book. ( )
1 vote EvelynBernard | Feb 7, 2017 |
My first read of Doctorow ... and I'll be reading more. Although I thought I might be learning about the World's Fair, that event represents the ending event (in the book) of a Jewish boy growing up in the Bronx. The viewpoint switches between characters and ages for an interesting balance in the growing up story line.

The 2nd visit to the World's Fair is both wonderful and realistic as the paint is fading and chipped and things are starting to look dingy and dirty. This captures what I found most interesting: the author has provided an intimate view of life in the 30s in New York City, complete with warts and growing pains.

Bottom line: One of the best books that I've ever read. ( )
  deldevries | Jan 31, 2016 |
Doctorow's World's Fair follows the 1930s Bronx childhood of "Edgar", not coincidentally the same first name as the author's, from birth to about 9 years old. The names of the rest of Edgar's family, father Dave, mother Rose, and brother Donald, also match those of the author's family. Some of the story obviously is autobiographical, but how much is hard to say. It opens during the Depression, and cultural trivia from the time abounds - Flash Gordon and the Shadow, decoder rings, etc. Edgar has some disdain for the Shadow, who could render himself invisible to criminals: "“The Shadow had no imagination. He neither looked at naked women nor thought of ridding the world of dictators like Hitler or Mussolini.” This is one of the strengths of the novel - Doctorow's eye for detail brings the times to life, as Hitler casts a dark shadow, and the optimism of the World's Fair in NYC awaits at the end of the decade.

Edgar is smart and precocious, but his voice never sounds false, even amid all the beautiful writing by Doctorow. One winter's day his brother and his friends decide to build an igloo, and Edgar is included:

''As they slowly built the igloo up on an ever decreasing circumference, I watched with a sense of the anti-material oppositeness of the thing; bit by bit, it was eliminating itself as an idea from the light of the sun. I felt that what was being built was not a shelter, but some structured withdrawal from the beneficence of the lighted day, and my excitement was for invited darkness, the reckless enclosure, as if by perverse and self-destructive will, of a secret possibility of life that would be better untampered with.''

The igloo causes great excitement in the neighborhood, with the warmth inside marveled at, and boys using it as an exclusive chamber. Soon enough, however, attention wanders elsewhere, as it does with boys everywhere.

His best friends are Arnold, an outsider who shares his love of imaginative role-playing games (Edgar uses his storytelling ability to make sure Edgar's always the hero), and Meg, with whom he is willing to stray from his own preferences to play dolls or view infants in a ward. Her unconventional mother helps him expand his thinking beyond what his strict mother would ever contemplate, often to his mother's displeasure. He is open to experience, and genuine, in a way that beguiles the reader.

''When the mother wasn't home, or when she went out while I was there, I was disappointed. The visit became less interesting. She always smiled when she saw me. She had large eyes, widely spaced, and a wide mouth. She was very kind. Sometimes she joined us in our games. She would sit on the floor with us, and we three would have a good time.''

The last part of the book, in which Edgar gets to visit the World' Fair twice, is a treat. Doctorow's love of life's minutiae makes it all come alive, and we find ourselves cast back in time to when Americans, in one of the country's most difficult times, nonetheless celebrate possibility and the future.

A pleasant and illuminating read. Four stars. ( )
  jnwelch | Dec 16, 2015 |
World’s Fair tells the sweet and sometimes poignant story of Edgar Altschuler, a nine-year old boy growing up in the Bronx during the 1930s. Told through a series of vignettes of both memorable and mundane episodes that occur during Edgar’s young life, the novel reads more like a memoir than it does a work of pure fiction. Indeed, Edgar is a thinly veiled version of Doctorow himself—both author and character share the same given name, grew up in the same neighborhood in the same era, and had parents named Rose and Dave—which leads the reader to wonder how much of what happens in the book actually occurred in real life. Certainly, the pivotal events involving the explosion of the Hindenburg airship, the clouds of war that were forming over Europe, and the 1939 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows were real, which also gives the novel the feel of carefully observed historical fiction.

I did not grow up in an urban area such as New York, nor did I grow up in a Jewish household in the late 1930s. So, I did not immediately relate to everything that Edgar went through and I also found it difficult to celebrate his joys or sympathize with his plight. What I could appreciate, however, was the gentle, insightful way the author was able to craft a coming-of-age tale through the eyes of a boy who is closing in on manhood, but not quite there yet. Doctorow uses an interesting device of interspersing sections narrated by other adult family members with Edgar’s first person stories to help underscore how the impressions of a boy are not always completely reliable. World’s Fair was a book that I read rather quickly and I suspect it is not one that I will remember for very long. Still, like the fair itself, it was an enjoyable experience while it lasted. ( )
1 vote browner56 | Dec 1, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
A beautiful piece of work, and, in my opinion, along with Lives of the Poets, one of Doctorow’s best.
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A raree-show is here, With children gathered round...WORDSWORTH The Prelude
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 081297820X, Paperback)

"Something close to magic." The Los Angeles Times

The astonishing novel of a young boy's life in the New York City of the 1930s, a stunning recreation of the sights, sounds, aromas and emotions of a time when the streets were safe, families stuck together through thick and thin, and all the promises of a generation culminate in a single great World's Fair . . .

From the Paperback edition.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:28 -0400)

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"Hailed by critics from coast to coast and by readers of all ages, this resonant novel is one of E.L. Doctorow's greatest works of fiction. It is 1939, and even as the rumbles of progress are being felt worldwide, New York City clings to remnants of the past, with horse-drawn wagons, street peddlers, and hurdy-gurdy men still toiling in its streets. For nine-year-old Edgar Altschuler, life is stoopball and radio serials, idolizing Joe DiMaggio, and enduring the conflicts between his realist mother and his dreamer of a father. The forthcoming World's Fair beckons, an amazing vision of American automation, inventiveness, and prosperity -- an Edgar Altschuler responds. A marvelous work from a master storyteller, World's Fair is a book about a boy who must surrender his innocence to come of age, and a generation that must survive great hardship to reach its future."--Page 4 of cover.… (more)

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