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Make Me a City by Jonathan Carr

Make Me a City

by Jonathan Carr

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3515488,107 (3.21)9
A propulsive debut of visionary scale, Make Me a City embroiders fact with fiction to tell the story of Chicago's 19th century, tracing its rise from frontier settlement to industrial colossus. The tale begins with a game of chess--and on the outcome of that game hinges the destiny of a great city. From appalling injustice springs forth the story of Chicago, and the men and women whose resilience, avarice, and altruism combine to generate a moment of unprecedented civic energy. A variety of irresistible voices deliver the many strands of this novel: those of Jean Baptiste Pointe de Sable, the long-unheralded founder of Chicago; John Stephen Wright, bombastic speculator and booster; and Antje Hunter, the first woman to report for the Chicago Tribune . The stories of loggers, miners, engineers, and educators teem around them and each claim the narrative in turns, sharing their grief as well as their delight. As the characters, and their ancestors, meet and part, as their possessions pass from hand to hand, the reader realizes that Jonathan Carr commands a grand picture, one that encompasses the heartaches of everyday lives as well as the overarching ideals of what a city and a society can and should be. Make Me a City introduces us to a novelist whose talent and ambition are already fully formed.… (more)



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Rather on the order of Edward Rutherford's books, this novel tells the history of Chicago, not through the eyes of the major players, but those on the side lines. Told in a variety of means, each chapter is different: newspaper reports, interviews, straight narrative. Characters that are introduced show up again or their descendants appear sometimes knowing of their heritage and often not.

The story begins in the early 1800's with a French man who has built an impressive house on the location of what becomes Chicago. He loses the house in a chess match to a man who is later credited with founding of Chicago. Throughout the book, various chapters are told from the viewpoint of a historian who is telling an alternate version of the accepted history and strongly condemned for it.

Overall, a good historical book of fiction woven together with historical facts (or what is assumed to be facts). ( )
  maryreinert | Aug 30, 2019 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
"But if what survives of our legacy is a patchwork of threads, I believe the historian has a duty to try to stitch them together." ~the ficitonal Mr Winship, Professor of American History at University of Chicago, in Make Me A City by Jonathan Carr

As a family genealogy researcher, I have delved into many turn-of-the-century place histories in which people still living recollected earlier days. Make Me A City is patterned in part on these late 19th c. volumes. Central is a fictional history of Chicago's first hundred years, offering an alternative narrative of its founding families. Interjected are other fictional primary sources. The overarching narrative is the development of the city, but the stories of these characters drives the book.

Jonathan Carr offers a French-born mulatto trader as the first European to settle at Echicagou where the Illinois River meets Lake Michigan. Jean Baptiste Pointe de Sable built his family an admirable home before an unscrupulous man determines to take it from him.

We follow Jean and his descendants through the century, along with the stories of men who built Chicago, the visionary engineers and the immigrant workers, the con men and the idealistic journalists.

The story keeps weaving back to Jean and those early days when all was set in motion--the disenfranchisement of people of color, the anti-immigrant prejudice, the powerlessness of women.

Toward the end of the book, Antje Van Voorhis Hunter, whose lineage traces back to Jean, travels to see a statue erected by Pullman to commemorate the Massacre at Fort Dearborn. Her grandmother survived that massacre and her version of history has been recorded by Prof. Winship.

The statue portrays a white woman and a baby on the ground with a scantily clad Native American raising a tomahawk overhead. Another Native American stands with his hand out to stop the massacre; this man is taller and wears buckskin trousers. The civilized Native heroically is stopping the violence. No soldiers appear in the scene.

Antje and her husband discuss the implications of the statue's version of history, "like using perfume to cover up a bad smell." The myth portrayed in the art has become an accepted and shared truth.

"If you take on somebody more powerful than yourself and play by the rules and beat them, they annul the result," Antje thinks, adding, "Then nothing has changed. "It's in our blood," Mr. Winship believes, referring back to the first violence committed against Jean.

I made a family tree to keep the families straight.

I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for a fair and unbiased review. ( )
  nancyadair | May 27, 2019 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Taking the first hundred years of Chicago's history as his starting point, Jonathan Carr has written a novel composed of inter-linked stories in the form of letters, news articles, excerpts from history books and biographies, as well as traditional story-telling. Make Me a City focuses on the ordinary laborer, the failed businessman, the dispossessed, and outsiders to tell the story of Chicago, from it's beginnings through to the early years of the twentieth century. The protagonist of one chapter might disappear, only to reappear in a story set a decade later, or to be a secondary character, or spoken about in a later chapter. It's an effective way to tell a sweeping story and to keep the novel from feeling too much like a collection of short stories.

And through every chapter, the city of Chicago is the real main character, rising out of the wilderness and based on cheating, evictions, grift and regular old corruption, this Chicago also features people doing their best, immigrants working to build new lives in an unfamiliar land, visionaries, and truth-tellers. ( )
  RidgewayGirl | Mar 5, 2019 |
Dense and overwhelming at times; but the scale, beauty, and depth of this novel is jaw dropping and makes it worth the effort. Make Me a City is a novel that shows the rapid growth of Chicago from 1800 to 1900 from a variety of different viewpoints and formats. From letters to chapbooks to interviews to essays and orations; the character building is immense. And what's crazy is most characters are just minor footnotes, there are a few who keep popping up over the decades along with their descendants, but the scope of the people that help tell the story of building the world's greatest city is mind-blowing. Most don't even know about the imprint their leaving behind or don't understand that their journey is one of the reasons that Chicago is the way it is. From a small mulatto man who was robbed off his homestead in 1800 to the digging of canals, the raising of streets, commandeering the railways, the building of skyscrapers, Marshall Fields, the Great Chicago Fire, and the World's Fair; this unconventional historical novel tells the story of a city through the eyes of those who came first, respected her, and were far from the top of the heap. It's marvelous and unique. ( )
  ecataldi | Feb 28, 2019 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Not what I expected. Described as a novel but it is more a collection of short stories and vignettes and reads like a history or a variety of journal readings, so there is no plot or flow of a story and jumps around so much in time it is confusing. Very slow and at times difficult to read, especially when the “author” of a particular section writes in an almost-illiterate or colloquial style. I am from the Chicago area and was quite interested in reading this. This reads like (dry) non-fiction, but because it’s a novel I couldn’t trust anything to be fact. Thanks to LibraryThing for providing the copy of Make Me a City in exchange for this honest review. ( )
  GrandmaCootie | Feb 22, 2019 |
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