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Insect Dreams: The Half Life of Gregor Samsa Paperback – Feb 4 2003

4.5 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Blue Hen; Reprint edition (Feb. 4 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0425188604
  • ISBN-13: 978-0425188606
  • Product Dimensions: 14.2 x 2.5 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 490 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #3,421,353 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

The hapless antihero who morphed into a cockroach in Kafka's Metamorphosis is resurrected and given a rather busy second life in Estrin's brilliantly conceived but erratic debut novel. In Estrin's version, Gregor Samsa is sold to a Viennese sideshow rather than being swept into the trash, and he quickly becomes the major attraction in entrepreneur Amadeus Hoffnung's bizarre little circus. The author keeps his early incarnation of Samsa reasonably close to Kafka's character, and he even adds a cheeky chapter in which Samsa meets Ludwig Wittgenstein. But when the circus subplot runs its course and Samsa goes off to New York, he undergoes a radical transformation into a half-man, half-insect superhero whom the author uses to reexamine the first half of the 20th century, with Samsa working behind the scenes as a liaison in the worlds of science, music, business and politics to push pivotal historical events in the right direction. His encounters with Charles Ives, FDR, Einstein and Oppenheimer, among others, are rendered with a combination of humor, chutzpah and intelligence. Even though Estrin has a tendency to go over the top, he succeeds at many levels in his recreation of one of Kafka's most memorable characters, redrawing Samsa as a compassionate, brilliant bug. The book's many excesses don't detract from the scope of its premise and the kaleidoscopic dazzle of its most successful episodes. Agent, Dorian Karchmar. (Jan.)Forecast: The whimsical jacket art and the tie to Kafka should catch the eye of a brainy subgroup of readers; the lively prose will keep them hooked.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Get ready for a highly imaginative ride through the cultural frontier of the early 20th century from the perspective of a character-turned-cockroach named Gregor Samsa from Kafka's The Metamorphosis. In a fantastic mixture of fact and fiction, this witty debut novel follows the adventures of Gregor from post-World War I Vienna through the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, NM. In numerous behind-the-scenes actions, Gregor befriends historical figures like Charles Ives, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Robert Oppenheimer, as well as numerous other highly fascinating fictional characters. Gregor has an impact on the unfolding of world events as we remember them and others that never got recorded in history books, such as Roosevelt's refusal to interfere with the genocide of the Jews. Gregor understands more than his human counterparts the essential qualities it takes to be human because he "asks too many questions, dreams too many dreams, and embarks on too many quests." A helpful bibliography is provided at the end. A colossal book of characters and events that inspires tears of laughter and sadness in its rich blend of clever metaphor and unsettling facts, this promises to become a pivotal literary landmark. Highly recommended. David A. Beron , Univ. of New Hampshire, Durham
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Inside This Book

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First Sentence
Wunderkammer Hoffnung-Amadeus Hoffnung's Cabinet of Wonders-had begun as the hobby of a diminutive, shy adolescent: his childhood rock and insect collections, his autographs of singers from the Vienna State Opera, the paintings made by his oddly talented cat, and what was clearly the largest ball of string ever imagined by his otherwise mocking cohorts. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
There were times when I was just shaking my head at what the author had to have a grasp on in order to write this novel. The depth and breadth of the source materials required is impressive. Granted, there were times when seemed more intent on making a point (or several dozen) rather than fulfilling his primary purpose, that of telling a marvellous story. (I won't weigh down this review with references.) But even when he showed no restraint, Mr, Estrin still dazzled.

There are also some pretty mighty flights of fancy...ones that go beyond the very premise of the book...and leaps of plausibility that surely must have utilized ropes. But his mastery of the tale being told was solid enough to overcome just about all of the indulgences.

The best portions were those where interaction took place. Good old human-to-cockroach engagement. The less-best portions? Mostly towards the conclusion of the book, where the philosophical may have been well represented, but the contrast between say, the FDR White House material and Estrin's big-brained noodling grated. Just a little. But enough for me to feel the need to mention.

Oh, but the ending? Meh. It dropped off quite precipitously...only to fall flat. Like he ran out of steam.

Still, this is a wondrous novel. So much to dig into, that all throughout, I was feeling very thankful that it had been written. Were my brain just a little bigger, even its perceived shortcomings might also have pleased.

Well worth the read.

(My personal rating is 9/10)
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Format: Paperback
This is not the same Gregor Samsa that Kafka created in his groundbreaking work Metamorphosis. While he starts off being the same roach-person this Gregor Samsa speaks and intermingles with society (sometimes to the point where you forget that he is no longer human). But author Marc Estrin's unique departure from Kafka is refreshing. After flying away from a Viennese circus Gregor lands in America where he subsequently meets and interacts with some of the most notable figures of the early 20th century. Gregor's unique bug-like perspective endears him to those that he becomes close to. But it is also this unique bug-like perspective that focuses clarity into America's moral conscience during that turbulent period.
I wanted to give Insect Dreams 5-stars but I did find the book to be a little uneven in flow. Certain parts were drawn out to the point where the book lost momentum that had to be recaptured in later sections. Still, Insect Dreams is an imaginative endeavor that is well worth reading.
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By A Customer on June 30 2003
Format: Paperback
Twentieth century history is brilliantly reimagined through the eyes of Gregor Samsa, the fabric salesman turned cockroach from Kafka's Metamorphosis. Gregor begins his "half-life" as a circus performer in Vienna, and then, later, when he migrates to the United States, becomes an elevator operator, as he continues his conscious and unconscious musings on humanity and inhumanity. Gregor lives the "American Dream", following an unimaginable career path, becoming one of the 20th century's foremost existentialists, artists, activists, and insurance industry risk assessors, and in doing so, he provides a funny, tragic, and thought provoking critique of Western civilization, particularly the United States.
Gregor suffers from an unhealing wound in his back, inflicted when his father, frightened by his new form, threw an apple at him, a metaphor that is implicitly explored throughout the novel. Gregor stumbles upon so many pivitol figures throughout the book, that in that respect, Insect Dreams is reminiscent of Forest Gump, yet that allusion is delightful. Estrin is erudite, so at times one might need to look up a fact or a figure, but the entire experience is worth it.
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Format: Paperback
Yes, it was funny in spots, initially cleverly conceived, crammed with interesting character sketches and re-imaginings of history, and the prose was smooth---but too many notes, Mr. Estrin. He met Wittgenstein, and Roentgen, and Alice Paul, and Ives, and FDR, and Feynman, and Oppenheimer! Yet where's the "so what?" of this story? What (exactly) makes Gregor stand apart from any other, non-cockroach, character who might have fit that particular slot? (The fact that no one seems too upset by his being a giant cockroach only serves my point: that there's really nothing peculiar about the "hero" of "Insect Dreams," nothing that couldn't manifest itself in some random human; say, Forrest Gump. Although this book is far more readable than that film was watchable.) There are so many places where the authorial camera treads in too-slow motion, forcing its readers to wade through pages of what it presents as but really isn't significant and overly charged with emotion. (Not one, but three lengthy descriptions of modern musical performances are what I'm thinking of here, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. And, come on, if you want your character to start visiting the Library of Congress, there are more thought-provoking, or simpler, ways than to fleetingly introduce a pointless love letter.)
The links (such as they are) to "the original" Kafka creation are tenuous at best. Perhaps they needn't be there at all, but an author appropriating another author's character has a duty, however small, to the original's memory. Kafka's creations are non-linear, mercurial, at times just plain unfathomable.
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