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Insect Dreams [Paperback]

Marc Estrin
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 4 2003
The metamorphosis of Kafka's Gregor Samsa from fabric salesman to cockroach was surely one of the momentous transformations of the modern world. Now, in Marc Estrin's astounding debut, Gregor undergoes yet another metamorphosis-one that propels him across the rocky and often ridiculous landscape of the early twentieth century. In these continuously surprising pages, Estrin's Gregor scuttles his way from Wittgenstein to Alice Paul to FDR, and emerges from it all as the very essence of modern conscience.

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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.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars An Imaginative Sequel May 5 2004
By Brkat
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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4.0 out of 5 stars An Existential Cockroach 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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3.0 out of 5 stars franz is spinning in his grave! (2.5 stars) June 4 2003
By adele_h
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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5.0 out of 5 stars A comic masterpiece impressive for its erudition June 23 2002
Format:Hardcover
"Insect Dreams" begins with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and ends three decades later with the explosion at Los Alamos of the world's first atomic bomb; its 450 pages presents many of the era's major events and personalities as seen through the eyes of--well, of a cockroach.
But not just any cockroach. Gregor Samsa is the mistaken-for-dead human-bug mutant who made his debut in Franz Kakfa's "Metamorphosis." In this "sequel," Samsa is rescued by a freak show in Austria, where he teaches philosophy and physics to the masses and eventually meets Musil and Wittgenstein. He emigrates to America and becomes an exhibit at the Scopes Trial and a key player in the Roosevelt administration. Any plot summary (including mine) will necessarily make the book sound positively silly, but Estrin somehow pulls it off--again and again. ....
The most enviable aspect of Estrin's debut (and I simply cannot believe that this is his first novel!) is that it manages to frame an extraordinarily satisfying intellectual feast with a page-turning plot that is both hilarious and moving. Encapsulating what was arguably the worst thirty years in human history, yet featuring some of the most brilliant minds ever produced by civilization, this literary masterpiece will appeal to both brainiacs and beach-readers.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Staggering. Enthralling. Exceptional. Bow-inducing.
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. Read more
Published on July 25 2009 by Schmadrian
5.0 out of 5 stars Better than Forrest Gump
This book is a fascinating, entertaining look at world history in the first half of the 20th century. Read more
Published on March 25 2003 by Michael Skov
5.0 out of 5 stars astonishing book
Insect Dreams is a great achievement. The language is precise, rich and resonant, the range of characters vast, the intellectual and emotional content constantly challenging, the... Read more
Published on Aug. 10 2002 by R. Linder
4.0 out of 5 stars UUbooks Selection
Insect Dreams is the UUbooks.org book-of-the-month selection for October 2002. UUbooks is the online reading group for Unitarian Universalists and friends. Read more
Published on July 22 2002 by Matthew Gatheringwater
5.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful Book!!!!!
INSECT DREAMS is an allegory following in the footsteps of THE PILGRIM'S PROGRESS, GULLIVER'S TRAVELS and CANDIDE. Read more
Published on April 1 2002 by James H. Schwartz
5.0 out of 5 stars Estrin did it. He made me love a roach.
When an imaginative and gifted author can use a giant roach as his main character, include a romance between the roach and a human, and still make you love him, he's accomplished a... Read more
Published on March 1 2002 by Mary Whipple
5.0 out of 5 stars A tour de force, as moving as it is ambitious
There's been a lot of "industry buzz" about this one, so I was both looking forward to reading it and dreading it--such is the nature of "industry buzz. Read more
Published on Feb. 19 2002
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