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World's Fair: A Novel [Paperback]

E.L. Doctorow
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
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Book Description

July 10 2007
"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 . . .

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Product Description

From School Library Journal

YA The 1930s was a turbulent time for America: the Great Depression, left-wing politics and the growing concern over the rise of Hitler in Europe. As seen through the eyes of nine-year-old Edgar Altshuler, these events provide a backdrop for the more intimate story of his own family and how they coped while living in the Bronx. They serve a symbolic purpose as well as a historical one. On his first visit to the fair, Edgar is enthralled by industry's vision of the futuresafe, secure and prosperous cities, speedy and cheap transportation and modern invention to make life easier. On his second visit, he sees that the exhibits are constructed of gypsum whose paint is peeling and that the displays are really toys. Reality has altered Edgar's perceptionshe is growing up. Edgar's chapters are randomly interspersed with his mother Rose's recollections and a few by his older brother Donald to give a seemingly simplistic view of life that is actually a rich narrative of history, political and personal values and points for discussion. A remarkable book for perceptive readers. Diana Hirsch, PGCMLS, Md.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From AudioFile

Flat and un-emotive are not words associated with E.L. Doctorow. Unfortunately, they are the prime descriptors of this rendition of Doctorow's recollection of a 1930s' New York boyhood. Lavelle has a well-modulated voice tinged with a minor key, which might work well for this New York story. Yet his slow, even reading is devoid of emotion. For all the interest he shows in the text, he might be clearly enunciating the telephone directory. A.C.S. © AudioFile 2005, Portland, Maine-- Copyright © AudioFile, Portland, Maine --This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.

Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Mature and insightful Nov. 4 2002
My dad is the same age as E.L. Doctorow, and although he did not grow up in NYC (visited there at times) he says that this novel is a close description of his own experience. It is about a very peculiar ethnic sub-group, New York jews who are not particularly religious and having "modern" ideas and lifestyle. To me Doctorow's book is one well-preserved verbal photograph after another. Somehow he conveys the scenes in a pre-Ektrachrome feeling, where bright colors are rendered in endlessly subtle shades of grey.
I hope that when I am Doctorow's age I will be able to summon up the wealth of memory detail he does. The images are authentically pressed from a the mind of a child not yet 12 years old. There are things that a child notices that an adult would not, such as how he likes how a particular door latch works or details from favorite comic books.
From there the narrative effortlessly moves to other characters in the story, written in the form of letters to the author. Everything is in place, and all of it wonderful to read.
This should be standard reading for any high school.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A wistful novel of nostalgia May 3 2002
By A.J.
E.L. Doctorow is probably New York's greatest literary nostalgia artist. While "Ragtime" recalls the city's colorful population explosion of immigrants at the beginning of the twentieth century and "Billy Bathgate" is a boy's Depression-era underworld fantasy, "World's Fair" evokes what it might have been like to grow up in the Bronx in the 1930's. The narrator, Doctorow's voice and presumed alter ego, is a Jewish boy named Edgar Altschuler who is about nine by the time the book ends, so it remains in a state of pre-pubescent innocence without entering into the turbulent years of adolescent awakening.
Edgar is an extremely observant child who is fascinated by the intricacies of the most mundane things and events. Normal kid routines like school, ball games, movies, comic books, and radio programs are described in loving detail as though he were eager to explain to his jaded adult readers what's so special about being a kid. Similarly, tragedies like the death of his grandmother, witnessing a woman getting hit by a car, and meeting terminally ill children in the hospital take on perceptively morbid new dimensions through Edgar's words.
The members of Edgar's immediate family are so realistic they seem like sepia-tinted photographs come to life. His father Dave co-owns a music store and, far from being the moral compass a father's role is traditionally given, is somewhat irresponsible and irreverent, a social activist about thirty years ahead of his time. Edgar's mother Rose is a bundle of anxiety, worrisome and contentious from living in a house full of men. His older brother, Donald, and uncle Willy are both musically inclined, one a failed bandleader, the other destined to be a failed bandleader.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful evocation of New York in the 1930's May 18 2000
We expect that Doctorow will use some piece of New York City's past as the setting for each of his novels but we also expect that he will give us a story with drama, tragedy or some wry take on the human comedy. In World's Fair he only gives us the view of time past. There is precious little story in this book. It deals with a young boy and his family during the 1930's and concerns itself mostly with ordinary life and the ups and downs of family relations. The story is mostly told by the younger son (who is nine at book's end) as he recounts his earliest memories, preoccupations, dreams, friends, illnesses and enthusiasms, but other characters (his mother, older brother and aunt) all have chapters in which they 'remember' the story from their own point of view. Yet if the plot is thin, the sense of reality generated by the writing is substantial. Doctorow uses the ordinary life of his characters to reflect and represent the broader story of the Great Depression, the rise of Nazi Germany, the extreme political divisions of the time, the fear of impending war and the great hope in a bright and shiney future free of the dark menace of poverty and repression.
This book kept me focused from the first few sentences. It doesn't demand a lot from the reader but it delivers a great deal. I suspect that there is a great deal of Doctorow himself in his main character. He was born in 1931, so would have been about the right age to experience the music, radio shows, games and other experiences that make up his protagonist's world. He certainly feels strongly about these simple byegone experiences and manages to convey that to the reader. This is a very satisfying glimpse into the life of ordinary but interesting people and I highly recommend it.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Well written but slow moving April 7 1998
This novel was extremely boring yet it portrayed the era of the 1930s extremely well. The characters were very bland and I felt no emotional connection to them whatsoever. The author doesn't reveal enough about the characters real, inner feelings for the reader to love and care about the welfare of these people. In other novels I have read taking place in this era, the novel did move slowly like this story but you felt such connection and compassion toward the characters that you HAD to keep reading. Although the characters were dull, the author did give the reader a good sense of the technology and attitudes at the time. The radio, for example, was shown in its true importance as the main form of entertainment and knowledge, and the rides and structures at the Worlds Fair today would seem timid and lame but back then were seen as impressive and inspirational for the future. Hitler, Nazism, and fascism were also shown well, not only as bad and awful but as something that many people didn't have that strong of feelings toward. Based on just the blandness of the characters I would have given this novel a "C" but because the era itself was shown realistically I give this novel a "B-".
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Stupid
My title seems trite and immature, but I am only using a word the author likes to use to describe others. This shows his own ignorance, which is reflected again in his work.
Published on June 29 2004
4.0 out of 5 stars A Fair World's Fair
Like a great painting, Doctorow choses his words carefully, depicting the 30s as the dark, mournful era that it was. Read more
Published on Jan. 22 2003 by Catherine M. Dorkin
5.0 out of 5 stars Such innocence!
This book was very hard to put down once I stared to read it. It's a simple story about a boy growing up in Depression era NYC. Read more
Published on Aug. 5 2002 by lou
4.0 out of 5 stars Another winner by Doctorow
For those of you who read Ragtime and were a little disappointed, then World's Fair is the book you should read. Read more
Published on April 3 2002 by
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved the "fair world" found in the pages of this book
I had read Doctorow's "Ragtime" and found it boring. A co-worker had just finished "World's Fair" and urged me to read it. Read more
Published on Oct. 22 2001
5.0 out of 5 stars WOW!
I don't think I have ever read a book that was so in tune with feelings I had as a child. Not meaning to be sexist, I had to question whether a woman might have written this book,... Read more
Published on Feb. 4 2001 by S. Griffin
4.0 out of 5 stars A great trip back to the '30s
A great time travel experience. Doctorow shows the reader New York City in the '30s as seen by a young boy. Brings the reader into a part of America long past. Read more
Published on Jan. 25 2001 by Scott Blake
5.0 out of 5 stars great book
An interesting story of life in New York seen through the eyes of a young child. Not really about the World's Fair, it provides an interesting look at life in the late thirties. Read more
Published on Oct. 11 1999 by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing tale of an era
An absorbing experience with New York-Bronx life in the '30s. The title is a bit mis-leading in that less than half the book is devoted to the 1939 World's Fair- that being my own... Read more
Published on Feb. 11 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars great book
this is a sensually stimulating book. the glories of the times were expertly portrayed.
Published on Dec 20 1998
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