Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"In 1902 Father built a house at the crest of the Broadview Avenue hill in New Rochelle, New York."

I've always wanted to read something by E.L. Doctorow and now I've finished my first of his novels with Ragtime. This book is a mix of fiction and historical fiction set mostly in New York in the early 1900s. There are multiple plot lines in the book, some that progress and intersect and others that are merely vignettes.

A wide variety of historical figures make appearances -- from escape artist Harry Houdini to "it girl" Evelyn Nesbit and workers' rights advocate and Socialist leader Emma Goldman. There are three fictional families in the story -- one is the family of a successful businessman and explorer, the second is an immigrant Jewish father and daughter and the final one, a family not yet fully formed, is a young black working class girl, her baby and her sometimes beau, a ragtime pianist. These families all encounter the prejudices and disadvantages of the period which have various degrees of effect on their lives. They all do the best they can to achieve the American dream but it turns out that it might not be available to everyone.

This is one of my selections for the Take a Chance Challenge. It was my choice for the Birth Year Book. The challenge was this -- Find a book that was published or copyrighted in the year of your birth. Read the book and write about it.

My birth year is 1975 and this was an award winning novel from that year. I'm glad to have chosen this book. I don't think I would have ever picked it up on my own but it was a well-composed and poignant story of a time quite different from our own. The juxtaposition of the lives of tycoon J.P. Morgan and Tateh, a poor Jewish immigrant, living in the same city but living in opposite situations, highlights the disparity of the era. I will definitely look for more books set in this time and will also read other books by Doctorow.

This novel also happens to count toward the 1% Well-Read Challenge. I can easily understand why this novel is on the list as it was more era-driven than plot-driven. It highlights some parts of our nation's history that some would like forgotten but are essential to remember. Recently, the L.A. Times book blog highlighted part of their original review of Ragtime if you're interested.

Doctorow has one other novel on the list, The Book of Daniel, that is about the Rosenbergs, alleged spies for the USSR that were executed by the U.S.. Based on Ragtime, I would trust that book to be a strong historical fiction as well.

Learning about America one brief period at a time,

Support our site and buy Ragtime on Amazon or find it at your local library. We bought our own copy.


  1. I've never read anything by this author either but feel like I should ... glad you got "double challenge points" for this read!

  2. Sounds like a book I would really like, I'll have to put it on my TBR list. If I buy it on Amazon, I'll be sure to go through your site so you get a few pennies. :)

  3. Jenners - I will probably read more by him so that I can compare.

    Corbett family - I hope that you get to read it at some point! And thanks for the thought on the pennies ... that seems to be all that comes in here. ;)