The story opens in 1906 in New Rochelle, New York, at the home of an affluent American family. One lazy Sunday afternoon, the famous escape artist Harry Houdini swerves his car into a telephone pole outside their house. Almost magically, the line between fantasy and historical fact, between real and imaginary characters, disappears. Henry Ford, Emma Goldman, J. P. Morgan, Evelyn Nesbit, Sigmund Freud, and Emiliano Zapata slip in and out of the tale, crossing paths with Doctorow's imagined family and other fictional characters, including an immigrant peddler and a ragtime musician from Harlem whose insistence on a point of justice drives him to revolutionary violence.
A rich tapestry, Ragtime captures the spirit of America in a unique historic context.
Time magazine included the novel in its Time 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923-2005.
©1997 E. L. Doctorow; (P)1997 E. L. Doctorow
"Doctorow does a fairly nice job reading his justly celebrated portrait of 1906 America. He has a sandy, pleasant, lightly accented voice and a fine sense of the dramatic." (AudioFile)
trying to see the world with my ears
Too good for my words, anyway! I downloaded this because it was cheap and I was dimly aware that was supposed to be a good novel (but must confess that I am a Can Lit and Brit Lit fan and not so much interested in Americana - so I didn't approach the listen with great expectations.) I think it one of the most fascinating novels I've ever come across! I can't believe I was given a degree in literature and history without being advised to read this imaginative cross pollination somewhere along the way.
Doctorow begins by telling us that he is going to "say" us a novel. So -- he is not a professional narrator with stage voices- but in this case author narration works wonderfully. I felt like I was sitting at his feet listening as he invented the tale. I am going to buy a paper copy, and I know that I will listen to the audio again. Though it was written before folks began to think of how a book would "Play" in audio, it is one of the few novels that I will have enjoyed more in audio than paper format I think.
I am motivated to see Milos Foreman's film version, too, though that seems to represent only a small part of the novel as a whole from what I've read..
I already love the musical so I had wanted to read the book for a while. As usual the book is even better. The perfect combination of history and fiction. I did not want to
I also just listened to Caleb's Crossing on Audible. Another good mix of fact and fiction.
Doctorow's reading is excellent. Fast-paced when the story needed, more tender when needed. Not all authors make good readers, but Doctorow was perfect.
Mother. She was a modern woman at the turn of the century, realizing her life did not have to depend on a man. And that her compassion for Sarah, Coalhouse, and the baby were what drove her decisions.
Some of the audio books I have purchased on Audible seem to have a very muffled audio quality, including Ragtime.
I liked this book much better than I ever thought I would when I started it. At first, I was really confused as to whether it was fiction or non-fiction because of the style E. L. Doctorow uses in his writing. I have never read or listened to anything quite like it. But I soon realized it was a combination of fact and fiction, pulled together in a way that was compelling and interesting from the outset. I found myself looking people up on Wikipedia to see if they were real, and what their real stories were. I learned a lot. Most of the characters with names were real people. Maybe some of the nameless characters were too, but I couldn't check them out. It is a rather dark story, but it does have its light and happy moments, and has a great ending. It is a great commentary on real life.
After a fiasco with a certain author's books (I bought five but I could not stand the first one so I never read the rest of them), I decided not to read more than one book per author unless the one I read was really life-changing, but in the end, I promised myself to try another E. L. Doctorow novel in the future. I would like to hear it read by someone besides the author, though, or just physically read it. Not that E. L. was bad, but it is a rare author who can really read like a professional narrator.
I can highly recommend this book to anyone interested in history, especially early 20th century, or anyone who wants a well written, interesting, but definitely different kind of book.
Moments of greatness
Yes. He's a suburb writer and can spin a great story. Parts of Ragtime were so good I couldn't get them out of my mind for days. But seeing his best then makes the less successful chapters seem a little lazy.
The early chapter walking through the horrors of industrial America on the working class was as good as Leaves of Grass -- powerful, lyrical, and fast paced.
I like the novel. It is written in a rather newspaper-ish/history book type style and blends in fictional people with historical, most notably Houdini, and still delivers a good story with people you care about revolving around racism in NY. I would say that Doctorow isn't quite the stylist I thought he was, and like many authors reading their own work, not a good narrator. He does have the virtue of reading quickly and moving along so that it never drags. He does not do voices very well at all, to the point there is no differentiation between characters, but again this can be overlooked as the story moves briskly and is filled with historical tidbits that never let my interest flag. Compared to the Pynchon Bleeding Edge narration debacle, this is a masterpiece of voice work. It would be nice to see it redone some day by a better reader, but until then this will work.
A part-time buffoon and ersatz scholar specializing in BS, pedantry, schmaltz and cultural coprophagia.
So my first book of 2014 isn't even on my to-read list. Must be good. Yes, in fact it is the killer historical novel of the Ragtime era. It is the big uncle to late 90s Philip Roth ('I Married a Communist', 'American Pastoral') , Don DeLillo ('Libra', 'Underworld'), Gore Vidal ('Empire, Hollywood') & Norman Mailer* (Executioner's Song & Harlot's Ghost) novels which seem to all bend a little to the wind that blew out of this syncopated, tight, urgent historical novel. Doctorow captures a swift and direct channel of New York's energy, contradiction, growth, insecurity, isolation as America transformed between the late 1800s and early 1900s. It captured the race, immigrant, monied, and cultural changes that griped New York as cars were beginning to roll down the streets and planes and Houdini were both beginning to float, briefly, in the air.
* Doctorow actually edited Norman Mailer's 'An American Dream' so it might seem odd to call Doctorow a literary uncle to Mailer since 'Ragitme' was originally published in 1974, but as most large families invariably find some nephews ARE actually older than their biological uncles. But I still hold that 'Ragtime' was influential on Mailer's later historical novels and even nonfiction. OK, so, perhaps Mailer and Doctorow are more like kissing cousins. Fine. I'll call them cousins.
The story lines were slow and the narration was slower. Even the abridged version would have been too long.
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