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Necessary Errors

3.33 of 5 stars 3.33  ·  rating details  ·  501 ratings  ·  113 reviews
An exquisite debut novel that brilliantly captures the lives and romances of young expatriates in newly democratic Prague

It’s October 1990. Jacob Putnam is young and full of ideas. He’s arrived a year too late to witness Czechoslovakia’s revolution, but he still hopes to find its spirit, somehow.He discovers a country at a crossroads between communism and capitalism, and a
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Paperback, 480 pages
Published August 6th 2013 by Penguin Books (first published July 30th 2013)
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Jeffrey Keeten
”The epoch of unexpected happiness and drunkenness lasted only two short years; the madness was so excessive and so general that it would be impossible for me to give any idea of it, except by this historical and penetrating reflection: the people had been bored for a hundred years.” Stendhal

 photo Policemen_and_flowers_zpsf07797f5.jpg
The Velvet Revolution

The Velvet Revolution happened in Prague between November 17th through December 26th 1989. Crowds of protesters swelling to as many as 500,000 descended on Prague and riot police were s
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Paul
Aug 24, 2013 Paul rated it 1 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2013
Pretty much a supreme disappointment. I fell in love with (er, really liked, anyway) Crain's writing after reading his novella "Sweet Grafton" in n+1 five years ago, and was crazy excited to learn a year or so ago that he had a novel coming out. Needless to say, my expectations were high. And boy did this book fail to live up. In a word, this novel is: Boring. A bunch of expats hanging out in Prague after the Velvet Revolution. Doing what? Oh, nothing much. Hanging out in bars, coffee shops, apa ...more
Hank Stuever
Some of the other reviews (here at Goodreads and in the press) have pointed out that Caleb Crain’s “Necessary Errors” is too long and that not enough happens, and I worry that those comments are easily dismissed as impatient or unsophisticated. It’s certainly the case that “TOO LONG!” is often more of an excuse for the narrowing cultural attention span than a valid, careful criticism.

So hear me out when I say that “Necessary Errors” is too self-indulgent and much, much, much too long – by at le
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Joe Salas
I read this book whilst I was away for two weeks in Seattle. I fell asleep every night reading this book in bed. I read until my eyes were tired and I couldn't keep them open anymore. Some parts of the book, I'd lose track of what was going on, and had to re-read passages a second or third time sometimes. And I still couldn't figure out what was going on. Though I couldn't tell whether this might be because I was often reading in bed, at the end of a long day, usually after having lots of cockta ...more
Sara Haasis
Admittedly, I didn't finish this book so keep that in mind with this review. I really tried but eventually it felt like too much of a chore to open it and I gave up at about 300 pages. I feel like I just didn't get it. It gave the impression it has a lot to say about capitalism, culture clashes, and being an American abroad; maybe someone more familiar with philosophy and history would have found something to sink their teeth into. Mostly, I was bored. It was impossible to read more than 20 page ...more
Paul Buttenwieser
I was tremendously moved by Necessary Errors. It's a hard book to rate, because of some disparities in formal qualities. Line by line the writing is exquisitely fine, often witty, and without pretentiousness. However, reading one exquisite sentence after another can become tedious at times, and not every scene needs a detailed physical description, not every gesture or movement a simile. All in all, it does go on, especially since there's essentially no plot except for the unfolding of a momento ...more
Andy Bird
This book was trying in parts, the author can turn out wonderful lines & paragraphs, but went on too long.

There is some strong writing about living abroad, being alone, coming out, falling in with a group of friends. Still, it would have had much more impact, I think, if considerable chunks were cut. They interminable, multiple, ESL classes have the reader too much time to recover from the emotional bits.

Still, worth a read for the strong parts!

Edit: I was sick with a bad cold while I read
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Julie Ehlers
I loved this novel. One of the blurbs on the back cover describes this as "both transitory and indelible," and I agree. It was both timeless and of a particular moment, an old-fashioned novel but distinctly contemporary at the same time. I loved being immersed in 1990s Prague, because that's what this was--an immersion in the lives of Jacob, his friends, and the people who pass in and out of their lives. This was not the typical video-game-style novel that everyone seems so enamored of these day ...more
Chrissy
I really want to rate this book higher but can't pretend that it didn't fall flat for me, no matter how talented and incredibly smart I find this author. Having come of age during the fall of communism, I loved the setting in 1990 Prague and how Prague became a character itself in the novel. By using young ex-pats who spend a lot of time drinking and bonding in a foreign land, he was able to include a bunch of philosophical commentary on the good and bad of capitalism, and evoked well the transi ...more
oriana
Dec 12, 2013 oriana marked it as to-read
Shelves: to-read-soon
From Flavorwire's "10 Best Debut Novels of 2013" list:

Crain is the rare debut novelist who writes with the sort of confidence we’d expect from an author who has already penned books upon books. And, in fact, Crain is no novice; he has been writing about, studying, and translating literature for years now. That’s probably why Crain’s novel, following the life of Jacob Putnam, a gay man in post-Velvet Revolution Prague, feels more like a fourth or fifth novel. His control of pace and affect, and h
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Tuckova
Loved the first third as a perfect evocation of either my own experiences or the experiences of people I knew when this was set -- I had these conversations, I know this to be true. The second third devolved into weird "Or is he a spy?" type stuff that reminded me unpleasantly of Arthur Phillip's "Prague" and some really horrible dialogue tags to rival Hollinghurst ("Really?", she replied, to indicate her complete displeasure with the entire expat scene, stretching her arms in a schoolgirl gestu ...more
Judith Shadford
Persuaded by James Wood's (New Yorker, 9/2/13) high praise, I labored through this novel of Prague 1990 through the eyes of Jacob, an American in his 20s, sorting out his life, who and why he is and do those questions imply he should write a novel. He teaches English, along with a collection of ex-pats from America, England and Scotland. He has an affair with a Czech fellow (who's dodging his pimp) and a loving relationship with Milo. The prose is almost lovely, certainly an exercise in high ski ...more
Corey
The synopsis isn't much to look at. Caleb Crain's debut novel follows the story of Jacob, a gay American man who goes to Prague shortly after the Velvet Revolution, while the country is transitioning from communism to capitalism. Jacob makes friends. Jacob makes boyfriends. Jacob runs into male prostitutes, whom he disapproves of.

I hold this book in high regard, however, for several reason. Firstly, Crain writes beautiful sentences. One gets the sense that Crain really toiled over the prose her
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Karen
Jan 08, 2014 Karen rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Karen by: Airport bookstore browsing
This is when it's sweet to be a nanny, when the baby is asleep and all the morning stuff is done. I'm drinking nettle tea for no good reason and I found a French classical station so the station breaks aren't so irritating.

Necessary Errors is the book I should write. I picked it out at the airport bookstore because the cover has a satisfying texture and the pages have deckled edges, indicating that although it is new, and a paperback, the publishers consider it fairly literturey, and it should
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Amelia Gremelspacher
During the 1990's, Jacob has come to Prague thinking he is in search of a "spirit or mood" left by the splendid Velvet Revolution from Communism. The Berlin Wall has fallen. Europe is ascendant with change. Jacob, newly declared to the world as gay, believes he will have a special resonance with the spirit of change. He has cast off the world which has molded him, and he will revel in the atmosphere of new freedom. He has a job teaching English, although he speaks no Czech of any quantity.

In thi
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Joseph
I was a recipient of an advanced readers copy of Necessary Errors from Goodreads and, in general, really enjoyed Crain's writing. For a first novel (although Crain is an experienced writer), this is a very self-assured debut. He writes with grace and insight about a group of expatriates living in Prague around the time Vaclav Havel became President of Czechoslovakia and the country's transition from socialism to capitalism and the eventual dissolution of the country. Unfortunately, what remains ...more
Wooky
OK, I felt terrible giving it two stars originally. It really doesn't deserve that. For it was well-written, painstakingly so. And some of the scenes, especially with the main character teaching the young Czech kids, were very good, along with the dialogue. I was simply very disappointed--once I heard about the book, I'd flown to the library and grabbed it from the shelf. Young expats in the post-Communist Prague looking for love, adventure, etc, etc--I wanted to sink my teeth into the hefty 400 ...more
Aharon
You know how every time after the game the dumb sports reporter asks the dumb baseball player who got the key hit what he was thinking? And how he always says, "I was just trying to see the ball well, not trying to do too much with it, and I was fortunately able to put it in play and get something going"? Well, in this scenario, the player is Crain, the ball is 1990s Prague, and there is no interviewer. Go Yanks!

p.s. Pretty much all the native English speakers in the book talk like the douchey b
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Danielle
Is it fair to rate a book that I didn't finish? I think in light of the fact that I couldn't bring myself to finish it, yes. The writing here is beautiful. Lovely, vivid sentences. Lots and lots of sentences. The characters are realistic though a little out of reach from the reader perhaps. The setting is interesting, as is the premise, but the book just does not move, nor does it give the indication that it will move---there is no sense that something is about to happen, either in the plot or i ...more
Reader
See Paul Barrett's review above. It says pretty much most of what I think. Caleb Crain's historical novel about a gay American expatriate (working as an ESL teacher) in Prague a quarter-century ago, in 1990-91, is a great idea for a book, but it just doesn't work very well. Several reviewers (including "goodreaders") have praised its prose, but I found the writng rather flat, and the book's characters not particularly engaging or memorable. For a book that deals with expats in a place experienci ...more
Alice Dinizo
Literary critic and journalist Caleb Crain has written a prosaic and quite brilliant novel in "Necessary Errors". It will delight many with its well-created characters and strong plotline that will draw the reader into into this story of early 1990's Prague,Czechoslovakia which is transitioning after its liberation from Communist rule. Main character Jacob Putnam has arrived in Prague with thoughts of becoming a writer as he teaches English to Czechs. He gradually learns to accept himself as the ...more
Marissa Hare
Ugh I gave up. It was just too densely descriptive and the pace was plodding. I really wanted to like it. The characters were interesting and well crafted but i just couldn't keep reading. Life is too short for a book you don't like.
Brian Grover
This is basically a year in the life of a young American who moves to Prague in 1990 following the Velvet Revolution to teach English and try to find himself and figure out what he's going to do with his life. There's no major plot arc, it's just this guy and his friends (mostly fellow teachers from the UK) and the minutiae of their lives and interactions.

I have a few gripes. For one I think the conversations tend to be overly profound - nobody I knew when I was 22 talked like these people do ne
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Andy
Crain chooses an interesting historical moment for his setting: Prague in the early 90’s, as democracy is struggling to take hold. There he plunks down a diverse and well-drawn cast of characters, a bunch of expatriates of differing nationalities who come to the city mostly to teach English and seek out youthful adventures. The spirit animating the novel – the rudderless feel of early adulthood – is perhaps its greatest strength. Crain is also a gifted writer of dialogue, and the manner he devis ...more
William
The special strength of "Necessary Errors" is unusually beautiful writing. Crain makes you feel you are walking the streets of Prague just after the fall of the Communist government. He has an eye for detail -- surroundings, culture, character quirks, and especially for language. I was continually impressed by how effectively he conveyed English as spoken by Americans, Brits and Czechs. The nuances are remarkably sharply illustrated.

The major character in the book is the city of Prague, and I no
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Chloe
I enjoyed parts of this novel a lot. The first third was wonderful,and the group of friends were intriguing and well crafted. However, this novel was way too long. I don't normally complain about length, but by the third section, I was ready to be finished. The main character is just so whiny...and I know that's the point, but after almost 500 pages, I was ready to leave him behind.
Barbara Maclean


I agree with Hank's review: Much, much, much too long and I would add, not only lacking in plot, but also utterly pretentious. I stayed with it until the end, hoping it would pan out. ("There must be a pony...") I really wanted to care about Jacob, but just found him to be cloying. I couldn't wait for him to leave Prague so the book would finally end.

A sample, from page 305: "He fell again into the game of thinking about time. A year ago he had been in America, he recited to himself; two year
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Usclaw2010
I really wanted to like this book. It's right up my alley. A budding young writer, full of idealism and adventure journeys to Prague in 1990, fresh off the Velvet Revolution, and explores the city with a colorful group of expats. He has lots of sex (unfortunately not in 50 Shades of Grey detail),experiences heartbreak, culture, confronts his future as a writer. It's full of pretty sentences and feelings of what it's like to be young in an exciting foreign city, but lacks any action, and the clun ...more
Tiffany
This is a really interesting book for someone like me, for whom the revolution in Eastern Europe came just a few years too soon for me to enjoy its benefits. I adore the last line, and I nearly tweeted a quote from the middle of the last page. During my own semester abroad in France, while I was busy fleshing out my own identity, I traveled through Prague. That was 1998. Because of this story's proximity to my own experience, I found Jacob to be a very relatable character. This is not, however, ...more
Lauren
I give up. I was loath to give up on yet another book. I've had a bad run of it. And the writing in this one was lovely -- poetic and crisp with gorgeous phrases. But ultimately I kept falling asleep and spacing out while reading it! And I guess I just didn't care that much about the characters.
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“Jacob opened the refrigerator and stared into it vacantly, with the false purposefulness that lingers for a few moments when a person of a solitary nature is released from the company of a strong personality.” 1 likes
“Unable to see, they were briefly seized by the characteristic Prague anxiety of never finding the entrance--of arriving at one's goal but remaining blocked from it by a wall or a stone on account of having overlooked an alley or medieval door a few dozen yards back, which has served as the approach so immemorially that no one any longer marked or described it.” 0 likes
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