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Motherless Brooklyn

3.91  ·  Rating Details  ·  23,303 Ratings  ·  1,939 Reviews
Lionel Essrog is Brooklyn’s very own self-appointed Human Freakshow, an orphan whose Tourettic impulses drive him to bark, count, and rip apart our language in startling and original ways. Together with three veterans of the St. Vincent’s Home for Boys, he works for small-time mobster Frank Minna’s limo service cum detective agency. Life without Frank Minna, the charismati ...more
Paperback, 311 pages
Published October 24th 2000 by Vintage (first published 1999)
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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg LarssonThe Big Sleep by Raymond ChandlerThe Maltese Falcon by Dashiell HammettThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark HaddonMurder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
Detective Fiction
21st out of 768 books — 903 voters
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. SalingerThe Great Gatsby by F. Scott FitzgeraldA Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty  SmithBreakfast at Tiffany's by Truman CapoteExtremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
Tales of New York City
33rd out of 1,024 books — 923 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Nov 24, 2012 Jason rated it really liked it
I used to have a customer with Tourette’s. Back when I was a teenage supermarket teller, a million and a half years ago, she used to come through my line routinely. At the time, I didn’t reflect much on her condition other than that I assumed it must be tough for her occasionally, but how tough it really was I considered only in the vaguest sense, to the extent that I considered it at all. (Sorry, lady, but I was 17 and had a whole slew of 17 year-old thoughts to preoccupy myself with.) She seem ...more
Apr 01, 2016 Darwin8u rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
“Tourette's is just one big lifetime of tag, really. The world (or my brain---same thing) appoints me it, again and again. So I tag back. Can it do otherwise? If you've ever been it you know the answer.”
― Jonathan Lethem, Motherless Brooklyn


A kinda egg-sandwich surprise, hardboilded detective novel. I'm still a bit unsure of what exactly was all tossed in (is that lemongrass?). Zen masters? Check. Tourette's? Check. Man-crushes and awkward touches? Check check. Prince (or the Artist Formerly Kn
Nov 11, 2015 Elyse rated it really liked it
I read this 'often hilarious'-[one-of-a-kind]-novel many years ago --

The main character has Tourette's syndrome. I must have read this about 10 years ago. I've yet to read another novel (crime-satire-whodunit-to boot), with a story centered around 'Tourette's syndrome.
No other author wanted to go toe-to-toe with, Jonathan Lethem, huh?

"Eat S*it"... "go F#*+K yourself" ...."Thehorrorthehorror" .....
and "Icouldabeenacontender!" is endearing in the most pure *Zen-in-the city*!

Wonderful reviews he
Aug 18, 2009 JSou rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Maybe I've just been lucky picking out some incredible books lately, but I feel like a lot of them are "my new favorite", or "one of the best I've read this year", but I really have to say it again for Motherless Brooklyn. Lethem's writing style had me from the beginning, and the story, being told from the perspective of Lionel Essrog, a man with Tourette's Syndrome was fascinating. It reads like a mystery/detective novel, but really, it's so much more than that.

Also, it was just one of those bo
Dec 15, 2009 Jason rated it it was ok
Way too gimmicky! About Motherless Brooklyn Newsday calls Jonathan Lethem "one of the most original voices among younger American novelists;" while Entertainment Weekly describes him as "one of our most inventive, stylish and sensous writers." I strongly disagree. I think these organiztions have confused originality with gimmickry.

Goodreads interviewed Jonathan Lethem in their November newsletter. I'd never heard of him. I checked out a couple of his books at the library, one for me, one for my
Dec 04, 2013 Steve rated it really liked it
Frank Minna was a small fish in a big city pond full of piranhas and scum. He was nimble, though; good with angles. His best move was when he recruited four young guys from the local orphanage, before they were old enough to shave, to be errand boys. These young bucks were eager, loyal assistants that somebody dubbed Motherless Brooklyn. Frank treated them to bigger boy delights like twenty dollar bills and bottles of beer for their efforts, and they just stayed on staff as they got older and mo ...more
Jan Rice
Aug 06, 2015 Jan Rice rated it it was amazing

And the third time's indeed the charm!
Read previously circa 2000 and again several years later. My first read, at least, was as an audiobook.

This is the tale of four punks and a hood
In Brooklyn, New York, tryin' to make good,
Mommyless orphanage, no Cub Scouts or den--
Instead, Mista Meanor made 'em his men.

Once they're abandoned, the center can't hold;
Our ticcy hero must be bold (or fold).

You follow the thread as the story unspools,
Learning who are the wise guys and who are the fools
And who, th
Aug 06, 2009 Kim rated it really liked it

Tell me to do it muffin ass …. to rest the lust of a loaftomb! …. Barnamum Pierogi lug!

Meet Lionel Essrog. Viable Guessfrog, Lionel Deathclam, Liable Guesscog, Ironic Pissclam. Lionel is a Minna Man. A full fledged Hardly Boy… A freakshow… A member of Motherless Brooklyn.

I love Lionel. Not in my special groupie way. Hold your hats here; I might be growing as a person. Nah. I just really love Lionel’s brain. Peirogi kumquat sushiphone! Domestic marshmallow ghost! Insatiable Mallomar!

Did I men
Nov 02, 2012 Drew rated it really liked it
Is Jonathan Lethem a genius? A virtuoso? (to use the terms used ad naus. in The Loser) I think not. Is Motherless Brooklyn a work of genius? Also no. But that doesn't mean it isn't still awesome.

Lethem's deconstruction of the detective novel is painfully obvious. He fashions his protagonist by stripping him of one of the most recognizable traits of the hard-boiled private eye--laconism. Lionel Essrog doesn't have a way with words; they have their way with him. Every time he questions someone to
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
Aug 06, 2012 Nathan "N.R." Gaddis rated it it was ok
Every few months a book gets past my quality control screening. I ought to stop beating myself up over that fact. Generally I am happy to outsource my opinions about books not yet read to smarter people; I must have lapsed this time out, tempted by the $0.3333 price tag for a recognized yet unknown author with a sexy name. I had a strong desire to drop this text at page 30, but my inexperience with positively negative reviews naively committed myself to reading the whole damn thing merely for th ...more
Jul 06, 2008 Alison rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: "crazies", "maniacs", "freaks" (i.e. everybody)
Motherless Brooklyn is a beautifully written novel about a complicated man named Lionel Essrog who is an orphan and a sufferer of Tourette's. As we all know about Tourette's, the syndrome causes you to spurt out words (sometimes profanity) during periods of stress in order to ease an internal undying mental angst. Lionel also suffers from OCD and the infinite need to count mix words in his head and regurgitate them in order to sort through the chaos that is everday life for a hood in ...more
Violet wells
There are more laugh out loud moments in this novel than in anything I’ve read for ages. Lionel, the orphaned aspiring detective with Tourettes is an adorable character. (Lethem helps us understand that we all have Tourettes to some extent: "Insomnia is a variant of Tourette's--the waking brain races, sampling the world after the world has turned away, touching it everywhere, refusing to settle, to join the collective nod. The insomniac brain is a sort of conspiracy theorist as well, believing t ...more
Mattia Ravasi
Jan 06, 2016 Mattia Ravasi rated it it was amazing
#3 in my Top 20 Books I Read in 2015:

Long story short: possibly the best detective novel ever written, certainly one of the best novels of the last twenty years. A beautifully orchestrated hard-boliled story that smells of pavement, incense and White Castle burgers, one that manages to be mercilessly real, breath-takingly beautiful and deeply deeply emotional. And don't make me start on the narrator be
Myleen  Hollero
Sep 13, 2007 Myleen Hollero rated it it was amazing
"eat shit, dickyweed"
Gary  the Bookworm
Apr 30, 2013 Gary the Bookworm rated it liked it
Lionel Essrog is an unforgettable character. Like all fictional detectives he has one defining characteristic; something which sets him apart: Lionel has Tourette's Syndrome. This turns out to be an asset for him when he sets out to find his mentor's killer because everyone assumes he is stupid. What works for him as a detective unfortunately undermines his effectiveness as the protagonist and narrator. The virtuosity demonstrated by Lethem, as he joyfully strings syllables together for Lionel t ...more
Desde La conciencia de Zeno andaba buscando una novela entretenida, bien narrada, con un personaje atrayente, y por fin la he encontrado. Quise agenciarme Huérfanos de Brooklyn desde que leí una reseña elogiosa en un blog, y aunque me costó mucho dar con un ejemplar, la espera ha merecido la pena.

Es imposible aburrirse con esta novela; el misterio sobre quién ordenó matar a Frank Minna, el protector de los cuatro huérfanos que le ayudan en sus trapicheos, se mantiene hasta el final. Lionel Essr
Feb 13, 2009 Chloe rated it it was amazing
I have been on a bit of a mystery bender lately and I'm not quite sure what to make of that. Perhaps it's the return to the overcast North-West that sends me wanting to plumb the depths of human behavior. The gray skies and early sunsets bring out a curiosity about people's inner darkness which is always matched, measure for measure, by the capacity for redemption. Toughs with no visible qualities reveal a fierce dedication to recently killed compatriots. Prima facie immorality is revealed to be ...more
I'd always planned on really loving this book, not sure why or how that started but it was probably when Fortress of Solitude came out and I really loved that (really loved the first half, anyway) and a bunch of people told me Motherless Brooklyn was even better. It sounded like something I'd like a lot, so I've tried every few years since then but could never make it in past the beginning. This time, though, I did, and read the whole thing pretty quickly and without too much groaning or whining ...more
Jonathan Peto
Apr 10, 2012 Jonathan Peto rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this story quite a bit. I have no idea if the main character, Lionel Essrog, is portrayed accurately or well, since he has Tourette's Syndrome, but it's interesting, as well as funny and sad at times. It's a detective story, a spoof perhaps, but not an obnoxious send-up. The genre's cliches are not included for cheap laughs; they are put to good use.

Lionel's boss is murdered at the beginning. And then they're off and running! Brooklyn, a Russian killer, mafioso, small time hoods, Japan
Jun 07, 2014 Abby rated it liked it
Shelves: 2014
My words begin plucking at threads nervously, seeking purchase, a weak point, a vulnerable ear. That's when it comes, the urge to shout in the church, the nursery, the crowded movie house. It's an itch at first. Inconsequential. But the itch is soon a torrent behind a straining dam. Noah's flood. That itch is my whole life. Here it comes now. Cover your ears. Build an ark.

“Eat me!” I scream.

Or more often, “Eat me, dickweed!” Meet Lionel Essrog, undoubtedly the only fictitious gumshoe with Touret
David Lentz
Jun 21, 2011 David Lentz rated it it was amazing
Lionel Essrog must rank as one of the most original narrators of a novel in contemporary fiction. He deals in good faith with his Tourette's syndrome, gently educating us, amid the harsh and brutal reality of Brooklyn. Essrog is a kind of existential orphan in a motherless city. He is consumed with finding order, patterns, balance, symmetry and controlling urges to scream his innermost sensibilities in public. His friends call him "Freak Show" and yet he has one of the most endearing narrative v ...more
Jeremy Zerbe
Dec 04, 2013 Jeremy Zerbe rated it really liked it
I've got this bad habit. Sometimes, in half a frenzy, not even knowing what I'm doing, I find myself on the way out of a bookstore with a bag of books that I've just bought for no other reason than the fact that I felt like I needed a book. I am not at my most discerning in these shopping sprees, judging books not only by their covers, but by their font, their publisher and their author's name and its corresponding coolness. Sometimes, I come out on top, and I stumble upon amazing authors before ...more
Despoina Despoina
Feb 17, 2016 Despoina Despoina rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
Ένα αστυνομικό βιβλίο (δεν το λες λογοτεχνία) που περιγράφει "εκ των έσω" το σύνδρομο Τουρέ: ο ήρωας, ο αφηγητής, πάσχει από σύνδρομο Τουρέ και εμείς είμαστε μέσα στο μυαλό του, ακούμε τις σκέψεις του, ακούμε για ποιο λόγο αντιδράει (και μιλάει) καθοδηγούμενος από το σύνδρομό του.
Συνειδητοποιείς ότι άλλο να ξέρεις θεωρητικά περί τίνος πρόκειται κι άλλο να το διαβάζεις έτσι, από πρώτο χέρι...
Βρήκα εξαιρετικά πρωτότυπη την ιδέα του συγγραφέα, πολύ χρήσιμη-σχεδόν ευεργετική για τους ανθρώπους που έ
Jan 12, 2011 Ellie rated it it was amazing
This book came out when I was at the height of my fascination with Tourette's Syndrome so that probably played a part in how much I loved it. As well as loving most things Brooklyn, orphan or neglected children as heroes, and, oh year, GREAT writing. I love ALL things Lethem (and not because he writes about Brooklyn but probably the other way around!).
This story of a feisty, resilient, greatly-buffeted boy growing up in (you guessed it) Brooklyn is ultimately a moving tribute to childhood and hu
Πώς θα σας φαινόταν αν ο ντετέκτιβ που έχετε προσλάβει έμπαινε σε ένα δωμάτιο με υπόπτους κραυγάζοντας, «Πιρόγκι κουμκουάτ σουσίφωνο. Παράγκα λουκουμά φάντασμα. Αχόρταγο μάλομαρ. Πνιγμένο πιρογκίφωνο!» και άγγιζε σαν νευρόσπαστο τους παρευρισκόμενους; Σίγουρα θα σκεφτόσασταν ότι πετάξατε τα λεφτά σας σε ένα φρικιό. Αυτό ακριβώς όμως είναι σύμφωνα με τους άλλους ο Λάιονελ Έσρογκ, επίδοξος ερασιτέχνης ντετέκτιβ, πρωταγωνιστής του βιβλίου του Τζόναθαν Λέθεμ.

Ο Λάιονελ Έσρογκ πάσχει από σύνδρομο Τουρ
Frank Minna is a neighbourhood owner of a seedy detective agency, or he was until he was found stabbed to death. Lionel, along with Tony, Danny and Gilbert worked for Frank and were often collectively known as Minna Men. The group grow up together in St. Vincent’s Home for Boys and owe a lot to this small time mobster turned private eye. Lionel is determined to find out what happened by Frank.

This is my first Jonathan Lethem novel and I have been keen to read him for a long time. What I heard ab
Nov 21, 2012 Sergsab rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Pensaba darle 4 estrellas. La novela no es perfecta y soy capaz de detectar los defectos. Pero si la novela hubiese sido la perfecta historia noir, ejemplar en contenido y ejecución, seguramente no me hubiera conmovido como lo ha hecho esta impresionante e imperfecta novela de detectives.

Porque Lionel Essrog es un personaje tan bien construido, tan sólido y distópico en su forma de estar en el mundo que todo cobra un nuevo sentido. Sus tics son un ventana desde la que ver de forma t
Jun 06, 2009 James rated it did not like it
It is very rare for me to despise a novel like I despised this one. I don't even know where to begin. As the title and cover indicate, it aims at some sort of evocation of Brooklyn, which I suppose is necessary so that Lethem can continue to be the Brooklyn institution that he is. The problem is that his Brooklyn and his characters resemble nothing that has ever existed anywhere (although it did remind me of "Sleepers" a little bit). I think I'm especially bitter because I've recently read "Lush ...more
Jun 09, 2010 Ami rated it liked it
Lionel Essrog, a detective suffering from Tourette's syndrome, which compels him to count, tap and make strange vocalizations at inopportune moments, spins the narrative as he tracks down the killer of his boss, Frank Minna. Minna enlisted Lionel and his friends when they were teenagers living at Saint Vincent's Home for Boys, ostensibly to perform odd jobs (we're talking very odd) and over the years trained them to become a team of investigators. The Minna men face their most daunting case when ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Mar 26, 2012 Jenny (Reading Envy) rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read05
Seriously, if you haven't yet read anything by Lethem, do it! This book is about a detective with Tourette's, and the writing is hysterical. It would be a normal mystery except for the internal (and external) dialogue of the character, putting in ridiculous words like EATMEBAILEY in the middle of sentences. ...more
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Steve Buscemi or Frank Muller 1 17 May 29, 2014 04:46PM  
New Lethem story in this week's New Yorker 3 54 Apr 20, 2014 09:01AM  
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Jonathan Allen Lethem (born February 19, 1964) is an American novelist, essayist and short story writer.

His first novel, Gun, with Occasional Music, a genre work that mixed elements of science fiction and detective fiction, was published in 1994. It was followed by three more science fiction novels. In 1999, Lethem published Motherless Brooklyn, a National Book Critics Circle Award-winning novel t
More about Jonathan Lethem...

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“Insomnia is a variant of Tourette's--the waking brain races, sampling the world after the world has turned away, touching it everywhere, refusing to settle, to join the collective nod. The insomniac brain is a sort of conspiracy theorist as well, believing too much in its own paranoiac importance--as though if it were to blink, then doze, the world might be overrun by some encroaching calamity, which its obsessive musings are somehow fending off.” 183 likes
“Someday I'd change my name to Shut Up and save everybody a lot of time.” 22 likes
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