Die Fahrstuhlinspektorin.
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Die Fahrstuhlinspektorin.

3.72 of 5 stars 3.72  ·  rating details  ·  3,649 ratings  ·  440 reviews
Verticality, architectural and social, is the lofty idea at the heart of Colson Whitehead's odd, sly, and ultimately irresistible first novel. The setting is an unnamed though obviously New Yorkish high-rise city, the time less convincingly future than deliciously other, as it combines 21st-century engineering feats with 19th-century pork-barrel politics and smoky working-...more
Hardcover, 317 pages
Published February 1st 2000 by Hoffmann & Campe (first published December 29th 1998)
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Carol. [All cynic, all the time]
Sep 04, 2013 Carol. [All cynic, all the time] rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Someone who wants a gumbo of mystery, lit, pulp, and African-American experience.
Recommended to Carol. [All cynic, all the time] by: me

I came to Colson Whitehead by way of zombies.

Colson Whitehead, writer of award-nominated books, including National Book Critics Circle, the Los Angeles Times Fiction Award, the Pulitzer Prize, and New York Times Notable Book of the Year; contributer to the New York Times, The New Yorker, New York Magazine, and Harper's; and recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship.

Yes, that Colson Whitehead. Zombies.

I'd like to pause for a moment and just admire the mind-twist for those that deride zombie books.

Maryellen Allen
This book was recommended to me off a list. I read some reviews before I dove in. Some said "it's about elevators" others said "it's all about race". Well...they're both kind of right, but I think they've missed the point.

This is an excellent book. It's an old fashioned murder mystery wrapped in a philosophical discussion wrapped in a metaphor. Colson Whitehead has created a wonderful "film noir" urban landscape completely centered around the world of elevator inspectors. This world of elevator...more
In an interview with Salon.com following the publication of his 1999 debut novel The Intuitionist, Colson Whitehead discusses the freedom he has as an African American writer of the late 20th century. He says, "decades ago, there was the protest novel, and then there was 'tell the untold story, find our unerased history.' Then there's the militant novel of insurrection from the '60s. There were two rigid camps in the '60s: the Black Arts movement, denouncing James Baldwin and Ralph Ellison for b...more
This isn't just an allegory of race, as the many glowing reviews in the prefatory pages state. It's an allegory of everything. "Elevators" and "intuitionism" variously represent upward social mobility and its limits, the threatened gains of the civil rights movement, the anxiety of a post-rational worldview, challenges to good-old-boy cronyism, the enabling factor of the modern urban center and the possibility of its transcendence ... the list goes on. In the interest of thematic expansiveness,...more
All of the typical noir elements are here - the big, industrial city, menacing boss(es) playing dirty politics, muckraking reporter, servant with a trick up his sleeve, small-town girl in the big city. But nothing, not even a single description, is cliche. The main character is principled and smart, but she's so reserved that even the reader has to make some guesses at her emotional life. The plot is unpredictable - whimsical, jarring and scary, abstract for a while, mundane.

I'm not sure the pa...more
Jennifer (aka EM)
Mar 29, 2011 Jennifer (aka EM) rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jennifer (aka EM) by: Dave Russell
I'll hold off rating this one until I think about it a bit... there is a lot to like about it; but a lot I just didn't understand. My elevator sometimes doesn't go all the way to the top.


Here's the thing: at another time and place, I would probably rate this a 4. However, in this current time and place, the complexity of the structure, an allegory that I never really "got" and the flat affect of the central character all kept me at arm's length when what I wanted, most, was to be im...more
There was no one else to blame. The Intuitionist was my pick for a tandem read with my wife. We read it in a single day, one which left us bruised from all the cliches and the noir tropes which were further wrinkled with the riddle of race. I recall Mr. Whitehead was reported to have been spit upon by novelist Richard Ford. No, I wouldn't go that far. . .
I am reading this for a class that I am taking on black postmodern fiction. The hallmarks of the postmodern style are there. It is clear that Whitehead read a fair amount of Pynchon and Barth due to the extensive presence of half-thoughts, sentence fragments, and commentary from the narrator. So, with regards to the class, I understand why it was assigned. On a personal level, I haven't been this bored reading a book in a while. I don't particularly like any of the characters. Lila Mae is rather...more
Maybe more like a 4.5, but this book deserves to be rounded up, not down. Fabulous writing and wordplay, fabulous creation of a fascinating world that was almost real.

This novel takes place in a past that didn't exist--where the Elevator Inspectors are revered, in a great city that has achieved verticality (and seems to be c1930 New York, or even 1950). Lila Mae Watson is the first colored woman (author's terminology) to achieve her badge as an elevator inspector--and she is in Intuitionist, wit...more
Althea Ann

I read Whitehead's 'Zone One' for post-apocalyptic book club, and liked it - someone at our meeting recommended 'The Intuitionist' to me - but all they would say is 'Well, it's about elevator repairmen. But I think you would like it.'

Admittedly, I didn't immediately think that reading about elevator repair sounded like the most thrilling activity. You may not be instantly hooked by that description. You might even think it sounds dull. Well, you would be w...more
Erik Evenson
There are many things to like about Colson Whitehead’s first novel, The Institutionist: the prospect of reading about elevator inspectors (a subject, I’m pretty sure, no one has ever written about in fiction), the idealogical split between institutionist and empiricist inspectors (one group inspects elevators by observation and scrutiny, the other by ‘feel’. I’ll let you guess who does what), and elevators being a metaphor for almost everything important in life—“They go up, they go down. You ju...more
Intuitionism and Empiricism reflects the quintessential struggles of two distinct schools of thought - the most notable that comes to mind is the classical and quantum interpretations of physics. One is old school, dependent on the physical perusal of the objects themselves, solid and true. The other is metaphysics distilled into a mystic philosophy of the true nature of elevators. Problem is... one or another, they both work.

Race relations are different today, but Whitehead writes that sometime...more
I'd have to spend some time and energy to truly explain what's so genius about this book, and that assumes I'm not missing a whole bunch of it's true brilliance.

The plot summary would likely have most shaking their head, thinking, "What the fish?" It sounds absurd. In some ways, it's really absurd.

Lots of room for interpretation here, but Whitehead is clearly tackling some major social topics and doing it with humor and a perceptive eye.

If your interest isn't piqued by the thought that elevat...more
May 09, 2007 Ben rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: eh...
Shelves: 2007
The Intuitionist is an odd little novel. The copy on the back cover does its best to make the story and tone of the book sound extra weird, while at the same time remaining fairly vague. And I suppose that's a fair representation of what you find inside. The novel's themes and even its setting make for a good jumping off point, but Whitehead continually does things in half measures.

The setting, obviously NYC but pointlessly vague, reminded me quite a bit of Quinsigamond, from Jack O'Connell's si...more
Brent Legault
I don't think that Whitehead trusts me, the reader, or you, the reader (if you've already read it), to figure things out on my, or your, own. He likes to have his characters tell us what they're going to do, then tell us what they're doing, and then when we are good and exhausted and ready to move on (to another book, for example), he likes to tell us what they, his characters, have done. Granted, some of the telling is told well, but the redundancy doesn't read as artistic, just sloppy.

And the...more
Written with a true love of the City, in this case an abstract, noir version of New York, the book posits a world in which the elevator has its own science and philosophy. In fact there are competing schools of Empiricists and Intuitionists, complete with their own thugs employed in the power struggles. Lila Mae Watson, the first "colored" elevator inspector, is a member of the latter school, and an unusual and appealing character. This is Whitehead's first novel and, given his great talent, you...more
The book jacket (thanks to Walter Kirn) unhelpfully plumps this ambitious novel as "The freshest racial allegory since Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man and Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye." Hmm, I wonder, what other racial allegories can I think of since Ellison and Morrison? My answer being "None," I find myself underwhelmed by Kirn's analysis, which strikes me as being akin to "The most profound novel about a sperm whale since Moby Dick."

Hyperbolic review pushed to the side, this novel reveals its...more
Maurice Carlos Ruffin
There's a rich strain of American literature dealing with this nation's original sin, slavery and its residue. In fact, there's so much literature on the topic that I've heard quite a few times that there's nothing left to say. Enter Colson Whitehead's the Intuitionist, a book that manages to make the entire problem seem both familiar and alien at once.

Whitehead's strategy is a brilliant one, the kind of idea that must have struck him at an odd moment, like in the dentist's chair or while listen...more
Elizabeth K.
Aug 07, 2009 Elizabeth K. rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Kelly
Shelves: 2009-new-reads
I found this mesmerizing. It's a noir-ish novel set in a very vaguely alternate version of New York City in a time that seems mostly like the 1950s. We have a mystery closely connected with two rival schools of thought about the fine art of elevator inspecting. The events surrounding an elevator accident implicate Lila Mae Watson, the city's first female colored elevator inspector, who then sets out to clear her name and ends up discovering a much larger, more profound conspiracy.

The writing is...more
One of the review blurbs on the back cover calls this a "racial allegory," which I'm not sure makes sense because in all ways but one the author paints a very firm picture of an explicitly parallel world to our NYC of the 1950's (give or take a few years). The one way that it differs is that, in the world of The Intuitionist, elevators are hot shit, like, totally hot shit. The two major elevator companies are run by the mob and in turn promote warring factions of elevator repair ideology (The In...more
It took me a while to get into this book and to finish it, which is strange since it is not that long, but it was worth it. I couldn't help but think about how I would feel about this book if Obama had not been elected; it is a powerful story about race set against this surreal world (1950's maybe) where there is an Art of Elevator Inspection and you are either an Empiricist who examines the minute physical and mechanical details of the elevator or you are an Intuitionist and inspect the elevato...more
Clinton Mcclung
Whitehead's first novel is about an alternate NYC of the 60s where elevator repair technicians were revered social servants divided into two parties - Empiricists, who are old fashioned nuts and bolts repairmen, and Intuitionists, who "feel" the elevators with their minds. They are essentially the Right and Left of party politics, which also means that neither side is quite what it appears to be.

But really, The Intuitionist is a story of racial identity, revolving around the main character Lila...more

The Intuitionist is about Lila Mae Watson, the first black female elevator inspector. Though it is never named, the setting is obviously meant to be New York (or perhaps some alternate-world version of New York?), late in the 19th century. Lila Mae is an Intuitionist; she inspects elevators by riding them, and getting a sense of how well they are operating. The opposite (dominant) school is the Empiricists, who inspect...more
How to describe Colson Whitehead's debut novel, The Intuitionist, a parable of race relations through the lens of competing factions of elevator inspectors in a fictional pre-civil rights American city? Check the thesaurus for synonyms for audacious - bold, works, as does brash. Now a writer of no small renowned, with a catalogue of excellent works and awards to his name, one can only wonder at the venturesome spirit that led to this deep complex novel which brings nothing so much to mind as the...more
Lila Mae Watson is the City's first black female elevator inspector. After the catastrophic failure of a brand-new elevator she had inspected just days before, she gets drawn into the intrigue between the warring factions of the Inspector's Guild: the Empiricists (led by the Guild's current head, Chancre) and the Intuitionists, followers of James Fulton. In between flashbacks to her childhood and college years, we watch Lila Mae try to solve the mystery of her idol's missing notebooks and his qu...more
In which Whitehead uses the noir-"murder"-mystery and elevators to interrogate race in America.

Lila Mae Watson is the first black woman elevator inspector in some alternate-world New York City (never named as such, but... you can tell) where elevator inspection is a Very Big Deal.* This takes place in the 1950s or so (there’s a reference to Martin Luther King, Jr.), and while other reviewers have made much of its supposed science-fictional retro-futurism, I didn’t get that from the text at all -...more
This was my introduction to Colson Whitehead and I was impressed. The Intuitionist takes place in a city (implicitly, New York) full of skyscrapers and other buildings requiring vertical transportation in the form of elevators. The time, never identified explicitly, is one when black people are called "colored" and integration is a current topic. The protagonist is Lila Mae Watson, an elevator inspector of the "Intuitionist" school. The Intuitionists practice an inspecting method by which they r...more
56. "In the alternate New York of Colson Whitehead's gritty, brainy first novel, The Intuitionist, the elevator inspectors union is split into two factions. The upstart Intuitionists have their own candidate for Guild chair, and are intent on ousting the current chair, leader of the nuts-and-bolts Empiricists. When a brand-new elevator on Lila Mae's beat suddenly and inexplicably plummets 40 floors -- suffering a supposedly impossible "total freefall" -- Lila Mae gets dragged into the election y...more
Sigh. This man can write. Like the wind - a cold, brittle, Sisiphusian breeze that fascinates the bones, energizes the spinal fluid, and rips up trailer parks. Yes I'm making fun of his extraordinary sentence structuring, and what can only be, at times, writing for writing's sake. Which isn't bad, if you like that sort of thing. Which I do - I read a lot of Dan Simmons, after all. When applied jarringly counterpoint to a setting like, oh, let's say a zombie apocalypse (which he has), it's specta...more
I saw Colson Whitehead read a few months ago. He was amazingly funny and interesting. I went home and realized that my old roommate had given me this book (thanks kev!), so I decided to read it. Eighty pages in, I'm putting it aside. (One New Year's Resolution: no finishing books out of guilt or a sense of duty. Better to move on.)

The main problem is that this book is too thought-driven without these thoughts (as of yet) adding up to much payoff. Also, on the sentence level, I wasn't a fan of t...more
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Colson Whitehead was born in 1969, and was raised in Manhattan. After graduating from Harvard College, he started working at the Village Voice, where he wrote reviews of television, books, and music.

His first novel, The Intuitionist, concerned intrigue in the Department of Elevator Inspectors, and was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway and a winner of the Quality Paperback Book Club's New Voices Awa...more
More about Colson Whitehead...
Zone One Sag Harbor John Henry Days Apex Hides the Hurt The Colossus of New York

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“It is failure that guides evolution; perfection provides no incentive for improvement, and nothing is perfect.” 18 likes
“There will be no redemption because the men who run this place do not want redemption. They want to be as near to hell as they can.” 4 likes
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