Andrew's Reviews > The Book of Daniel

The Book of Daniel by E.L. Doctorow
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Jan 12, 09


I'd never read any Doctorow, but I got curious about this book after reading a Book Forum article about politics and the novel and why so few American writers don't touch politics in their work. There are understandable fears, no doubt, about ideology and heavy-handedness. Whatever. The BF article held The Book of Daniel up as exemplary and I have to say I agree. This was fantastic. It's a fictional account of the Rosenberg's (American Communist Party members convicted of intent to spy and sentenced to death) children, told by their son Daniel. Daniel is writing the book (his crazy-ass dissertation as a Columbia grad student, I guess) in 1968, so there's a fascinating back and forth between these two periods in American radicalism. The writing is topnotch and Doctorow lets Daniel wander in and out of first/third person as well as into all sorts of interesting digressions on capital punishment and Left-y-ness. What's particularly impressive is that Doctorow wrote the book in '71, so the 'present' events were still very close, which made me think about how we (by which i only mean, I, i suppose) might engage this post-9/11/War-on-Terror period of America in a way that doesn't feel fearful and untruthful. Oh jesus, just read it is all I meant to say when I started this.
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message 1: by Amy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Amy I read this book recently too, and, like you, liked the way Doctorow wrote about politics of the times head-on. I also was impressed with many of the writerly moves, like the shifting POV. But man did I HATE the narrator, which of course is fine-- we don't need to like characters... a tradition of great fiction about despicable people (Lolita, etc.). Sometimes, though, I just didn't want to pick up the book, like after the first abusive scene involving his wife. His cigarette, her ass. So I'm glad I read it, but I doubt I'll read it again. If you're still on a Doctorow kick, Ragtime's terrific.


Andrew you're so right, amy. a cigarette to your wife's bum is not cool. and that raised more questions for me than it answered. the whole daniel 'present' storyline is more opaque and less vivid (until the end) than his remembrance of childhood. i kept waiting for the point when i would understand it him better. same with susan--would have liked more of her in the pre-catatonic present. still, it's worth it. the ending is beautifully devastating, just the way i like my devastation.


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