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Necessary Errors

3.28  ·  Rating details ·  875 ratings  ·  147 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
Paperback, 480 pages
Published August 6th 2013 by Penguin Books (first published July 30th 2013)
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Average rating 3.28  · 
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Jeffrey Keeten
Sep 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: czechoslovakia
”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 wer
Hank Stuever
Sep 05, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Aug 06, 2013 rated it did not like it
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
Sara Haasis
Aug 21, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Aug 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Joe Salas
Aug 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the most heartbreaking, melancholic and swooningly romantic novels I have ever read. Yes, it is a ‘gay’ novel, and one of the best modern books about gay life. However, the last thing I want to do is pigeonhole such a wonderful book, as it deserves as wide an audience as possible.

The story is deceptively simple: 20-something American Jacob Putnam arrives in Prague a year after the Velvet Revolution, with a vague plan to teach English. While the country is at a crossroads between c
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
Sep 04, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Andy Bird
Nov 29, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013
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 the
Dec 18, 2013 rated it liked it
Recommended to K 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
Dec 12, 2013 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
Jan 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
An Te Chu
Dec 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Really resonated with where I am in life. Prose took a little getting used to but became very comfortable.
Jul 11, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, first-reads
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
Aug 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
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 reasons. Firstly, Crain writes beautiful sentences. One gets the sense that Crain really toiled over the prose he
Apr 17, 2014 rated it it was ok
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
Feb 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Amelia Gremelspacher
Aug 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 18, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Blake Goldstein
Nov 12, 2013 rated it liked it
I really enjoyed the story and the character as I felt I could relate to him. The idea of living in a foreign country is exciting, and you get to see how one deals with such a drastic change through Jacob's eyes. He is a young American with plenty of issues constantly running through his head and second guessing himself. As a gay individual, he tries to explore their scene and finds a lot of romantic disappointment until near the end of the book where he encounters Milo for the second time and d ...more
Judith Shadford
Jun 11, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Aug 20, 2013 rated it did not like it
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
Sep 16, 2017 rated it it was ok
How could I resist a book about the experiences of an ESL teacher in Prague in 1990? While it was fun visiting Prague through Jacob's (Caleb Crain's*) eyes, I found the rest of the novel boring and the gayness did nothing for me. I ended up skimming in order to finish.

There were a few things I did like though:

The description of Vysehrad being the Czech's "Stonehenge and Westminster Abbey all in one"

I learned a new English word that Crain uses a lot: "hoarding" means a temporary wooden fence

Kait Smo
Oct 25, 2016 rated it liked it
I think the main reason I liked this book was because the main character was doing the exact same thing I'm doing: teaching abroad in a strange and much poorer country than America. Without the experience of expat life, though, others might not feel a connection to it. It was very philosophical, as the narrator seemed to be in a ongoing state of inner doubts, which the reader was always privy to. The beginning and middle were more fun to read than the end, because I began to dread the character ...more
Alice Dinizo
Jul 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
A lot of the reviews call this book boring, but I thought it was delightful. Certainly, there's not a lot happening, but I was perfectly happy to tag along with Jacob as he lives a year in Prague, meeting other expatriates, teaching, trying to write, trying to date, and negotiating a new culture in flux between socialism and capitalism. Beautiful writing, an enviable setting, occasionally surprisingly emotional. ...more
Jun 02, 2013 rated it it was ok
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. ...more
Sep 03, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: stopped-reading
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. ...more
Ron Charles
Dec 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
A quiet, emotionally astute novel about a young gay American in Prague right after the revolution. Crain has a gorgeous, smooth style. The novel reminded me of Arthur Phillips's wittier "Prague," which takes place, of course, in Budapest. ...more
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Caleb Crain is the author of the novels Overthrow (coming from Viking in August 2019) and Necessary Errors (Penguin, 2013), as well as the critical study American Sympathy (Yale, 2001). He has written for The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The New York Review of Books, Harper's, and The Atlantic. He was born in Texas, grew up in Massachusetts, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York. ...more

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