RAGTIME by E.L. Doctorow
Kirkus Star


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Ragtime is a great billiard game of events, ideas and personages at the turn of the century, where the real protagonist is America herself captured in the last gasps of complacency and social Darwinism--waging territorial wars abroad for God, Country and Mammon, breaking strikes and throwing charity balls at home while WW I hovers in the wings. After this, the national identity will never be the same. Doctorow's The Book of Daniel (1971) mythified the Rosenbergs and their children, but Ragtime galvanizes the headlines and heroes of an entire formative era in a political work of even greater magnitude. At the heart of the story is the stultifyingly Victorian model family of a respectable manufacturer of flags, fireworks and patriotic odds and ends whose somewhat Moses-like recovery of an abandoned illegitimate black infant leads to an exemplary tale of racism, insurrection and injustice in America. This is fleshed out by a succession of wildly imaginative run-ins with (or among) Sigmund Freud, Emma Goldman, Houdini, Henry Ford, J. P. Morgan, Booker Washington, Zapata and of course--the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. At that time "There were no Negroes. . . There were no immigrants" and that's the bluntly hammered-out theme that pulls it all together: the vulgarity of the wealthy and their oppression of the lower classes. Rest assured, nevertheless, that this is a very funny novel-a high achievement in irony that hinges on distancing and if not history's revenge (the last laugh belongs to a deranged parasitic scion. . .), then the revenge of art. For this is a beautifully realized complex of social epiphanies, all watched over by the spirit of Scott Joplin, and as a midsummer selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club, bound to make an impact.
Pub Date: July 14th, 1975
ISBN: 0679602976
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1975


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