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Ragtime
by E. L. Doctorow

270 pages (May 1997)
Plume; ISBN: 0452279070

Published in 1975, Ragtime changed our very concept of what a novel could be. An extraordinary tapestry, Ragtime captures the spirit of America in the era between the turn of the century and the First World War.
The story opens in 1906 in New Rochelle, New York, at the home of an affluent American family. One lazy Sunday afternoon, the famous escape artist Harry Houdini swerves his car into a telephone pole outside their house. And almost magically, the line between fantasy and historical fact, between real and imaginary characters, disappears. Henry Ford, Emma Goldman, J. P. Morgan, Evelyn Nesbit, Sigmund Freud, and Emiliano Zapata slip in and out of the tale, crossing paths with Doctorow's imagined family and other fictional characters, including an immigrant peddler and a ragtime musician from Harlem whose insistence on a point of justice drives him to revolutionary violence.

articles and reviews
July 8, 1975
Books of The Times
By CHRISTOPHER LEHMANN-HAUPT

E. L. Doctorow's "Ragtime" is a highly original experiment in historical fiction. But the first thing to be said about it is that it works.

It works so well that one devours it in a single sitting as if it were the most conventional of entertainments. And the reviewer is tempted to dispense with heavy breathing and analysis and settle down to mindless celebration of the pure fun of the thing. Of the passages in which one Harry Houdini, grown dissatisfied with being "a trickster, an illusionist, a mere magician," sails to Europe, learns to fly a biplane and performs a few turns before the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who "gazed. . .with stupid heavy-lidded eyes" and "didn't seem to know who Houdini was. He congratulated him on the invention of the airplane." Or of the scene in which a J. P. Morgan and a Henry Ford get together in a mansion on New York's West 36th Street, exchange their respective thoughts on reincarnation and "found the most secret and exclusive club in America, The Pyramid, of which they were the only members." [read more]

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