Monday, January 22, 2018


175675Published 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 & the First World War. The story opens in 1906 in New Rochelle, NY, 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. Almost magically, the line between fantasy & historical fact, between real & imaginary characters, disappears. Henry Ford, Emma Goldman, J.P. Morgan, Evelyn Nesbit, Sigmund Freud & Emiliano Zapata slip in & out of the tale, crossing paths with Doctorow's imagined family & other fictional characters, including an immigrant peddler & a ragtime musician from Harlem whose insistence on a point of justice drives him to revolutionary violence.

*May Contain Spoilers*

Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow was an assigned reading for me, which sometimes don't start off very fun. However, I really got into this book after just a few chapters! With the combination of historical figures, some I recognized and a few I didn't, and an anonymous American family, the book's plot and connections came to life. 

There were several characters that I felt a connection with and other characters I felt an interest in. Harry Houdini was one historical figure that I felt both with. I've always found Houdini to be an interesting person and have even watched a couple of biographies about him. This book definitely hit on my interest and expanded it as Doctorow shares Houdini's feelings and experiences. Other historical figures like Emma Goldman, I hadn't heard of, but I still felt a pull toward her character as she took on the role of female immigrant revolutionary. I think readers of this book will find the depictions of historical people quite imaginative and interesting. 

The fictional family that works to unite all of these historical figures remains anonymous throughout the entire book. Mother, Father, Younger Brother, and the Little Boy all play their roles while introducing the evolution of those roles that the turn of the 20th century was challenging. What's even more interesting is the connection readers will feel emotionally with these anonymous beings, as if the reader takes them and assigns them an importance subconsciously. I personally connected, and respected, most with Mother because she challenged the gender roles of the early 1900s by taking part in her husband's work, caring for people without regard to their race, and following her heart to find happiness. Though this book isn't just about those sort of connections, it also speaks to the need for change, like in the case of Coalhouse. Coalhouse, a dignified black man, is the victim of a hate crime and demands retribution. Though he suffers for it, he eventually does witness that retribution symbolizing the evolution of equality. 

I don't know if everyone would like this book. Honestly, I probably wouldn't have picked it up had it not been assigned. However, it is sadly still relevant to what is going on in politics and society today. Therefore, I would recommend it to readers interested in history, society and politics, and the evolution of the views within each. 

Rating: 3/5 Cups

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