Read World's Fair by E.L. Doctorow Online


The astonishing novel of a young boy's life in the New York City of the 1930s, a stunning recreation of the sights, sounds, aromas and emotions of a time when the streets were safe, families stuck together through thick and thin, and all the promises of a generation culminate in a single great World's Fair . . ....

Title : World's Fair
Author :
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ISBN : 9780452275720
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 304 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

World's Fair Reviews

  • BlackOxford
    2019-02-06 20:45

    Hope Is Where You Find ItDoctorow's World's Fair is, for me, an important document touching on family history. My mother was 11 years old when she visited Flushing Meadows in 1939 and it influenced her life as significantly as it did Doctorow's. Both he and his avatar 'Edgar' were two years younger than my mother. New York City was (and of course largely still is) a city of immigrants and the children of immigrants. In other words it is a place of constant dislocation and dissolution. It doesn't so much melt into a pot as anneal on a blacksmith's iron. But the depression of the 1930's added a component of desperation to the lives of many that is the stage set in which his protagonist functions. For Edgar the Worlds Fair is not just a glimpse of other worlds, but rather, as for my mother, the symbol of a hope for a new world. It was almost an excuse to feel good. Edgar's father with his failing business sees it expressly as that, in almost the same words I am sure my mother quoted to me from my grandfather. The experiences that affected Edgar most deeply weren't the visions of new technologies or urban designs but the 'trivial' encounters like the archly vulgar sideshow 'Oscar the Amorous Octopus'. For my mother it was the bank of valves that released small amounts of unusual fragrances. The one that stuck in her mind was labelled, she found only after testing it, Human Gas.

  • Steve
    2019-02-19 21:37

    I’m not sure what you’d call this (memoir? novel? cultural history book?), but whatever it is, it works. Young Edgar, bright and observant, describes Jewish family life as he knew it growing up in the Bronx in the 1930’s. E. L. Doctorow (E for Edgar) presumably didn’t stray far from his own experiences to write this. The boyhood sketches spanned the whole decade, ending the year of New York’s iconic Fair when Edgar was 9. It was told in a voice that combined a kid’s sense of wonder with an adult’s more artful way of putting things. I thought part of what made the narration so effective was how detailed but natural the day-to-day snippets seemed. They were over-described and sensationalized in the way you'd expect and even hope from an enthusiastic child. His portrayals of the radio shows, movies, music, the pre-war political scene, bigotry, the depression economy, sports, and the precursors to carnal knowledge were all the more vivid from this young, zealous source. And that was just fine with me. Now I have something other than Radio Days to go on for a mental image of the times.Edgar’s parents fell somewhere in the vast middle ground between Norman Rockwell and dysfunction. If anything, given his father’s proclivities, they leaned more towards the latter. Time did not always do its job to soften the painful memories. With a dad who was flawed, Edgar’s older brother was often the better role model. Like their father, brother Donald was clever, aware, and good at working angles, but unlike the old man, he was also responsible. Their mother was solid and dependable, though she was losing a bit of her spark. She didn’t have much to bring joy to her life, and had a mother-in-law to detract from it. I make this seem like a pretty grim scene, but there were plenty of warm undercurrents, too. The overall tone was more nostalgic than anything else. One of the vignettes was about putting together a time capsule. In a way the whole book seemed like stories told by an old guy rummaging just such a trove. And always with the context to appreciate them.Four stars bordering on five.

  • Vit Babenco
    2019-01-25 23:43

    I believe World’s Fair is a literary reproduction by E. L. Doctorow of his own childhood – the novel is so compassionate and it is full of authentic feelings. “I imagined houses as superior beings who talked silently to each other.”Child’s imagination, child’s fantasies and memories of our childhood are all dear to us. And I suppose there is always some central recollection that remains with us during our entire life. “My father had predicted the Fair would be good for business. He explained that people were coming to see it from all over the country. They would have to stay in hotels, they would have to have dinner, they would spend money going to Radio City and they would pass the shop and see records and electrolas they wanted and they would come in and buy something. People on trips always set aside money to buy things. Besides, in his store they could find things you couldn’t find anywhere else. He was very optimistic.”Life goes on, we grow older but memories of childhood remain the brightest and dearest.

  • Connie
    2019-02-17 23:27

    Adult Edgar Altschuler is looking back on his 1930s childhood with the wonder and fears of a young boy. The story is full of the sights and sounds during the Great Depression in New York City. In the background in their Jewish household radio reports tell about Hitler's advances. This is not a book with a lot of action, but it's a good character study of a boy growing up in that era. Although it is fiction, E.L. Doctorow incorporates events from his own childhood into the story.Two visits to the 1939 World's Fair, with its pavilions full of futuristic ideas, come near the end of the book. A time capsule at the World's Fair inspires Edgar to bury his own time capsule full of items that were important to his life--a Tom Mix Decoder badge, a handwritten biography of President Roosevelt, and other remembrances from the 1930s. Moving into the next decade, there's a feeling that Edgar, near adolescence, and the world will both be undergoing many changes.

  • Oscar
    2019-02-21 17:35

    Esta es la historia de un niño, Edgar, y de una ciudad, Nueva York. ‘La feria del mundo’ transcurre en los años 30 en una Norteamérica azotada por la Gran Depresión, y la vivimos a través de la mirada de Edgar. Pero lejos de parecer un relato infantil, Doctorow nos regala una extraordinaria novela, con ciertos tintes autobiográficos, en la que resalta la calidad estilística del autor, su sencillez a la hora de narrar, y, sobre todo, ese mundo visto a través de los inocentes ojos de Edgar.Con libros como este, estoy acostumbrado a encontrarme con escritores que se pierden en disquisiciones y recuerdos, que van adelante y atrás en una trama de la que terminas por perder el interés. Este no es el caso de ‘La feria del mundo’, que Doctorow lleva con mano firme, sin apenas flashbacks que interrumpan el hilo narrativo y temporal de la historia, algo de agradecer.Siguiendo las andanzas de Edgar, conoceremos a su familia: su madre, Rose, su padre, Dave, su hermano mayor, Donald, su abuela materna, y su tío Willy, además de la familia de su padre, destacando su tía Frances. La historia está plagada de descripciones de la vida familiar de Edgar, de momentos entrañables y melancólicos, al igual que momentos más tristes. Las enseñanzas de su hermano Donald, del que Edgar siente devoción; la escucha de seriales radiofónicos, desde noticiarios, salpicados por los comentarios irónicos de su padre, hasta las aventuras de La Sombra; las calles del Bronx; los juegos del tío Willy; las sorpresas de Dave; los viajes de compras con su madre; los primeros amigos en la escuela; los deportes, el béisbol, el fútbol americano; las tareas escolares; las primeras lecturas, desde cómics hasta manuales de ventriloquia; la experiencia con la enfermedad y la muerte; el primer amor... Todo ello narrado desde la distancia, con un cierto tono elegíaco y nostálgico, sin caer en elementos sensacionalistas y sensibleros. Todas estas vivencias crean un pequeño universo formado por miríadas de detalles.La Exposición Universal de Nueva York (1939)Y después está Nueva York. El Nueva York de Edgar (Doctorow), un mosaico de momentos históricos, de vidas, que casi puedes palpar y sentir: los efectos de la Gran Depresión; la llegada del increíble dirigible Hindenburg surcando los cielos; las primeras noticias de la guerra en Europa, cuyas consecuencias empiezan a sentirse en las calles; el gran recibimiento otorgado a Lindbergh; la Exposición Universal de Nueva York y todas sus maravillas...El Hindenburg surcando ManhattanDoctorow era un escritor con oficio, y se nota. 'La feria del mundo’ es su obra más autobiográfica, y una de las más conseguidas.

  • Chrissie
    2019-01-28 18:48

    I wanted to like this more than I did. It is filled, filled, filled with accurate details of life in the Bronx during the 30s, ending in 1940 with the New York World's Fair. Everything is described, and all is well described - the news, the clothes, the food, new inventions, the street life, games, parks, Jewish traditions. This is a secular Jewish family. Seeing the Hindenburg airship was excitingly told to site just one fun episode. What you get is a million and one descriptions. The book ends with the burying of a time capsule, but actually that is the best way of describing the whole book! The book is a time capsule of a time and place.I had one serious problem with the book. The central character is a young boy; he is still only nine when the book ends. He has an older brother; there is about six - seven years between the two. And his parents? Pretty typical, they have their shortcomings, but who doesn’t?! An ordinary family, not wealthy, struggling to get through the years of the Depression. The problem is that this kid, his name is Edgar, uses words way beyond his years, and it is predominantly him telling the whole story. Is the young boy telling the story or is it him when he is an older man? I could never decide. Look a nine year old, and certainly not this nine year old, would use such words as “articulate” or “insouciance”, to give but two examples! A paragraph later the words and thoughts were those of a child. Jarring!The relationships were actually well depicted. You knew these family members well by the book's end. Edgar is treated as a kid - always. He is told nothing. His older brother is forced into being more adult than his years. HE analyzes the family relationships very well, but he is not the main character. Edgar cannot understand and so all he can do is to observe. Rather than getting under the skin of the characters, you observe from a distance, just as you observe the factual tidbits of the era. You do not feel empathy for any character. Character portrayal is not the point of the book. It is instead all the details that are the point - a flurry of many, many bits so information. Interesting per se, but you are not drawn in. The whole book ends up being kind of flat. A time capsule. The narration by John Rubinstein wasn't great. I think he made Edgar sound young; it was so weird to hear this young, innocent and sometimes childishly excited voice use such complicated reasoning and adult words! The author's inability to define the age of the person telling the story became even more evident with the narrator's childish tone. He uses a Jewish Bronx accent, which is good. There are a few chapters told by the mother and one or two by the older brother. No change in tone is used. If a narrator dramatizes or personifies the narration then all characters must be done accurately. You cannot then use the same intonation for all characters. I have read that the book most probably has autobiographical content. Note that the E in the author's name is Edgar. The author was born in the Bronx in 1931!

  • Will Byrnes
    2019-02-21 16:50

    While I see considerable value in the book, I was not blown away by it. Edgar Altschuler, a stand in for Doctorow (Edgar Lawrence Doctorow), tells of his early family life and comes of age in the era just prior to World War II. Change is in the air, symbolized by the fair and occasional dark news from Europe. The family suffers from hard times as his father is not able to sustain a decent income, partly from the nature of the times, but also the result of a toxic gambling habit (and maybe other vices as well). Edgar is brought up east of the Grand Concourse, on Eastburn Avenue (subsequently chopped in half by the Cross Bronx Expressway) near Claremont Park, about a mile and twenty years away from my childhood haunts. I recognized many of the landmarks mentioned here, and many of the physical details of apartment living of that time. In fact, maybe it was too familiar. We see Edgar grow, but not too far, only far enough to see some things he should not see and feel some new, natural things. In fact, by the end of the book he has just entered fifth grade and begun school with his first pair of long pants (which cannot be literal, given New York winters) The characters are well-portrayed, believable, and we care about Edgar. His mother, Rose, is given a voice as well, narrating a few chapters showing her history. History begins and ends the book, starting with Rose telling us of her birth and ending with Edgar dropping a time capsule into the ground. I guess that is what this book really is, a time capsule of a certain time and place in a particular class of people. Edgar’s father reminds us, when at the fair, that history tends to ignore the experience of the working people. It is also very clear that even within the family there are clear class differences. Edgar’s feelings seem quite real, seeing his parents as god-like when very young, then slowly coming to see their flaws. Feeling the growing distance from his older brother, Donald, as Donald reaches adulthood while Edgar is still a child. Enjoying the company of his friend Meg, and her unusual mother, Norma (who, as a sexy woman, had to have been named for Norma Jean), who so casually stirred nascent attractions, then learning that perhaps there was more potential to the friendship than being just friends. We see how Edgar deals with fear, cowering and weak when attacked by muggers, willing to deny his Jewishness, then later overcoming his fear in a small way when on the parachute ride with Meg. We see him go from being completely public to having a private life. We see him take a private chance when he enters a writing contest. He had grown. And as an omniscient viewer of history we know just how much change is just around the corner for Edgar. He seems a decent enough kid, an everyman, and we can root for him.

  • Pantelis
    2019-01-30 20:52

    Childhood redeemed...

  • Barbara
    2019-02-21 20:32

    I loved this book. It is set in the Bronx of the 30s. My mother grew up there in those days and told me many stories about it. Reading about Morris High School (her alma mater), the Grand Concourse, Jerome Avenue, the automat, and more made it seem very special to me, although I haven't seen any of those places for nearly 50 years and then only once. It was kind of like City Boy: The Adventures of Herbie Bookbinder, a well-loved book of my youth, and Radio Days, one of my favorite films. Will probably read it again one of these days.

  • Andy Weston
    2019-02-15 21:40

    Set during the 1930s this is the story of the boyhood of Edgar Altschuler growing up in the Bronx. It is wonderfully told and set against the backdrop of the Depression and the start of the Second War. The best books have memorable passages. When I look back to my favourites that is what stands out, and World’s Fair has plenty of them. These key passages for me are ones that resonate with my own childhood, albeit three or four years older than Edgar. Edgar’s appreciation of music comes from his father, and his music shop in downtown. Benny Goodman has just come onto the music scene, and even for an 8 year old, this is an exciting time. The young boy is a prolific reader and thinks nothing of walking by himself a mile to the library at 9 years old, and is reading ‘between 3 and 4 novels a week’. There is a beautiful passage as he recalls the most memorable part of his favourite book, Tom and Beckie, lost in the caves, and rescued by Injun Joe. Sport plays an important role in his life also, the New York Giants, and the Yankees. He says he gets more pleasure from listening to the game on the radio than actually being there, and I can readily identify with that as a youngster myself. But, when his father takes him to his first football game, it is of course a very special occasion. I remember going with my father to Everton and cricket at Old Trafford also, and it is one of my most treasured memories.Ah, what a moment, coming out into the raked tiers, seeing with my own eyes the green grass field, the white stripes, the colors of the two helmeted teams deployed for the kickoff. Tens of thousands of people roared with anticipation. Pigeons flew into the air. The game was about to begin!“What do you think of this?” My father said, smiling at us in triumph. “Not bad, eh?” He loved this sort of situation, the suspense of getting in just at the last moment. The game meant more now, more than if he had purchased the tickets a week in advance. They usually required you to say what you liked about a product in 24 words or less... My friend Arnold had made up a contest for Castoria, the laxative. “I like Castoria because it’s foul-tasing and gives you terrible diarrhoea, and we all know what fun that can be.”I was not fond of the Dodgers. People liked their pugnacity, as if they were a street gang. Sports cartoons showed them pitching and batting with black stubble on their faces, and cigar butts in their mouths. The whole borough (Brooklyn) offered itself in that characterisation - raucous, rowdy, proud of its lack of manners, like the Dead End Kids. I was a Yankee fan myself. When things were going bad for them, they did not complain but bore down harder. They were civilised and had a naturally assured way about them. That was the true New York quality of spirit. Not bumhood.

  • Jennifer
    2019-02-20 16:48

    hmmm...this is going to sound lame-ass, but when a book is titled 'world's fair' and the fair in nyc is noted on the jacket kind of expect the world's fair to be an anchor in the story. it's not. not until nearly the very end of the book. so that was a bit weird for me.but...E.L. DOCTOROW! there. i feel better getting that out of my system.the man is awesome-sauce. in reading this autobiographical story, i loved the interesting blend of memoir-type remembrances, (doctorow's first name is 'edgar', as is our protagonist. the novel's family are also named the same as doctorow's family - dave, rose and donald, his parents and brother.), fiction and a bit of history too. this is a great portrait of a family in nyc city trying to carve out an existence during two life-changing global events - the depression and world war two. set primarily during the 1930s (there were a couple of very small flashbacks to the mother's childhood) this novel offers a great portrayal of a jewish family in new york city. our main character is edgar, who ranges in age in the book from toddler to 11-year-old. he's wise and introspective and very curious abut the world around him. most kids think the world revolves around them and i think doctorow did a fantastic job capturing how this works and looks in day-to-day life. doctorow won the 1986 national book award for for fiction for world's fair and i totally get why.

  • Janis
    2019-02-04 20:43

    World’s Fair is the story of a Jewish boy growing up in New York in the ‘30s. It’s told in his voice, with occasional chapters written from the point of view of family members—as if the boy, now older, had questioned them about his childhood and family. There are dual forces at work here—present and future, freedom and restriction, mother and father, fact and fiction (for it seems that much of this book is autobiographical)--perhaps all represented by the Trylon and Perisphere sculptures of the 1939 World’s Fair. It’s a really poignant and evocative story…one that made me wonder why I haven’t read everything by Doctorow! (Thanks, Susan, for the recommendation!)

  • Mark
    2019-02-10 20:34

    Nearly perfect coming of age story, set in NYC, during the 1930s, capping off with the World's Fair in '38. This looks to be based on Doctorow's early life.

  • Roger DeBlanck
    2019-02-18 20:50

    World’s Fair is a marvelous and heartwarming novel of a young boy’s coming of age. Taking place before the Second World War in Doctorow’s hometown of New York City, the book relives a quest for memory through the recollections of the young protagonist, simply referred to as Edgar. The novel captures the time period in all its momentousness and brings loveliness and compassion to the occurrences of everyday life. The story's energy and lyricism generate a magical feeling around the valuable lessons that shape Edgar's moral standing and broaden his perspective of the world. Perhaps Doctorow’s most personally revealing novel, World’s Fair is resonant and rewarding in all its beauty and tenderness. Its rich literary quality and luminously realized characters will keep readers enchanted.

  • Adam Rabiner
    2019-01-25 16:24

    Some readers have been frustrated by this book's lack of a strong plot or storyline along the lines of Billy Bathgate or Ragtime but what it lacks in this regard it makes up in other ways. The characters are to me more realistic than in his other more conventional novels. The family members' personalities and characteristics are captured vividly as are childhood memories, concerns, anxieties, fears, excitements, and play. The protagonist is a bright and engaging young boy and the narration is both mature and at the same time reflective of the wonders and mysteries of boyhood. You get the best of both worlds. This is a wonderful reminiscence that captures well the NYC of the 1930s and that remarkable and magical period of a person's life known as childhood.

  • Natalie
    2019-02-10 18:54

    I read this book at the same time as Jane Smiley's upcoming novel Some Luck, which was an interesting experience. While Smiley's characters are given voices appropriate to their age (a child sees the world through a child's eyes), Doctorow's Edgar is looking back at his childhood and waxing philosophic. There are also a few odd chapters here and there told by other characters, as if written in a letter to Edgar. Interesting and unique story structure for an interesting and unique story. For a look at 1930s New York City that lets you hear the elevated train rattle overhead and run down the street for a game of stickball, World's Fair delivers. I'll be rereading this one.

  • Bob Redmond
    2019-02-13 17:39

    From the jacket, and true: "World's Fair is better than a time capsule; it's an actual slice of a long-ago world, and we emerge from it as dazed as those visitors standing on the corner of the future." [--Anne Tyler]Yep... Doctorow's craft is dated (uh, like Tolstoy is dated); to read it is to watch the literary equivalent of a furniture maker who doesn't use nails. The story, which won the National Book Award in 1986, takes you back to the late 1930's and fixes your gaze towards the present. "Like looking death in the face," to paraphrase one of the characters.

  • Xenia Germeni
    2019-02-22 17:42

    Μουσική, ήχοι της πόλης, εικόνες του χθες, όνειρα...μέσα σε μία υπέροχη περιγραφή !

  • Harold Titus
    2019-02-03 23:43

    E. L. Doctorow’s World’s Fair chronicles Edgar Altschuler’s recollections of his first ten years of existence, the growth of his childish awareness of the difficulties of life, and the personal handicaps placed on him as he attempts to acquire self-assurance and experience happiness. Edgar is a Jewish boy growing up in New York City’s Bronx during the rise of Nazism in Germany. His health is problematic. His family’s economic stability is tenuous. His parents’ relationship is combative. The younger son of the family -- a “mistake” baby, eight years younger than his brother and mentor, Donald – he is dominated by his parents and his sibling. He must forge his way through all of these difficulties to develop the self-confidence necessary to persevere against the adversities, both indiscriminate and deliberate, of his time and location.As an infant, Edgar was asthmatic, allergic to everything, a great burden to his resolute mother. “I was attacked continually in the lungs, coughing, wheezing, needing to be steamed over inhalators. I was the mournful prodigy of medicine … I was plugged regularly with thermometers and soap water enemas.” Much later in the novel he suffers a burst appendix and must survive peritonitis.Through most of the story Edgar’s father owns a record, sheet music, musical instrument, and radio appliance store in Manhattan. Later, he is forced to move his business and loses much of his clientele. Near the end of the novel he loses the store. Edgar the adult confides that “the conflict between my parents was probably the major chronic circumstance of my life. They were never at peace. They were a marriage of two irreducibly opposed natures. Their difficulties created a kind of magnetic field for me in which I swung this way or that according to the direction of the current.” Late in the novel Donald assesses his father. “Dad went off in all directions, he was full of surprises, some of them were good, some not so good. But it kept everyone on edge, Mother especially. … He was the kind of man to fool around, to philander. He was errant. He had a wild streak to him. He was generous to us … but he had his secrets and they came out of the same part of his character that made him dream big impractical dreams that he couldn’t realize.”Edgar’s assessment of his mother appears fragmentally throughout the novel. “My mother ran our house and our lives with a kind of tactless administration that often left a child with bruised feelings, though an indelible understanding of right and wrong. … There was no mistaking her meaning—she was forthright and direct. She construed the world in vivid judgments. … Everything she did was a declarative act. … My mother wanted to move up in the world. She measured what we had and who we were against the fortunes and pretensions of our neighbors.”Edgar overhears her understandable complaints to a visiting friend. “‘I have exactly three dresses that I wash and iron and wash and iron. … I haven’t bought a stitch of clothing in years. And he plays cards. He knows we need every penny and he plays cards. … He comes home at one, two in the morning. Where has he been? What has he been doing! I’m struggling here all by myself, trying to keep things going…. And when he is home he runs to Mama. [Believing her not worthy of her son, the mother-in-law is incessantly critical of her] … I’m a good wife. … I don’t think I’m all that bad a person to be with.’” The father’s retort to her criticisms is nearly always the accusation: “‘You’re a suspicious person, you’re always thinking the worst of people.’”Edgar learns early of hatred toward Jews prevalent in poor Irish and Italian East Bronx neighborhoods, “where people lived in ramshackle houses with tar-paper siding amid factories and warehouses.” He has noticed from his bedroom window “strange youths not from the neighborhood … vaulting over the fences into our yard. They climbed the retaining wall and disappeared. These were the boys who hated boundaries and straight lines, who traveled as a matter of principle off the streets, as if they needed to trespass and show their scorn of property. … They were the ones, I knew, who chalked the strange marks on our garage doors.” Swastikas. “‘They’d like to be Nazis,”” Edgar’s mother warns him. “‘They carry knives. … They rob. You come inside if you see them.’”Several years later Edgar, returning from a public library located close to an Irish, Italian neighborhood, is confronted by several such boys. He is threatened by a knife, forced to lie that he is not a Jew, and is robbed of the coins in his pocket. The incident is one of the major traumatic events of his young life, and it is the major catalyst of sudden growth of maturity and self-esteem, which he exhibits near the end of the novel.World’s Fair is not among my most favorite historical novels. My interest in the story lagged in several places. For example, I would have appreciated less detail about the exhibits of the New York World’s Fair. I did not become connected initially with Edgar and his parents. I put the book aside for an entire month before I decided to finish it. However, I recognize entirely E. L. Doctorow’s skill as a writer. His depth of characterization, his richness of historical detail, the seriousness of his themes, his use of sensory imagery (Edgar’s trip to the hospital following the rupture of his appendix and his struggle not to succumb of ether was masterful), his use of humor (Edgar was critical of The Shadow because he would not use his special power either to observe ladies undressing or kill Hitler), the poignancy of several key scenes (Edgar knows that the children in his hospital ward are dying because the toys that they receive are expensive, elaborate, and not appreciated and they have excluded him from their friendship knowing they are dying and he isn’t): all of this is worthy of a ten-page essay replete with many examples. E. L. Doctorow’s World’s Fair is better than many books I read but not one of my top ten.

  • Lauren
    2019-01-25 21:39

    3.75/5While this book was enjoyable overall, certain aspects yielded mixed feelings. My only other Doctorow novel prior to this was Ragtime, which easily secured a place among my favorite books of all time—intricate and gorgeously written. It was through this novel that I discovered Doctorow’s dazzling flair for historical fiction, for reimagining vivid panoramas of the past and immersing one in the sight, sounds, and smells of a bygone era. I can’t sing enough praises for that novel. So, when I read on the cover flap that World’s Fair was hailed by the LA Times as “something close to magic,” I wanted to be there for the show. I’m not disappointed, but this novel definitely pales in comparison to the magic of Ragtime, which converges intriguing storylines toward a central plot driven by a cast of provocative characters and events.To be fair, the comparison isn’t justified since the two books have different concerns. World’s Fair blends fiction with memoir in recollecting Edgar Altschuler’s childhood in the 1930s Bronx. It is interspersed at irregular intervals with narrative interviews (the alliteration here=unintended) from Edgar’s mother and brother. While I can understand the rationale behind including other older voices to perhaps lend credence to the adolescent or adult’s memory of childhood, providing something of a frame for his account of things, and to provide more dimensions to the other important people in Edgar’s formative years, I found this format/strategy somewhat clumsy and unnecessary in that these interpolations did little to flesh out the other characters and enhance my reception of them beyond what is already well-rendered by the protagonist. I found Edgar’s to be a level-headed, objective enough perspective that I didn’t really see a need for these seemingly haphazard departures from the main narrative voice. The exclusion of any narrative sections from the father, whom Edgar adored and who I found particularly interesting, did have me wondering what happened to him, why he didn't make an appearance.I give this book 3.75 stars. The general attitudes of GR reviewers who give this book between 2-4 stars would be a fair assessment of my own feelings toward this book. I don’t require a plot if the writing possesses other meaningful, insightful, or entertaining elements to its merit. World’s Fair makes up for its lack of plot—unless you count the unfolding of childhood as plot—by pulling one into the world of 1930s New York through a child’s eyes. Like the Westinghouse Time Capsule that was created for the 1939 World’s Fair, this book itself is something of a time capsule. Not much in the way of plot but packed with details—WW II looming ahead; the crash of the Hindenburg; when radio was king, and swing and programs like The Shadow, The Lone Ranger, and The Green Hornet entertained over the airwaves; the Trylon and Periscope as symbols of that hopeful, characteristic American ambition to soar toward the future—which some may find tedious, but, MAN, I eat this stuff up! I’m fascinated with Americana of the past, particularly ranging from the turn of the century to the sixties, so this book was up my alley. While the novel as a whole does leave a tepid, lukewarm impression—as any account of a vastly ordinary childhood from infancy to age nine would—I never found myself bored and wanting to stop, and it’s definitely in the details (not everyone’s cup of tea). Because of the chronological structure of this semi-autobiography, the titular World’s Fair doesn’t appear until towards the very end at the culmination of the book and of a decade. You obviously don’t need to reside in New York in order to appreciate this book, though I suspect some familiarity with the layout of the Bronx and surrounding boroughs might enhance the experience, as Doctorow often drops names of streets, most of which are meaningless to me. A couple of things I picked up: 1.) transferring images onto wax paper, and 2.) amateur ventriloquism. I am now available for parties.After reading about how Edgar transferred comic strip pictures onto wax sheets by rubbing a tongue depressor or ruler back and forth over the wax paper overlaying the desired images, I immediately rummaged for a grocery circular, ruler, and sheet of wax paper. Voila!—Beautiful waxy images of Prego sauce, an assortment of meats, and a selection of junk food ready to be framed.And would you like to hear my rendition of “The Sidewalks of New York” on the [deep breath] vhig fiano?

  • Robin Friedman
    2019-02-13 20:38

    The late E.L. Doctorow's (1931 -- 2015) novel "World's Fair (1985) is a lyrical autobiographical story about growing up in the New York City during the Depression.. Most of the book is told in the first person by an adult, "Edgar", who reflects upon his childhood up to the age of about nine. The adult writer has also approached family members for their reminisces, and some chapters of the book are in the words of the boy's mother, Rose, brother, Donald, father, Dave, and his Aunt Frances.A beauty of this novel is the way in which it captures the innocence and feelings of early childhood in simple language but with an adult's sensibility and nostalgia. The story has the feel of authenticity even while it is told in a detached way from a distance of years.In its simplicity, the story covers a broad scope. Edgar is a youngster of four at the outset of the book, with a brother eight years older. We see the closeness of the brothers together with their relationship to their parents, Dave, a free-spirited unsuccessful businessman and his restless, piano-playing, long-suffering wife Rose. The family is second-generation American descended from Russian Jews. The story also explores family on both the father's and the mother's side, including an aged, troubled grandmother, and relations who have made it further on the American economic ladder than Edgar's immediate family.Besides showing acculturation to American life, the novel is full of the sights of 1930's New York City with its pushcarts, small shops, crowded streets and apartments, liveliness, and unpredictability. The writer and the young boy have sharp eyes and memories. The story also integrates the highly personal, individualized experience of growing up with the menacing events of the day. The rise of Hitler and the impending WW II are never far from consciousness. The book discusses the Depression and the socialism that appealed to many of the narrator's relatives at the time. There is a portrayal of the Hindenburg flying over the city en route to its disaster. And of course there is the World's Fair of 1939, described with relish in the latter portions of the book.Although the boy is only nine, the World's Fair shows him a glimpse of the future and takes Edgar out from insularity. He first attends the fair with a young girlfriend and her single mother, who is a bit risqué as compared to Edgar's other acquaintances. Near the end of the boy's first visit to the World's Fair, the narrator describes how he had felt as a child: "I had worried before, all the time in this enormous effort to catch up to life, to find it, to feel it, comprehend it; but all I had to do was be in it and it would instruct me and give me everything I needed. As I fell asleep the fireworks went off over and over again like me pounding my own chest and sending my voice to the heavens that I was here."In another section of the book, the boy's Aunt Frances discusses her marriage to Ephraim, a highly successful lawyer who has become a political conservative. "Ephraim and I had a wonderful marriage. We never argued. He was a conservative Republican, a member of the Liberty League. He knew I felt differently. I voted for Norman Thomas one year and simply didn't tell him and he didn't ask. He trusted me to handle all the household accounts and make the domestic decisions while he attended to his law practice. The system worked beautifully."Something may be learned here in our own troubled times.In a review published after Doctorow's death, Tom Cox described "World's Fair" as "an overlooked classic of American literature." Cox wrote that the book created a voice that "is wise, comforting, open-eyed with wonder and authentic all at the same time". Even though it won the National Book Award in 1986, "World's Fair" has not received the attention accorded to some of Doctorow's other works. It is an outstanding eloquent novel which deserves the description of "overlooked classic".Robin Friedman

  • Susan
    2019-01-24 17:52

    Many thanks to Steve, who picked up this book at the 2009 Printer's Row Book Fair in Chicago. If not for his enthusiastic suggestion that I read it, I would have missed this simple but powerfully truthful story of a young Jewish kid growing up in the Bronx during the Depression. World's Fair is structured as a series of memories mostly recounted by Edgar, whom we first meet as a pre-schooler and last see as a fifth-grader who's sorted out some of life's questions and seems ready to take on a few more. At irregular intervals we hear from Edgar's mother, brother, and just once from his aunt. Speaking of gratitude--with Thanksgiving just a couple of weeks away--after reading a book like this I realized that I should regularly give thanks for the existence of such gifted writers as E.L. Doctorow. How else would I get the chance to witness (almost experience, really), the life of another human being, one who grew up in such a different time and place from me? And yet one reason that I was so taken with Edgar's reminiscences was because the world he described was so familiar to me. His memories could be those of almost any child: vignettes that depict the awakening that we all experience as we become aware of and begin to understand family tensions and rivalries, the social hierarchy, and other mysterious realities that define our existence. How I wished Edgar's story would have continued through his teenage years and into young adulthood! Looks like it's time to put some other Doctorow works on the to-read list, including The Book of Daniel, The March, and Billy Bathgate.

  • Sarah Coleman
    2019-02-19 23:47

    This autobiographical novel is very evocative of New York in the 1930s. Compared to Doctorow's other novels like 'Ragtime' it could be considered small-scale, but it is so rich in detail and atmosphere that the scale hardly matters. The narrative is delivered by a grown man reflecting back on his childhood in a Jewish section of the Bronx in the 1930s. He captures both personal and political events with a child's sense of awe and half-understanding. There's certainly a lot going on, with the Depression and the outbreak of World War 2 as well as the crash of the Hindenburg (the narrator sees the airship passing over his house hours before the disaster) and the New York World's Fair of 1939. The World's Fair is where the novel culminates, with a grand vision of the future that's somewhat at odds with the chaotic world around it. Doctorow's clear sense of the period obviously comes from personal experience, to which he brings a descriptive flair that transports the reader right back to the era through its sights, sounds and smells. I know I enjoyed this especially because it coincides with the period I'm writing about, but I think anyone interested in New York history and the 1930s would love it too.

  • Relani
    2019-02-04 19:30

    I love the juicy language and especially how Doctorow brings to life common childhood experiences, with all their mystery and confusion, in such rich and gratifying detail.

  • Mike Zickar
    2019-02-21 20:24

    A truly enjoyable book written with such a gentle eye of observation from the boy narrator. There really isn't a plot to this novel (I would classify this more as a memoir, though I have no idea how true it is to Doctorow's childhood), it is the chronicle of roughly the first 9 years of life for the narrator, a kid growing up in the South Bronx of the 1930s. This is written with such tenderness and attention to detail that it felt like I was reliving my own childhood, even though our paths were so different. I found myself digging up memories and stories from my own childhood while reading this. Doctorow maintains the childlike innocence of a kid's observation while weaving this book with a master's touch.

  • Mike
    2019-02-22 18:24

    World's Fair is a book which made this reader feel like he was holding a series of jewels up to his eye and reveling in the sheer loveliness of them. It's a novel that gives the sensations of discovery and enlightenment that the very earliest moments of literary awareness gave me in my youth. This is either a novel garbed in memoir, or a memoir viewed through the patina of a novel, but in either case, World's Fair is an incredibly moving and engaging book to read.

  • Karin
    2019-02-11 18:33

    3.5 starsIt's 1930s in the Bronx (NYC), and little Edgar lives with his family in an apartment in a house. It's the depression, but so far his dad's store is in business. His much older brother is patient with him, and his grandmother, struggling with Alzheimer's, lives with them. As he is growing up, there is The World's Fair, which he sets his sites on going to, but in the meantime he lives in (shocking, I know) a dysfunctional family that he doesn't really understand at his age. Here and there we see other POVs giving more background, often in a voice as though they are telling Edgar more details, although not always.This is a well written book, but I liked it, not loved it. However, given that it was awarded the National Book Award, don't let my rating stop you from considering it.

  • Abeer Hoque
    2019-01-24 22:32

    It was only recently that I gave myself permission to stop reading a book when I wasn't enjoying it. I didn't find "World's Fair" Mr. Doctorow's "most accomplished work to date" (NYT), "something close to magic" (LA Times), "immediately a classic" (Publishers Weekly)... His novel "Ragtime" which I read last year was fantastic - scintillating and sharp and racing. "World's Fair" was meticulously detailed, wide eyed and full of wonder, and inside the mind and heart of a small boy in early 20th century. That said, I also thought it was boring. The pace was so slow and the details so rampant, I couldn't see myself plodding through yet another day (each 50 pages long) of knife grinding and igloo building and subway hopping and what brand of shaving cream his father used and what kind of stockings his mother wore, and so on. I suppose all these kinds of details are the kind that usually delight me, but only when I have a plot to go on. As it was, I couldn't see this as more than just a eulogy of time gone by or a portrait of boyhood. Of course, I'll allow that I could be wrong because I stopped about 200 pages in and that wasn't even halfway.Life is too short and my reading list too long. Onwards.

  • Rita
    2019-01-26 21:52

    1985Really good book. I can even imagine wanting to read it again. The only parts I skipped were where he goes on and on about some comic action hero, things like that.Good 2011 review of it in The Guardian by Tom Cox,[as you might expect, only 2 of the 10 books Cox reviews are by women...sigh...]New York 1930s from persp. of kid 4 to 10 yrs old, mostly secular Jewish family, 2nd gen. E Europe. Sold as a novel, but surely it is mostly autobiogr? He calls the kid Edgar, his own name. The details are amazing indeed – D seems to have a photographic memory of house interiors and objects, in addition to how people were dressed and behaved. The last few chapters do in fact detail visits to the NY World’s Fair of 1939. Very very strong on family dynamics.Cox notes that D's mix of memoir and fiction, criticized at the time, would not raise an eyebrow today...I will now read other Doctorow books.

  • Melinda
    2019-02-13 20:43

    Meh. What's to like? Maybe the chapters at the end about the kid's actual visit to the fair with his young girlfriend, although I found it creepy that he watches the girl's mother do an erotic act with a mechanical octopus. Other than that bit of bluster, nothing much happens. I was puzzled by some of "young Edgar's" vocabulary; I had to read some sentences twice and still wasn't sure what Doctorow was getting at. And they don't teach about comma splices in the Bronx? Also, the sections narrated randomly by Mama Rose and older brother Donald as they were remembering the past threw me off. Was Old Edgar interviewing them, asking for their contributions to clarify his own memories? If that was the case, then why does Young Edgar talk like an 80-year-old man? The World's Fair was the coolest thing about this book. Too bad Edgar couldn't live there and have an adventure in Jungleland. Then, something might have happened worth reading about.