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City of God: A Novel

A book by E.L. Doctorow

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A laborious route to a magnificent ending

  • Mar 21, 2000
I waited until I finished reading Doctorow's "City ofGod" before reading any reviews of this book - not sure why Imade that choice but once made I was thankful I had. If you're looking for his usual mix of historical fact with fascinating fiction, don't try this work. Work? Yes, that is exactly what this book is. And after wading through alot of pages that begged editing, I started over. City of God takes us back to college days, when we wandered from Philosophy to Religion to History to Psychology to Physics and to Biology classes. None of it pulls together until all the courses are finished THEN the magnificence of Doctorow's mind is appreciated. There is a good novel buried in this book, but the true rewards are found in Doctorow's philosphical excursions. His exploration of the beginning of the universe, his mingling the various philosophies that address man's condition and his search for meaning in a abusively chaotic cosmos, his paring down the tennants of Jewish and Christian thought - all these are done with enormous skill and read even better when approached a second and third time. Sometimes he is out of his territory - as when he maligns us with the oh-so-corny reinterpretations of banal songs. But Wow! this man's mind is impressive. And for those hardy readers who commit to finishing this literary task the retrospective gratification is magnificent!

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About the reviewer
Grady Harp ()
Ranked #97
Grady Harp is a champion of Representational Art in the roles of curator, lecturer, panelist, writer of art essays, poetry, critical reviews of literature, art and music, and as a gallerist. He has presented … more
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About this book


You want ambition? E.L. Doctorow'sCity of Godstarts off not merely with a bang but with the big bang itself, that "great expansive flowering, a silent flash into being in a second or two of the entire outrushing universe." It doesn't, to be sure, remain on this cosmic plane throughout. There's a mystery here, along with a romance, a chilling Holocaust narrative, and a deep-focus portrait of fin-de-siècle Manhattan--not to mention cameo appearances by that Holy Trinity of contemporary mythmaking: Albert Einstein, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Frank Sinatra. But while the author ofRagtimeandBilly Bathgateis no slacker when it comes to entertainment, he has more in mind this time around. Even the title, with itsAugustinian overtones, tips us off to the author's preoccupation with belief, human consciousness, and "our wrecked romance with God."

Let's return, however, to that mystery. In the early pages of the novel, an enormous brass cross is pilfered from a church on the Lower East Side. Father Thomas Pemberton of St. Timothy's promptly sets off in search of it, dubbing himself the Divinity Detective. Yet he suspects from the start that this is no ordinary theft, with no ordinary solution:

So now these people, whoever they are, have lifted our cross. It bothered me at first. But now I'm beginning to see it differently. That whoever stole the cross had to do it. And wouldn't that be blessed? Christ going where He is needed?
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ISBN-10: 0679447830
ISBN-13: 978-0679447832
Author: E.L. Doctorow
Genre: Fiction, Religious Fiction
Publisher: Random House
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