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Summary and book reviews of City of God by E.L. Doctorow

City of God

by E.L. Doctorow

City of God
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2000, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2001, 320 pages

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Book Summary

Daringly poised at the junction of the sacred and the profane, and filled with the sights and sounds of New York - a narrative of the twentieth century written for the twenty-first.

In his workbook, a New York City novelist records the contents of his teeming brain--sketches for stories, accounts of his love affairs, riffs on the meanings of popular songs, ideas for movies, obsessions with cosmic processes. He is a virtual repository of the predominant ideas and historical disasters of the age. But now he has found a story he thinks may be-come his next novel: The large brass cross that hung behind the altar of St. Timothy's, a run-down Episcopal church in lower Manhattan, has disappeared...and even more mysteriously reappeared on the roof of the Synagogue for Evolutionary Judaism, on the Upper West Side. The church's maverick rector and the young woman rabbi who leads the synagogue are trying to learn who committed this strange double act of desecration and why. Befriending them, the novelist finds that their struggles with their respective traditions are relevant to the case. Into his workbook go his taped interviews, insights, preliminary drafts...and as he joins the clerics in pursuit of the mystery, it broadens to implicate a large cast of vividly drawn characters - including scientists, war veterans, prelates, Holocaust survivors, cabinet members, theologians, New York Times reporters, filmmakers, and crooners - in what proves to be a quest for an authentic spirituality at the end of this tortured century.

Daringly poised at the junction of the sacred and the profane, and filled with the sights and sounds of New York, this dazzlingly inventive masterwork emerges as the American novel readers have been thirsting for a defining document of our times, a narrative of the twentieth century written for the twenty-first.

So the theory has it that the universe expanded exponentially from a point, a singular space/time point, a moment/thing, some original particulate event or quantum substantive happenstance, to an extent that the word explosion is inadequate, though the theory is known as the Big Bang. What we are supposed to keep in mind, in our mind, is that the universe didn't burst out into pre-existent available space, it was the space that blew out, taking everything with it in a great expansive flowering, a silent flash into being in a second or two of the entire outrushing universe of gas and matter and darkness-light, a cosmic floop of nothing into the volume and chronology of spacetime. Okay?

And universal history since has seen a kind of evolution of star matter, of elemental dust, nebulae, burning, glowing, pulsing, everything flying away from everything else for the last fifteen or so billion years.

But what does it mean that the original singularity, or the singular originality, ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
INTRODUCTION

City of God
City of God opens a vast window on a range of religious, scientific, historic, and aesthetic concerns. E. L. Doctorow’s novel promises to strike readers as a wonderfully unusual novel with a liberating narrative technique that breaks many of the so-called "rules" of the novel and also echoes and riffs on styles and themes from a wide range of literary and historical antecedents. The works of such disparate authors as John Dos Passos, Virginia Woolf, Walter Benjamin, Tony Kushner, Elie Wiesel, and Jorge Luis Borges might be discussed alongside City of God with fruitful results.

A novel as thematically playful, nonlinear, and wide-ranging as City of God invites a similarly atypical approach to discussing ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Robert Tower

E.L. Doctorow is an astonishing novelist--astonishing not only in the virtuosity with which he deploys his mimetic skills, but also in the fact that it is impossible to predict even roughly the shape, scope and tone of one of his novels from its predecessors.

The Wall Street Journal

Sparkles with Mr. Doctorow's rich language and ideas.

Los Angeles Times

City of God blooms with a humor and a humanity that carries triumphant as intelligent a novel as one might hope to find these days

The New York Times Book Review - Robert Tower

E.L. Doctorow is an astonishing novelist--astonishing not only in the virtuosity with which he deploys his mimetic skills, but also in the fact that it is impossible to predict even roughly the shape, scope and tone of one of his novels from its predecessors.

Newsweek

Doctorow is a master of atmosphere . . . He knows the art of storytelling inside and out.

Houston Chronicle

The greatest American novel of the past 50 years . . . reading City of God restores one's faith in literature.

Reader Reviews

Tim Roschel

City of God
You have to admire the ambition of any writer willing to blend the histories, religions, philosophies, and sciences of the twentieth century in a single, short novel. Doctorow tackles these "big questions" with his usual assortment of fictional...   Read More

Geza Csikasz

Beyond description. Each page an exciting journey into ideas, people, events and places. Any person living today who is sensitive to the finest details and impressions of modern life, yet still intrigued by the eternal mysteries of man, religion and ...   Read More

dawn

my opinon about city of god
I am a Chinese, so I am not familiar with the novel in english version and I read the translation work in most of time. I can not understand postmordernism work.This work seems to be easier than others.I can find many shades which happen in reality....   Read More

Tyler

Do Not Read!
Terrible. Doctorow makes the novel near impossible to follow by referring to every character in the first tense and not properly introducing them in the novel. Confusion and lack of proper writing style make City of God a terrible read!

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