Summary and book reviews of Insect Dreams by Marc Estrin

Insect Dreams

by Marc Estrin

Insect Dreams
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2002, 480 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2003, 480 pages

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Book Summary

"This is a grand comic opera starring a meditative cockroach scuttling through the corridors of power at the fulcrum of the 20th century. An impressive debut, notable for a generous sense of fun."

It seems the Samsas’ chambermaid only claimed to sweep into the dustbin the twentieth century’s most remarkable contemplative. Instead, having spirited him from his bedchamber, she apparently sold the metamorphosed Gregor to a Viennese sideshow, where---it being 1915---he could earn his living lecturing carnival crowds on the implications of Rilke and Herr Spengler.

In this delightfully original work of imagination, compassion, and good reason, we follow the trajectory of Kafka’s salesman-turned-cockroach across two continents and thirty years as he touches the most significant flash points of his time. In the process, Marc Estrin delivers a human saga of cultural ambition and compassionate insight that may be the most surprising addition to Jewish literature in a generation.

What’s more, the book is funny. And Estrin’s Gregor is downright endearing.

With its reach and substance, Insect Dreams is nothing short of a liberal education---in cultural history, musical theory, nuclear physics, and the world of ideas. But it’s also a remarkable reading experience. With a scope, heart, and intelligence unparalleled in recent memory, Insect Dreams should spark wide-ranging discussions about who we’re becoming, now that the swiftest century is complete.

1. TAILS of HOFFNUNG

Wunderkammer Hoffnung---Amadeus Hoffnung’s Cabinet of Wonders---had begun as the hobby of a diminutive, shy adolescent: his childhood rock and insect collections, his autographs of singers from the Vienna State Opera, the paintings made by his oddly talented cat, and what was clearly the largest ball of string ever imagined by his otherwise mocking cohorts. The idea that his collection could become a business was far from the thoughts of this lonely child until one day in 1907 when his parents bought a Victrola, the very model pictured on "His Master’s Voice."

"You can start saving for your own record collection," his father said.

Karl Maria Hoffnung was not miserly, he simply wanted his son to learn the virtues of discernment and self-sufficiency. "I’ll add a crown a week to your allowance, and you can put it away for music. Maybe you could charge people to see your collections," he added, prescient.

Thus began young Amadeus’s ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews

Library Journal

Starred Review. Get ready for a highly imaginative ride through the cultural frontier of the early 20th century....In a fantastic mixture of fact and fiction, this witty debut novel follows the adventures of Gregor from post-World War 1 Vienna through the Manhattan Project....A colossal book of characters and events that inspires tears of laughter and sadness in its rich blend of clever metaphor and unsettling facts, this promises to become a pivotal literary landmark. Highly recommended.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Brilliantly conceived…rendered with a combination of humor, chutzpah, and intelligence.

Kirkus Reviews

This is a grand comic opera starring a meditative cockroach scuttling through the corridors of power at the fulcrum of the 20th century. An impressive debut, notable for a generous sense of fun that never detracts from the serious historical and existential implications of all that it so entertainingly depicts.

Author Blurb Frederick Reuss, author of Horace Afoot and Henry of Atlantic City
First It's funny. Second It's very funny. Third It's brilliant.

Author Blurb Peter S. Beagle
The joy of this astonishing book - apart from its wit and its true erudition – is the tenderness with which the author treats even the least, and least worthy, of his characters. Insect Dreams is the kind of book you finish and immediately begin rereading, to see if it was really THAT good. It is.

Author Blurb Tom Robbins
With its crazy-legged imagination, darting insights and twitchy wit, his is a creation that defies any sourpuss Raid to kill it dead.

Author Blurb Roger Shattuck, National Book Award Winner
Against all odds, this slyly outrageous story keeps picking up momentum. It allows us to watch the most explosive events of the early twentieth century from the wings. The whole account is written in the key of---Candide, meet Dr. Strangelove.

Reader Reviews

L Breier


This writer is nothing short of brilliant. I was constantly astounded by Estrin's range of knowledge--- world history, historical figures, physics, chemistry, music----you name it, Marc Estrin knows it intimately.
And "Insect Dreams" ...   Read More

Edith Kessler

I read "The Metamorphosis" when I was in high school. I thought it was fascinating. Your book "Insect Dreams" brought the character Gregor Samsa to life. I like the way Marc Estrin incorporated the character's knowledge and love ...   Read More

rich linder

Great book. At first I wasn't so sure, though the mastery of language was (is) there from the beginning. For a (short) while I wondered if this was one of those books in which the author seems more interested in showing off all he/she knows than in ...   Read More

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