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The Resource City of God

City of God

City of God
City of God
Statement of responsibility
E.L. Doctorow
Writing style
  • "The mind considering itself--I shudder; it is too vast, a space without dimension," writes Doctorow, in his new novel, touted as a major work. It's all about a writer working through his ideas, and, indeed, considering his own mind. And like the writer's journal, this novel is propelled by reflections on the universal concerns of living--the qualities of childhood memory, the nature of God, and, particularly, the ever-changing state of the cosmos. The work is peppered with invocations to the "Lord," "Christ, "Jesus," and so forth either by the writer or the characters, real and imagined, in his works-in-progress. Mixed in with Doctorow's philosophical ruminations, there are stories, most centrally two love triangles. One is melodramatic, on the order of a Patricia Highsmith psychological thriller; the other involves two rabbis and a Catholic priest, which includes a story about a runner in a Jewish ghetto during World War II. The latter love story takes over as the writer delves deeper and deeper into that plot about a cross being removed from a Catholic church and planted atop the Synagogue of Evolutionary Judaism. The whole Christian-Jewish subplot is a rumination on the historic relationship between Jews and Christians and an indictment of power that must overcome by subjugating everything in its sphere, which amounts to "the accelerating disaster of human history." In this process of finding something to write about, the writer also puzzles out the form of his work. Is it to be a novel or a movie? In exploring the movie angle, there are passages on popular songs, such as "Stardust," "Dancing in the Dark," and "Shine on Harvest Moon." Tradition versus Reform Judaism. Tradition versus modernity. Pre-millennium versus post-millennium. Oh, where and how shall we proceed? Well, the runner in the Jewish ghetto is awfully compelling, but perhaps that ground was too well traveled. An interesting angle on the travails of the modern writer. ((Reviewed January 1 & 15, 2000)) -- Bonnie Smothers
  • New York at the end of the 20th century--hardly St. Augustine's city of God--is the canvas on which Doctorow paints an impressionistic portrait of man's frail moral nature and the possibilities of redemption. Challenging and provocative, this rambling narrative is a mix of alternating voices that touch on such matters as theology, popular music, astronomy, physics and science, war, carnal love, the verisimilitude of film to life (and distortions thereof). The story is at first difficult to discern, because the abruptly changing voices are not identified. But the episodic selections prove to be passages in a notebook kept by a writer called Everett, who is searching for inspiration for a novel. The easiest thread to follow, since it ties together and finally illuminates the other voices, is Everett's interest in a mysterious theft. In the fall of 1999, the brass cross from the altar of an Episcopal church in the East Village is stolen--and later discovered on the roof of an alternative synogogue on the Upper West Side. Fr. Thomas Pemberton, the spiritually restless rector of St. Timothy's, finds a kindred soul in iconoclastic Rabbi Joshua Gruen, the leader of the Evolutionary Judaism congregation. Together they probe the validity of religion in a century that has fostered epic barbarism and bloodshed. In fugal counterpoint to their conversations, the rabbi's wife, Sarah Blumenthal, herself a rabbi, discloses the story of her father's ordeals during the Holocaust, in which he tells of a manuscript hidden in the ghetto. Ensuing events cause a gentle, grieving Sarah and an unmoored Pem, whose chronic despair, intellectual arrogance and religious skepticism have cost him his pulpit, to draw together in need and understanding. This is merely the scaffolding of a story that ranges from stark tragedy to absurdist comedy, that includes quotations from popular songs from the first three decades of this century as well as speculations on infinity, a scenario for a sadistic love affair, the observations of a bird watcher, a free verse account of a WWII air battle, a consideration of the scientific discoveries that unleashed methodical human extermination and marvelous progress, minibios of Albert Einstein and Frank Sinatra, and the tenets of Christian and Jewish liturgy. Despite the fractured structure, suspense intensifies as the various segments intersect. Doctorow's language is both lyric and bracing, a mix of elegant, precise wordplay and brash vernacular. In a masterwork of characterization, he depicts a gallery of characters (including, hilariously, a retired New York Times editor who becomes an avenging angel) with vivid economy. At once audacious and assured, this profound existential inquiry will surely be ranked as a brilliant mirror of our life and times. 7-city author tour. (Feb.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
  • Who, what, and where is God? Inventing a writing style, an ambiance, and literally a logic of his own, Doctorow diligently answers this question in his most courageous novel yet. The main plot, which involves the disappearance of a brass cross from an Episcopal Church in Manhattan and its mysterious reappearance on the roof of the Synagogue for Evolutionary Judaism, is only a fragment of a picture that gets bigger and more complex toward the end. "This is my laboratory, here, in my skull," writes the narrator, who literally looks into the contents of his own mind as he attempts to write. (This is a novel about writing a novel.) As the narrator ranges from the absurdity of religion to the absurdity of life in New York, seemingly no thought or chronology is denied him; Doctorow's particular application of stream-of-consciousness technique would make Virginia Woolf proud. Retaining the memorable sensitivity of The Book of Daniel and the witty perceptiveness of Ragtime, City of God is everything Doctorow is recognized for and more. This rare mixture of facts and imagination, past and present, dialog and description, and poetry and scrutiny is absolutely essential reading. Only one objection: Why should this admirable literary quest even be labeled as fiction when it purposely defies all categorization? [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 10/15/99.]--Mirela Roncevic, "Library Journal" Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
  • An intensely conceived study of the varieties of contemporary religious experience that teases the mind intriguingly while never quite fully becoming the fiction it aspires to be. The story begins in the fall of 1999, with the random notebook jottings of a writer seeking a fictional subject, meanwhile worrying the idea of the physical universe's "profound, disastrous, hopeless infinitude," and what this may imply about the indifference, malevolence, or perhaps nonexistence of God. A subject soon presents itself: a brass cross disappears from St. Timothy's Episcopal Church in Manhattan, then inexplicably turns up on the roof of the nearby Synagogue of Evolutionary Judaism. The writer, Everett, makes the acquaintance of Episcopal priest Thomas Pemberton, a freethinking cleric distrusted by his superiors, with whom Everett exchanges life stories. The novel exfoliates ambitiously, as Pemberton bonds impulsively with the Synagogue's Rabbi Joshua Gruen and his wife Sarah (herself a rabbi); then, following Joshua's death during a "mission" to Europe, Thomas and Sarah fall in love, and Thomas begins the (literally) soul-searching process of converting to Judaism. Against this spare fictional framework, Doctorow (The Waterworks, 1994, etc.) counterpoints eloquently phrased and argued related "documents"; the story Sarah's elderly father tells of his experience of the Holocaust; Everett's re-creations (in free verse form) of his father's and brother's service in both world wars, and his own in Vietnam; his sardonic interpretations of the religious meaning implicit in American popular songs (such as "Me and My Shadow"), the avocation of birdwatching, and the culture of movies; and'in the boldest imaginative stroke'his invention of Ludwig Wittgenstein's diary, which opposes to the Nazis' destructive Weltanschauung an impassioned defense of the inquiring mind's potential for creativity. City of God both is and isn't a dramatization of the experience of questioning, losing, then partially regaining one's faith. There's something to pique and challenge the reader's imagination on virtually every page. But, like the novel it most resembles (Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five), what it actually dramatizes is its own (failed but fascinating) attempt to organize its own teeming content into fictional form. (Author tour) (Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2000)
Doctorow, E.L
no index present
Literary form
non fiction
  • Clergymen
  • Redemption
  • Spiritual life
  • Women rabbis
  • Synagogues
  • Churches
  • Vandalism
  • Judaism
  • Christianity
  • Religion and science
  • Authors, American
  • New York City
City of God
System control number
  • (Sirsi) i9780679447832
  • (OCoLC)42690125
City of God
System control number
  • (Sirsi) i9780679447832
  • (OCoLC)42690125

Library Locations

    • A. Mitchell Powell Jr. BranchBorrow it
      25 Hospital Road, Newnan, GA, 30263, US
      33.387732 -84.816797

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