After the success of the dazzling White Teeth, Zadie Smith's second
novel is an altogether more sober book. Alex-Li Tandem is Chinese
Jewish and fascinated by the flotsam of 21st century life. He's a
man in search of something to believe in - his dead father, the
Jewish Yaweh, or the obscure silent-screen actress Kitty Alexander.
The fragments that shore him up against his ruin are autographs,
for Alex-Li searches out and sells the signatures of the famous.
Did you know that a Greta Garbo is worth oodles more than a Ginger
Rogers? And the most wanted autograph of them all, for Alex-Li, is
a Kitty Alexander. So, when a mystery postcard turns up on his
doorstep with the signature of his goddess he zips off to New York
to solve the puzzle. Smith is as clever as a Cambridge graduate can
be. She has to tell us everything she knows about wrestling, Jewish
jokes, the autograph business and the Kaballah. She follows her
characters around commenting on their thoughts and actions, not so
much an omniscient narrator as a bossy big sister. It's lucky she
has an ear for the quirky turn of phrase and an eye for comedy. She
also seems to have the other eye glued to the American market. The
plot is pure Hollywood - from a dingy London suburb to sparkling
New York, with plenty of kooky Jewish characters, Chinese
mysticism, a girlfriend with a dodgy ticker and a whore with a
heart of gold. It's a great book, and it will make an excellent
film. Lucy English is the author of Our Dancing Days (Kirkus UK)
Deeply funny, subversive and splendidly entertaining, The Autograph Man is a whirlwind tour of celebrity and our fame-obsessed times. Following one Alex-Li Tandem – a twenty-something, Chinese-Jewish autograph dealer turned on by sex, drugs and organized religion – it takes in London and New York, love and death, fathers and sons, as Alex tries to discover how a piece of paper can bring him closer to his heart’s desire. Exposing our misconceptions about our idols – about ourselves – The Autograph Man is a brilliant, unforgettable tale about who we are and what we really want to be.
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