Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow

I picked this up from a second hand bookshop in Nishi-Funabashi because, a) I thought it was by Cory Doctorow’s Dad (it’s not, the two authors are not related apparently) and b) it’s not often you come across an intriguing read in English for a couple of coins in the wastelands of Chiba’s shopping malls. Anyway, I was looking for reasons to dislike it (such is my way) as the blurb said it was now a magnificent musical (yuk). And at first I was a bit put out. The narrative is third person, sometimes omniscient and sometimes limited to one character. The author apparently detests quote marks and so didn’t use any even when folk were speaking to each other, and then it was never clear who the protagonist was — sure there was the fictional wealthy New Rochelle family who had their fingers in every NY pie, and they kept running across real worthies of the day – Booker T. Washington, Harry Houdini, Franz Ferdinand (the archduke, not the tedious band), Evelyn Nesbit, Sigmund Freud, J.P. Morgan and Henry Ford. so I was ready to dislike it for the tweeness and liberties the good Doctorow was taking with history when he threw in a gripping plot revolving around racial injustice and mob mentality and, well, I couldn’t put it down. At once quirky, humorous, serious, fictional, factual and enjoyable. The first book I’ve truly enjoyed since Covid-19 dawned.

No. 19 of 100 books I intend to read and review in 2020.

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Patrick Sherriff is an Englishman who survived 13 years working for newspapers in the US, UK and Japan. Between teaching English lessons at his conversation school in Abiko, Japan, with his wife, he writes and illustrates textbooks for non-native speakers of English, releases Hana Walker mystery novels, short stories, essays and a monthly newsletter highlighting good fiction published in English about Japan. Saku’s Random Book Club is his latest project to spend more time with books.