Cover image for The autograph man : a novel
Title:
The autograph man : a novel
Author:
Smith, Zadie.
Personal Author:
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Random House, 2002.
Physical Description:
347 pages ; 25 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780375501869
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

We live in a world of signs. But not everybody has to trade in them.... Alex-Li Tandem sells autographs. A small blip in a huge worldwide network of desire, his business is to hunt for names on paper, collect them, sell them, and occasionally fake them--all to give the people what they want: a little piece of Fame. But what does Alex want? Only the return of his father, the reinstatement of some kind of all-powerful, benevolent God-type figure, the end of religion, something for his headache, three different girls, infinite grace, and the rare autograph of forties movie actress Kitty Alexander. With fries. The Autograph Manis a deeply funny existential tour around the hollow things of modernity: celebrity, cinema, and the ugly triumph of symbol over experience. Through London and then New York, searching for the only autograph that has ever mattered to him, Alex follows the paper trail while resisting the mystical lure of Kabbalah and Zen, and avoiding all collectors, con men, and interfering rabbis who would put themselves in his path. Pushing against the tide of his generation, Alex-Li is on his way to finding enlightenment, otherwise known as some part of himself that cannot be signed, celebrated, or sold.


Author Notes

Zadie Smith is a novelist, essayist and short story writer. As of 2012, she has published four novels, White Teeth (2000), The Autograph Man (2002), On Beauty (2005), and NW (2012), all of which have received critical praise. In 2003, she was included on Granta's list of 20 best young authors and Smith won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2006. Her novel White Teeth was included in Time magazines TIME 100 Best English-language. Smith joined NYU's Creative Writing Program as a tenured professor in 2010.

Smith attended Hampstead Comprehensive School, and King's College, Cambridge University where she studied English literature.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Smith, a Londoner by birth, was a mere 24 years old when her first novel, White Teeth (2000), burst upon the literary scene. A surprising triumph of mature writing, it was reviewed widely and glowingly and climbed high onto the best-sellers lists. The good news is that her eagerly anticipated second novel is no sophomore slump. It is as bracingly intelligent and humorous as her first. On a thematic level, the novel is a meditation on celebrity. On a literal level, it is a rich, often wild, series of events in the peculiar life of a British-Chinese-Jewish man, Alex-Li Tandem, who by profession--and obsession--is a trader in autographs of the rich and famous. Alex's story rests on one abiding central conflict: his need to own an autograph of Kitty Alexander, a retired and reclusive actress big in the 1950s. Alex's relationship with girlfriend Esther is almost incidental--as are all other features of his life--in the face of his years of attempting to pry a signature out of the worldly wise and weary Kitty. His pursuit of this Holy Grail takes him from London, where he lives, to the much-edgier New York City, and what transpires there makes for a highly dramatic, very entertaining romp. --Brad Hooper


Publisher's Weekly Review

Smith's eagerly awaited second novel begins with a bang, but rapidly loses momentum, slipping from tragicomedy to rather overdetermined farce. The introductory set piece is panoramically sock-o in the best Martin Amis tradition, taking us from Doctor Li-Jin Tandem's outing with his son's friends to see a wrestling match in Albert Hall to his sudden death from a massive stroke. Fifteen years to the week later, Li-Jin's son, Alex, is being pressed by his friends, Adams Jacobs and Joseph Klein, to say Kaddish for his dad. Alex is an autograph trader and obsessive egotist. Over the course of the week, he wrecks his car on an acid trip, goes to New York in quest of the legendary retired actress Kitty Alexander, frees her from her mad manager (who promptly announces her death to the papers, thus inflating the value of her signature) and gets his girlfriend Esther, Adam's sister, angry enough that she suspends their relationship. Smith paints portraits of a very multiculti Judaism: Adam, for instance, is a black Jew, while Alex is a disbelieving Chinese one. Adam's kabbalistic interests are supposed to operate in Smith's text the way Homer's poem operated in Ulysses, giving it a mythic dimension, but the big theme of Jewishness feels tacked on, like a marquee advertising a former attraction. Smith's pen portraits of the shabby, yobbish autograph trading circle are intermittently funny, but her prose is so busy being clever that the laughter never builds. This is disappointing but, even with its faults, the novel points to a literary talent of a high order. (Oct. 8) Forecast: Smith's second novel should sell very well on the strength of her reputation alone, though it may not be the smash hit White Teeth was. Eight-city author tour. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

This is the story of one man's journey to find meaning in his life. Alex-Li Tandem, a 27-year-old who is half-Chinese and half-Jewish, ekes out an existence as an autograph dealer. Besides trying to find himself, Alex is also trying to get an elusive autograph of his favorite actress, a B-movie star from the 1950s named Kitty Alexander. The story devolves into a mishmash of fantasy and half-truths that are so twisted it is impossible to know where reality begins, let alone ends. Most of the characters are without dimension and simply serve as caricatures of bizarre individuals. Despite the needlessly long path of madcap adventures that morph into dreams or fantasies, this is a tortured tale that will wear out the best-intentioned of listeners. Even the tidbits about the Kabbalah, Zen Buddhism, and an alphabetical pursuit of drinks do not uplift this drivel. Steven Crossley's masterful reading is the only elevating feature. He is able to breathe some life into these lackluster and boring figures in an attempt to instill some animation into a painful listening experience. Smith won the Commonwealth Writers First Book Prize and the Whitbread First Novel Award for her first book, White Teeth. Her fans may want to give this a try just out of loyalty, but they should be warned that they will likely be disappointed. Not recommended.-Gloria Maxwell, Penn Valley Community Coll., Kansas City, MO (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

CHAPTER ONE You're either for me or against me, thought Alex-Li Tandem, referring to the daylight and, more generally, to the day. He stretched flat and made two fists. He was fully determined to lie right here until he was given something to work with, something noble, something fine. He saw no purpose in leaving his bed for a day that was against him from the get-go. He had tried it before; no good could come from it. A moment later he was surprised to feel a flush of warm light dappled over him, filtered through a blind. Nonviolent light. This was encouraging. Compare and contrast with yesterday morning's light, pettily fascist, cruel as the strip lighting in a hospital hallway. Or the morning before yesterday morning, when he had kept his eyes closed for the duration, afraid of whatever was causing that ominous red throb beneath the eyelids. Or the morning before that, the Morning of Doom, which no one could have supposed would continue for seventy-two hours. NOW OPTIMISTIC, ALEX grabbed the bauble that must be twisted to open blinds. His fingers were too sweaty. He shuttled up the bed, dried his left hand on the wall, gripped and pulled. The rain had come in the night. It looked as if the Flood had passed through Mountjoy, scrubbed it clean. The whole place seemed to have undergone an act of accidental restoration. He could see brickwork, newly red-faced and streaky as after a good weep, balconies with their clean crop of wet white socks, shirts and sheets. Shiny black aerials. Oh, it was fine. Collected water had transformed every gutter, every depression in the pavement, into prism puddles. There were rainbows everywhere. Alex took a minute to admire the gentle sun that kept its mildness even as it escaped a gray ceiling of cloud. On the horizon a spindly church steeple had been etched by a child over a skyline perfectly blue and flatly colored in. To the left of that sat the swollen cupola of a mosque, described with more skill. So people were off to see God, then, this morning. All of that was still happening. Alex smiled, weakly. He wished them well. IN HIS BATHROOM, Alex was almost defeated by the discovery of a sequence of small tragedies. There was an awful smell. Receptacles had been missed. Stuff was not where stuff should be. Stepping over stuff, ignoring stuff, stoic Alex turned to the vanity mirror. He yanked it towards him by its metal neck until its squares became diamonds, parallelograms, one steel line. He had aged, terribly. The catch in his face, the one that held things up, this had been released. But how long was it since he had been a boy? A few days? A year? A decade? And now this? He bared his teeth to the mirror. They were yellow. But on the plus side, they were there. He opened his Accidental eyes (Rubinfine's term: halfway between Oriental and Occidental) wide as they would go and touched the tip of his nose to the cold glass. What was the damage? His eyes worked. Light didn't hurt. Swallowing felt basic, uncomplicated. He was not shivering. He felt no crippling paranoia or muscular tremors. He seized his penis. He squeezed his cheeks. Present, correct. Everything was still where it appears in the textbooks. And it seemed unlikely that he would throw up, say, in the next four hours, something he had not been able to predict with any certainty for a long time. These were all wonderful, wonderful developments. Breathing heavily, Alex shaved off three days' worth of growth (had it been three days?). Finishing up, he cut himself only twice and applied the sad twists of tissue. Teeth done, Alex remembered the wear-and-tear deposit he had paid his landlord and shuffled back to the bedroom. He needed a cloth, but the kitchen was another country. Instead he took a pillowcase, dipped it in a glass of water and began to scrub at the handprint on the wall. Maybe it looked like art? Maybe it had a certain presence? He stepped back and looked at it, at the grubby yellow outline. Then he scrubbed some more. It didn't look like art. It looked like someone had died in the room. Alex sat down on the corner of his bed and pressed his thumbs to his eyes to stop two ready tears. A little gasp escaped him. And what's remarkable, he thought, what's really amazing, is this, is how tiny the actual thing was in the first place. This thing that almost destroyed me. Two, no, maybe three days ago he had placed a pill on his tongue, like a tiny communion wafer. He'd left it there for ten seconds, as recommended, before swallowing. He had never done anything like this before. Nothing could have prepared him! Moons rose, suns fell, for days, for nights, all without him noticing! Legal name: Microdot. Street name: Superstar. For a time it had made itself famous all through his body. And now it was over. Excerpted from The Autograph Man by Zadie Smith All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.