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Insect Dreams:
The Half Life of Gregor Samsa
by Marc Estrin

From Publishers Weekly
The hapless antihero who morphed into a cockroach in Kafka's Metamorphosis is resurrected and given a rather busy second life in Estrin's brilliantly conceived but erratic debut novel. In Estrin's version, Gregor Samsa is sold to a Viennese sideshow rather than being swept into the trash, and he quickly becomes the major attraction in entrepreneur Amadeus Hoffnung's bizarre little circus. The author keeps his early incarnation of Samsa reasonably close to Kafka's character, and he even adds a cheeky chapter in which Samsa meets Ludwig Wittgenstein. But when the circus subplot runs its course and Samsa goes off to New York, he undergoes a radical transformation into a half-man, half-insect superhero whom the author uses to reexamine the first half of the 20th century, with Samsa working behind the scenes as a liaison in the worlds of science, music, business and politics to push pivotal historical events in the right direction. His encounters with Charles Ives, FDR, Einstein and Oppenheimer, among others, are rendered with a combination of humor, chutzpah and intelligence. Even though Estrin has a tendency to go over the top, he succeeds at many levels in his recreation of one of Kafka's most memorable characters, redrawing Samsa as a compassionate, brilliant bug. The book's many excesses don't detract from the scope of its premise and the kaleidoscopic dazzle of its most successful episodes.

From: Sherry Keller Date: Thursday, May 15, 2003 08:16 AM I'm not quite half finished with this. I really enjoyed the very beginning, but now, I'm starting to think Estrin read Forrest Gump and thought "Hey, why not do that with a smart bug?" Is there any famous person from the '20s and '30s he didn't meet? I'll finish it because I really want Estrin to redeem himself and make there be a reason why he put Gregor Samsa in Depression Era America. Maybe there will be no reason. Maybe I am reading in vain (and very slowly, too). I'm guessing the whole thing is a dream and Gregor will end up back in Prague with his apple-wielding father. Someone in the "Metamorphosis" thread (Martin or George) mentioned that one mark of Kafka's genius was in making Gregor not be just a human in a bug suit. Well, this Gregor just seems to be a human in a bug suit. Estrin has changed the feeling of surreal entrapment Kafka generated, to an almost light-hearted romp. He did capture the feeling that no one is surprised that Gregor is a bug. Have any of you finished this yet? What do you think of the book? Sherry
From: Dean Denis Date: Thursday, May 15, 2003 09:41 AM I finished this and found it fun and serious at the same time. It was fun to see how people adjusted to and accommodated Gregor's physical condition but there is also the serious theme of "the decline of Western civilization" first indicated by the mention of Stegner's book of that title. A term which I find rather meaningless. All roads lead to roam. Dean
From: Tonya Presley Date: Thursday, May 15, 2003 10:03 AM I'm still reading, and very slowly. So far I agree with both of you: this is a man in a bug's body, and it is a serious and funny book. It is a dense book, too. Tonya
From: Sherry Keller Date: Thursday, May 22, 2003 07:29 AM I finished this book yesterday, and I think Estrin suffered from one of the flaws that mark some books: he did a lot of research, and by golly he wasn't going to leave any of it out. I wasn't surprised to learn on the book flap that he's an activist. Why he chose poor Gregor Samsa to be a vehicle for his message, I don't know. I think the metaphor he was reaching for was strained and sometimes invisible. I had an easier time reading it after the war started, for some reason. Maybe it was because the narrative flow went a little faster. He didn't flit from one famous situation to another as often. I think it's pretty funny that we discussed the "The Metamorphosis" so fully with probably more words than were in the original story. Here, we have almost 600 pages of stuff and we haven't said much of anything about it. Sherry
From: Tammy Riego Date: Thursday, May 22, 2003 09:51 AM Yes Sherry, I couldn't agree with you more. I'm about two-thirds of the way through and still waiting for the *story* to begin. Each of Gregor's *encounters* is like a chapter out of my daughter's 9th grade history book. Poor Gregor. I think *his* story has fallen by the way side of the author's agenda. Still, I can't say entirely that I'm not enjoying each lesson in history. This isn't the kind of book I would have normally chosen for myself, and that, I suppose, is the good thing about a forum such as Constant Reader. It has forced me to read outside the box of my comfort zone. I can certainly appreciate that. Tammy

Marc Estrin
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