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The Autograph Man
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About the Author

Zadie Smith was born in north-west London in 1975. She is the author of the novels White Teeth, The Autograph Man, On Beauty and NW, as well as The Embassy of Cambodia and a collection of essays, Changing My Mind. She is also the editor of The Book of Other People. Zadie was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2002, and was listed as one of Granta's 20 Best Young British Novelists in 2003 and again in 2013. White Teeth won multiple literary awards including the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, the Whitbread First Novel Award and the Guardian First Book Award. On Beauty was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and won the Orange Prize for Fiction 2006, and NW was shortlisted for the Baileys Prize for Fiction 2013. Zadie Smith is currently a tenured professor of fiction at New York University and lives in London and New York with her husband and two children. In 2016 she will publish her next novel, Swing Time.

Reviews

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. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

Smith's spectacular and sprawling first novel, White Teeth, seemed to spring from a greater reservoir of life experience than any 24-year-old author could reasonably be expected to possess, so the release of this follow-up will be closely watched for signs that Smith is a spent force. She is not: The Autograph Man is, if anything, more knowing and assured than Smith's first work. It tells the story of a young half-Chinese, half-Jewish autograph trader named Alex-Li Tandem who achieves a trade-specific form of enlightenment by tracking down the reclusive aging actress Kitty Alexander, whose extremely rare signatures are the envy of collectors everywhere. However, Alex's journey is more spiritual than commercial, shaped by the Kabbalistic guidance of a black Jewish friend and leading to a reconciliation with Alex's deceased father. But if Jewish mysticism and the collectibles market don't entice you, not to worry: the novel's real pleasure lies in the masterfully crafted characters and the small insights that capture something so true of the world that they make the reader sit up in startled recognition. Recommended for all public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/02.]-Sean Rocha, New York Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

"Intelligent. . . . exquisitely clever. . . . an ironic commentary about fame, mortality, and the triumph of image over reality." --"The Boston Globe
""The same bracing intelligence and salty humor that distinguished her debut. . . . Smith scatters marvelous sentences and sharp insights on nearly every page." --"LA Times"
"A lovely surprise. Zadie Smith . . . has come out with a second book that is actually "better" than its predecessor: its dialog funnier, its language even more plugged in, more wired." --"Esquire
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"A preternaturally gifted . . . writer [with] a voice that's street-smart and learned, sassy and philosophical all at the same time." -"The New York Times
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"Savvy, witty and exuberant." -New York "Daily News
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"Smith is young and smart, and . . . she proves to be an amazingly gifted writer." -"Washington Post Book World"
"Smith writes sharp dialogue for every age and race-and she's funny as hell." -"Newsweek"
"[Zadie Smith] possesses a more than ordinary share of talent." -"USA Today
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"Absolutely delightful." -Alan Cheuse, "Chicago Tribune"
"Smith's clever, aphoristic observations and snappy dialogue are so delightful they tend to become addictive. . . . [The Autograph Man is] always entertaining." -"Elle
"

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