Years ago I read The Waterworks by this author, whom I'd never heard of, and was surprised by how much I liked it. I think I only read it because it was the only English book for sale at the tourist resort in Bulgaria (apart from a collection of Star Trek short stories, which we also bought, yes ma'm), and in those circumstances I wasn't expecting a good book (because, n.b., the Star Trek stories). But Doctorow is really a great writer. So some time or other I saw this secondhand somewhere and remembered how well I liked The Waterworks, whereupon I brought it home to save for a rainy day. Reading up on Doctorow on Wikipedia reminded me that I'm sure I've seen his book Ragtime somewhere... did my parents own it? If so, how could it get missed when we cleared up after my father died? Ah well. I'm going to keep a keener lookout in the future.
This is a novel that seems like memoirs of Doctorow's own childhood, as a little boy named Edgar. It is only towards the end that we find out what the family's surname is (Altschuler), and that brings home to the reader that although a lot may be biographical, there may also be a lot of fiction mixed in. It is quite simply memories, in a fairly chronological order, from a very young age and up until the visit to the NY World's Fair at the age of nine or so. It brings to life a lost New York, a lost America, in the most wonderful way. How the children buy cheap toys, made in Japan, and roast sweet potatoes from street vendors, how a journey from Bronx to Brooklyn would take forever, with train changes and bus rides... The first half or so has inserts in other voices, chapters in which Edgar's mother, brother and aunt relate a few things of what they remember. The second part loses these voices, and is perhaps more fictional?
I hope this writer isn't too soon forgotten.