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The Barnes & Noble Review
After a remarkable debut with White Teeth, Zadie Smith returns with an equally remarkable novel that reaffirms her talent, intelligence, and impressive literary range.
The eponymous Autograph Man is Alex Li-Tandem, an Anglo-Chinese Jew obsessed with the "Jewish/Goyish" dichotomy he sees everywhere around him. We first encounter Alex at age 13, attending a wrestling match with his father, Li-Jin, and discovering the arcane world of the autograph collector. Shortly afterward, Li-Jin dies from a wildly metastasizing brain tumor. Both events exert a powerful influence on Alex.
Fifteen years later, Alex is a professional autograph collector, leading a disorderly existence in the London suburb of Mountjoy. He's still haunted by Li-Jin's death, is perversely unfaithful to his girlfriend, and is obsessed with a retired, largely forgotten B-movie actress named Kitty Alexander. Convinced that he carries the same lethal cancer gene that killed is father, he stumbles through the "broken world" of contemporary London, collecting and selling celebrity autographs, which are to him potent symbols of a spurious immortality. Over the course of several hectic, drunken days, he travels to America, encounters the aging Kitty Alexander, makes a killing in the autograph market, and confronts his deepest feelings for his father.
The Autograph Man is stylish, witty, surprising, and erudite. Smith writes with wisdom, compassion, and uncommon grace about an odd corner of the world and the eccentric men and women who inhabit it, confirming her reputation as an original, highly observant writer with enormous gifts and virtually unlimited potential. Bill Sheehan