The Education of Robert Nifkin

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Overview

The Education of Robert Nifkin is the education of a beatnik. Set in 1950s Chicago and conveyed in the form of a college essay, Robert Nifkin details his journey from a mind-numbing high school that smells to the curriculum-free carnival of a private school ruled by bohemians, beatniks, and freaks.

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Overview

The Education of Robert Nifkin is the education of a beatnik. Set in 1950s Chicago and conveyed in the form of a college essay, Robert Nifkin details his journey from a mind-numbing high school that smells to the curriculum-free carnival of a private school ruled by bohemians, beatniks, and freaks.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Pinkwater fans should appreciate the anarchy as well as the irreverent descriptions of high school life." School Library Journal

"Falling somewhere between Candide and Holden Caulfield, Robert is an inexperienced but savvy teen, with [a] capacity for sardonic observations that will have readers rocking with laughter." Kirkus Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Originally published in 1998, it's back to school for the star of The Education of Robert Nifkin by Daniel Pinkwater, who relates his rather unusual experiences at a Chicago high school in the 1950s as a college application essay. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
This young adult novel is about the life of beatnik Robert Nifkin as he struggles through high school in the 1950s. Pinkwater composed the story as Nifkin's college entrance application regarding his high school experience. His family has just moved from a small town in California to the upbeat and busy city of Chicago. He starts attending Riverview High School in hopes of meeting exciting new friends and teachers, but he soon discovers that each day will be "mind-numbingly identical." Each day the teachers warn the students to be cautious of Communists in the school. Classes require that the students consistently copy notes from the blackboard, and teachers do no teaching whatsoever. Robert joins ROTC to escape his horrible gym teacher, but after a month, the program closes down because of a Communist Sergeant. After awhile, Nifkin quickly finds out that he no longer wants to live a mundane life at Riverview High and convinces his parents to let him transfer to a uniquely laidback private school with an eclectic group of teachers and students like himself. He becomes comfortable with this school and decides to attend summer school, hoping to graduate early. His rather unusual but exceptional teachers give him the learning experience that he really needs. Pinkwater does a good job of portraying the humiliations of adolescence by showing how hard it is to find a group to fit in with in high school. Nifkin begins as a social outcast and turns into someone who makes friends and develops a love for architecture, art, reading at the library, and interesting movies. As one of the more promising students at the Wheaton School, he hopes to attend college. The book contains some profanity andmoves a little slowly at times, but Nifkin's character seems to develop and mature toward the end. This bit of historical fiction reveals to the reader what life was like during the 50s concerning American anti-Communist sentiment. 2005, Graphia/Houghton Mifflin Company, Ages 12 up.
—Katie Manson
KLIATT
To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, July 1998: In the form of a college application essay, Robert Nifkin (a stand-in for the author) humorously recounts his experiences at two very different high schools in Chicago in the 1950s. The first is a hellish large public high school, where "The only thing I was learning was that boredom can hurt like physical pain." The teachers are crazy in various ways, ranging from the anti-Semitic English teacher to the biology teacher who babbles to herself in the coat closet during the class. He joins R.O.T.C., which is closed down for being a "Commie cell." Robert eventually skips class for months at a time and happily explores Chicago. When he's found out he convinces his hostile immigrant father (who likes to say "I'm the kink of my castle," as Pinkwater renders his accent) to send him to a private school. The Wheaton school is a unique, and uniquely lax, institution, where "the dregs of Chicago youth turned up," and "they limit enrollment to humans—for the most parta unless you pay in advance." Robert settles in happily; the teachers and students are just as eccentric, but tolerant of each other. He meets a number of intriguing people and manages to learn a lot in summer school, thanks to some offbeat but dedicated teachers. Pinkwater's equally offbeat style make this a treat to read, full of sharp observations and a keen memory for the humiliations of adolescence. He takes delight in the bizarre, and his pleasure is contagious. A few profanities here and there. KLIATT Codes: JS*—Exceptional book, recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2005, Houghton Mifflin, Graphia, 178p., Ages 12 to 18.
—PaulaRohrlick
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780618552085
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 5/30/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 188
  • Sales rank: 1,465,713
  • Age range: 12 years
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.43 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel Pinkwater is crazy about writing, and has been trying to learn how to do it for fifty years. He has written about a hundred books, all but two or three of them good. People who own radios may know Daniel Pinkwater as a popular commentator and children’s book reviewer on National Public Radio. At one time, he lived in Los Angeles, went to a fancy private school with the children of movie stars, and ate in The Hat numerous times. He lives with his wife, the illustrator and novelist Jill Pinkwater, and several dogs and cats in a very old farmhouse in New York’s Hudson River Valley.

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Read an Excerpt

My father is a son-of-a-bitch from Eastern Europe. Where he came from, getting as far as high school was a pretty big deal. He never made it. Neither did my mother, who is along similar lines to my father, although she came over when she was very young and doesn't speak with an accent. As far as my parents are concerned, when you hit high school you are an adult.
In my family, that means you are even more on your own than previously. My parents believe in the principle of "Sink or swim," or "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger—or it kills you." So, when I hit Riverview High School, all supervision stopped, all restrictions were lifted. I could go where I wanted, stay out as late as I wanted, hang out with anybody, do anything—officially, that is. Mom and Dad were never very consistent. Any privileges could be, and were, suspended whenever they felt like it, especially my father.
When I decided I would smoke, for example, my father smacked the cigarette out of my face—and my face. This did not mean I was not allowed to smoke—just that I was not allowed to smoke cigarettes, which my father associated with men who lived off the immoral earnings of women. I was allowed to smoke cigars, however.
"Only not dem little cigars vitch also makes you look like some pimp," my father said.
Great big stogies were manly, and perfectly all right with him, and he even gave me a five-pack of Wolf Brothers Rum-Soaked Crooks to get me started right.
As a high-schooler, I was now also permitted to buy my own clothes, out of my allowance—but I could buy them only in stores my father personally approved. This meant that I could purchase trousers only at Kupferman's Pants on Roosevelt Road, and Kupferman, a friend of my father's, would sell me only one kind, blue-gray worsted wool, with pleats, and raised black twisted wiggles woven into the fabric.
"Dese are deh poifect pants for a young man in high school," Kupferman, who talks just like my father, says. "Dey vear like iron." They also feel like iron. They make a noise when you walk, and chafe your thighs until you get used to them. You can strike matches on them.
My father gave me a brown leather briefcase, with straps, probably the only one like that in America, and a plaid scarf.
"Now you look like a sport," he said.
What I looked like was someone going to high school in maybe Lodz or Krakow, maybe twenty years ago, or my father's idea of such a person.
I forgot to mention that my father forced me to buy a pair of heavy black shoes with soles about an inch thick. They look like diver's boots and are supposed to last me the rest of my life. Which they will. Easily.
Thus, when I set out for my first day at Riverview, my appearance clearly marked me as a model geek. I was still getting used to the industrial footwear and developing the strength necessary to lift each foot. This gave me a sort of Frankenstein-monster gait. The briefcase, containing two brand- new notebooks and two Wolf Brothers Rum-Soaked Crooks cigars, bounced against my ironclad knee. I was sweating, and the extra-heavy-duty black hornrims, which my father's friend Julius the Optician had sold me, were slipping down my nose. I had the feeling—but set it down to first-day jitters—that I was about to descend into hell.
You should always trust your feelings.

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First Chapter

The Education of Robert Nifkin


By Daniel Manus Pinkwater

Graphia

Copyright © 2005 Daniel Manus Pinkwater
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0618552081

My father is a son-of-a-bitch from Eastern Europe. Where he came from,
getting as far as high school was a pretty big deal. He never made it. Neither
did my mother, who is along similar lines to my father, although she came
over when she was very young and doesn't speak with an accent. As far as
my parents are concerned, when you hit high school you are an adult.
In my family, that means you are even more on your own than
previously. My parents believe in the principle of "Sink or swim," or "What
doesn't kill you makes you stronger—or it kills you."
So, when I hit Riverview High School, all supervision stopped, all
restrictions were lifted. I could go where I wanted, stay out as late as I
wanted, hang out with anybody, do anything—officially, that is. Mom and Dad
were never very consistent. Any privileges could be, and were, suspended
whenever they felt like it, especially my father.
When I decided I would smoke, for example, my father smacked
the cigarette out of my face—and my face. This did not mean I was not
allowed to smoke—just that I was not allowed to smoke cigarettes, which my
father associated with men who lived off the immoral earnings of women. I
was allowed to smoke cigars,however.
"Only not dem little cigars vitch also makes you look like some
pimp," my father said.
Great big stogies were manly, and perfectly all right with him, and
he even gave me a five-pack of Wolf Brothers Rum-Soaked Crooks to get me
started right.
As a high-schooler, I was now also permitted to buy my own
clothes, out of my allowance—but I could buy them only in stores my father
personally approved. This meant that I could purchase trousers only at
Kupferman's Pants on Roosevelt Road, and Kupferman, a friend of my
father's, would sell me only one kind, blue-gray worsted wool, with pleats,
and raised black twisted wiggles woven into the fabric.
"Dese are deh poifect pants for a young man in high school,"
Kupferman, who talks just like my father, says. "Dey vear like iron."
They also feel like iron. They make a noise when you walk, and
chafe your thighs until you get used to them. You can strike matches on
them.
My father gave me a brown leather briefcase, with straps, probably
the only one like that in America, and a plaid scarf.
"Now you look like a sport," he said.
What I looked like was someone going to high school in maybe
Lodz or Krakow, maybe twenty years ago, or my father's idea of such a
person.
I forgot to mention that my father forced me to buy a pair of heavy
black shoes with soles about an inch thick. They look like diver's boots and
are supposed to last me the rest of my life. Which they will. Easily.
Thus, when I set out for my first day at Riverview, my appearance
clearly marked me as a model geek. I was still getting used to the the strength necessary to lift each foot. This gave
me a sort of Frankenstein-monster gait. The briefcase, containing two brand-
new notebooks and two Wolf Brothers Rum-Soaked Crooks cigars, bounced
against my ironclad knee. I was sweating, and the extra-heavy-duty black
hornrims, which my father's friend Julius the Optician had sold me, were
slipping down my nose. I had the feeling—but set it down to first-day jitters—
that I was about to descend into hell.
You should always trust your feelings.

Continues...

Excerpted from The Education of Robert Nifkin by Daniel Manus Pinkwater Copyright © 2005 by Daniel Manus Pinkwater. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 23, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    praise for "the education of robert nifkin"

    On my (short) journey of reading this book, there was only one thing I could do, erupt on the floor with laughter! I will never forget reading this book. It is one of my favorite books and I recommend it to anyone alive and breathing. I also recommend it to those who are just looking for something to lift up their souls, wipe the frown of their faces and replace it with tons of laugh-out-loud moments. "The Education of Robert Nifkin" is entertaining, comical, witty, and priceless. It is an unforgettable read.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 23, 2001

    **Kier's Review**

    The book is an essay on high school experiences that Robert Nifkin wrote to get into St. Leon's College. Robert is a fairly chubby kid who has just moved to Chicago. He doesn't have any friends; his father is a pretty crazy guy from Eastern Europe with a funny accent. His mother is normal but she is a very bad cook. His first day of Riverview High school was a disaster. He went to his assigned home base and found that his teacher (Mrs. Kukla) was a crazy anti-Communist. She screamed at the top of her lungs all the time and accused Robert of being a communist. Then he went to Gym class and his gym teacher made fun of his weight and ordered him to run laps. His next class was English. He walked in and found a pretty young teacher named Mrs. MacAllister. She seemed fairly normal at first but then she started warning the kids about Jewish people and how they had a secret plan to destroy society. She was crazy too. He went to Science after that then history. His Science teacher had mold growing on the walls and his history teacher looked like he hadn't taken a shower in weeks. He already hated high school. Every day he dreaded going to school. Then he got sick of Mrs. Kukla calling him a communist so he joined the ROTC which means Reserve Officers Training Corps at his school. He went there every day and all they talked about was how to put on your uniform correctly. Robert didn't get his uniform right away because he was bigger than all the kids so he had to have a uniform specially ordered. Every Friday they had to wear their uniforms. Robert met his first friend at Melburgers, an extremely greasy burger restaurant down the street from his apartment. Her name was Linda. She was a tomboy who was also a little chubby. She introduced Robert to her boyfriend Kenny. Kenny and Robert became good friends and together they delivered expensive artifacts to people all over the city. They each split the profit. Kenny had dropped out of school so he worked all day and Robert helped him after school. Robert started skipping school also and helped Kenny with the deliveries. When he was forced to go back to school he didn't go back to Riverview. He decided to go to a prep school, then summer school at the prep school. And now he is writing the essay to get into college. I liked it because it was very funny and interesting. It sometimes got a little weird and made you think. I recommend this book to people over the age of about 12 because of the language and the adult humor. If you are looking for a good laugh, read The Education of Robert Nifkin by Daniel Pinkwater.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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