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Necessary Errorsby Caleb Crain
Set in 1990, this remarkable first novel follows Jacob Putnam, a recent Harvard graduate, through a year teaching English in Prague. While most of his friends have moved on to graduate school or more traditional jobs, Jacob spends the year trying on a new way of living, away from parents and teachers and with no expectations or criticism.
We tag along as Jacob explores the city and hangs out with other expats. The scenes set at a local gay bar where Jacob meets and falls in and out of love with a couple of local men are especially well done.
It made me reminisce about spending time abroad in my early 20s and also reminded me to be my most authentic self, even if others may not always approve.
Synopses & Reviews
An exquisite debut novel that brilliantly captures the lives and romances of young expatriates in newly democratic Prague.
It’s October 1990. Jacob Putnam is young and full of ideas. He’s arrived a year too late to witness Czechoslovakia’s revolution, but he still hopes to find its spirit, somehow. He discovers a country at a crossroads between communism and capitalism, and a picturesque city overflowing with a vibrant, searching sense of possibility. As the men and women Jacob meets begin to fall in love with one another, no one turns out to be quite the same as the idea Jacob has of them — including Jacob himself.
Necessary Errors is the long-awaited first novel from literary critic and journalist Caleb Crain. Shimmering and expansive, Crain’s prose richly captures the turbulent feelings and discoveries of youth as it stretches toward adulthood — the chance encounters that grow into lasting, unforgettable experiences and the surprises of our first ventures into a foreign world — and the treasure of living in Prague during an era of historic change.
"Ferociously observed....We're not through with narratives about the Getting of Wisdom, Americans Abroad, Coming of Age, Gay Coming of Age, New Lost Generations. Among such works, a new narrative will be measured against Caleb Crain's fine book, which will endure as a powerful entry in the great fictional exploration of the meanings of liberation.” Norman Rush, The New York Review of Books
“An endearing and thoughtful look at the expatriate experience.” Marie Claire
"A sparkling first novel by the literary critic Caleb Crain about youth, ambition, and self-invention in early-90s Prague." Harper's Bazaar
“Crain reinvents the novel of the innocent abroad in his well-wrought debut....The novel is full of the kinds of conversations shared by intelligent, earnest young people everywhere; the parallels between their idealism and uncertainty and those of their adopted country are handled with great skill.” Publishers Weekly
“Crain (American Sympathy) continues his ascendant career with this fully realized debut novel, which delights and surprises with every paragraph....The plot is compelling, but Crain's talent for nuance and dialog, particularly in the gay bar scenes, is an observational wonder. Through a historic lens, Crain details the beautiful East European capital city's transition from Communist to democratic rule....This novel is a pleasure to navigate with its large, likable cast. Fans of Ben Lerner's Leaving the Atocha Station will find themselves similarly enchanted here.” Library Journal
"A long-awaited debut by one of the brightest literary and journalistic minds today, Caleb Crain's novel, Necessary Errors, chronicles a young man's experience in Czechoslovakia following the Velvet Revolution. He's missed the bonfires, but the flames haven't completely died out, and the morning-after light is the right intensity to survey the cultural landscape.” The Daily Beast
“Crain creates a compelling and heartfelt story that captures both the boundless enthusiasm and naïveté of youth. In addition, the detailed descriptions of Prague and Czech culture, in general, are sure to please those interested in this fascinating period in Eastern European history.” Booklist
"Crain's stately, wry, and generous first novel breaks the mold. Certainly, there's a classic coming-of-age narrative here. But as the back-cover blurbs attest, the adventures of American Jacob Putnam in Czechoslovakia right after the Iron Curtain's fall recall Henry James as much as they do Ben Lerner. Crain's broad social canvas and his deep interest in the lives of other people are marks of distinction." Garth Risk Hallberg, The Millions
“I've long admired Caleb Crain's writing, and Necessary Errors is a tender, immersive, insightful novel. Its author builds with affection a world large and small — of early-nineties Prague, gay nightlife, the hardships of laundry, the penumbra of post-Soviet capitalism, beer versus tea, intense ex-pat friendships, a hamster who lives in a pot, and the hopeful stages of love.” Chad Harbach, author of The Art of Fielding
“This novel sounds like nothing else happening now in American fiction. Its a tale of erotic awakening that contains — more like encodes — an attempt to read an historical moment, the nineties, when it seemed to many people that history was over. It has shades of Young Werther blowing through it. And shades of Young Törless. But also something other that's quiet and powerful and its own.” John Jeremiah Sullivan, author of Pulphead
About the Author
Caleb Crain is a frequent contributor to the New Yorker,the New York Review of Books,the Nation,the New York Times Magazine,the London Review of Books, n+1, the Paris Review Daily, and the New York Times Book Review. A graduate of Harvard and Columbia, he is the author of the critical work American Sympathy. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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