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Book Review: The Autograph Man by Zadie Smith

20th April, 2016

The Autograph Man by Zadie Smith

Twenty something Alex Li-Tandem is an obsessed fan. He lives in a world of blind idolization of a Hollywood actress named Kitty. His desperate attempts to get in touch with her even in the middle of a personal disaster and the hurdles in the way of the autograph man is the gist of this work.


Alex Li-Tandem is a Chinese-Jewish man who makes a living out of collecting autographs, signed photographs and letters of celebrities. The story is set in the suburbs of Mountjoy, London where we see the Autograph Man (Alex) dividing everything in the world into Jewish and Goyish.

“People don’t settle for people. They resolve to be with them. It takes faith. You draw a circle in the sand and agree to stand in it and believe in it.”

The contrasting ease with which Alex is able to write heartfelt fan letters to his idol Kitty, for thirteen years, but is unable to communicate in an effective manner with his girlfriend Esther with whom he has had a ten year relationship forms the crux of the story. Zadie has done a brilliant narrative about celebrity obsession mingled with thoughts of love, death, religion and friendship. There are many symbolic references of obstructions (like Alex’s rabbi friends asking him for help to fit a huge piece of furniture in a small car) which can be enjoyed in the literary sense. The plot tightens as Alex finds himself in possession of an autograph of Kitty whose authenticity he is unable to determine. At the same time, his personal life is in a mess with his relationship with Esther being complicated by his acquaintance with a girl named Boot and he finds himself questioning his friendships. The story is about Alex’s journey to find himself, fulfill his dream of meeting Kitty and different perspectives on personal glory and selfless helping.

The Autograph Man by Zadie Smith

This is a book you have to work on – put in a few hours of reading and then push yourself to read a portion each day. I found the beginning portions extremely dry but the pace picked on from the middle, which was a relief. I do admit that I am fascinated by the concept of the book which is so original. It gives you an honest glimpse into the autograph market that stands on foundations of big money, agents and unrecognizable forged pieces. The book talks about Judaism, Goyishness and Zen Budhism, both the rational and the blind aspects which I found interesting.

The Autograph Man by Zadie Smith

I feel Zadie, being the genius that she is, could have delivered a crisper story by cutting a hundred pages. Her writing is fresh and has no shadows of her previous works unlike many authors who establish their style of writing and tend to get repetitive. This would be a good choice if you want to try out some good writing in contemporary literature, but otherwise it’s a big no-no.

Title: The Autograph Man
Author: Zadie Smith
Published: 2004
Language: English
Pages: 432
Rating: 3/5

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The Autograph Man

About the Author

Zadie Smith, born Sadie Smith in the north-west London, completed her first novel White Teeth during her final year at Cambridge. It made her a prominent literary figure with the response it generated. The Autograph Man is her second novel.

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This Post Has 16 Comments
    1. Thanks for sharing this. I loved reading through. Funnily I found this essay to be more tasteful than her book. I have White Teeth on the shelf. I must pick it up sometime. It looks big to me

  1. Her books are always so huge. I read On Beauty and Howard’s End in grad school. I’m not sure if I would have liked On Beauty without having also read E.M. Forster’s book, too. I have White Teeth, but I haven’t read it yet. Again, the huge size always makes me iffy. I’m trying to get through many smaller books in my pile that authors and publishers have sent to me first.

  2. I have both White Teeth and The Autograph Man. I’m glad I came across your review, so I know what to expect if I decide to pick it up. On the other hand, I might just pass on it and read something I know I will enjoy!

    1. Since you already have it on the shelf, you can read a chapter or two and see if i would appeal to you. I have heard a lot of good things about White Teeth. But after The Autograph man I think I need a little time before delving into that one.

  3. Great review of this book.

    I am coming to appreciate character studies more and more in literature.

    The contrast in the way that the protagonist communicates with his girlfriend verses his idol sounds fascinating. I also sounds like a great literary device.

  4. That’s a pretty detailed review. I will probably pass on this one. But I am new to this author – Are there any other books by this author that you would recommend?

    1. Thank you Shanaya. I would definitely not recommend starting with this book. It is very dry for a first read. Zadie Smith is very famous for many articles that she has written which I so loved. She is well acclaimed for her first novel The White Teeth. Sadly I have not read it after my battle with this one, The Autograph man

  5. I love that review, thank you so much for sharing! <3 I always wanted to read some Zadie Smith, I haven't, yet, but it's on my list! That book sounds interesting, and I just love that it gives us a glimpse into a world I've always been fascinated about. Maybe I'll give it a try! 🙂

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