Reviews of The Grasshopper King

Reviews of The Grasshopper King

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Read interviews with Jordan Ellenberg in Rain Taxi and the Princeton Weekly Bulletin.

"A very funny, laugh-out-loud funny at times, novel that has a very serious point to make as well as an interesting, complex storyline. I love fictional poets, and fictional Eastern European countries, so a fictional Eastern European poet, especially a hilariously grumpy, hostile, and untalented one, was just my cup of tea." --Caleb Wilson, Davis-Kidd Booksellers, Nashville, TN (from the May/June Booksense 76 list.)

"Nicely presented, by turns wistful and amusing, realistic and absurd, The Grasshopper King is full of small delights. An enjoyable, never predictable romp which doesn't settle for merely going for laughs but actually manages considerably more." Read the whole review from The Complete Review.

"...has fun with an original premise and a narrator whom we like although we may not believe everything he tells us." Read the whole review from The Washington Post.

"The Grasshopper King is an exceptionally silly book. It's also quite brilliant." Read the whole review from January Magazine. (scroll down)

"...the sad, funny, and very smart tale of a college professor who deliberately stops speaking, the social-misfit student hired to babysit him, and the patient woman these two troubled academics both love." From a profile in Washington City Paper, 13 June 2003 (not available online)

"This is a well-crafted novel with realistic characters...the hilarious finale is something out of a Preston Sturges screwball comedy." Read the whole review from The Boston Phoenix.

"...a bristly intellectual satire that embraces academia while playfully skewering it." Read the whole review from Hybrid Magazine.

"Ultimately, it seems everyone touched by this poet, or the professor, or the language becomes miserable and mad...and in turn, more honest in describing how woefully funny the world truly is." Read the whole review from City Pages.

"...deftly alternating bile and affection." Read the whole review from Baltimore City Paper.

Publishers Weekly, 7 Apr 2003

A prominent scholar who stops speaking in the late 1960s is the unlikely central figure of this clever campus satire, the debut of a young Princeton mathematics professor. Thirteen years after Prof. Stanley Higgs mysteriously clams up, Sam Grapearbor joins the Ph.D. program at the mediocre Western university of Chandler State. It's his job to encourage Higgs to talk again-an essential task, because Higgs is a revered scholar of the Gravinian poet Henderson, a misfit literary figure from a fictional Soviet republic-and is expected to produce at least one more pronouncement of genius. Meanwhile, Sam is laboring over a translation of Gravinian nursery rhymes, most concerning a character called Little Bug. Ellenberg's offbeat premise gives rise to plenty of witty observations and absurd situations (for example, Higgs's entire house is wired with tape recorders in case he decides to speak) that recall masters like Tom Robbins and Kurt Vonnegut Jr. The interlarded Henderson lore can grow tedious, as can Higgs's silence. Fortunately, Ellenberg balances his Nabokovian devices with poignant human relationships. Sam devotes much thought to whether he should marry his college girlfriend, Julia, who accompanies him to Higgs's home every day, while the distinct tenderness between mute Higgs and his patient wife, Ellen-and their mutual craziness-provides an unconventional but oddly appealing model of married life. Campus novels often tend toward the parochial or the arcane, but Ellenberg breathes fresh air into the genre.
(Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.)

ALA Booklist, 1 Apr 2003

Chandler University is trying to make its mark on academia by bolstering its new Gravinics Department with the help of a well-known authority on the subject, Professor Stanley Higgs. From a little-known country in the Carpathian foothills, the Gravinic language, mythology, and history are heralded by a cynical, rather demented poet named Henderson. Professor Higgs's bizarre course has finally given Chandler University some notoriety and officially sealed the beginning of the Henderson Society for aficionados of the acrid prose. When Professor Higgs becomes nonsensical and ceases to talk, the university hires Samuel Grapearbor to sit with the mute, checker-playing professor to await some prophetic utterance that might spill from his mouth. While Samuel waits for the serendipitous musings of Professor Higgs, his own future as a whole is wallowing in an unspoken pool of indecision. It is Ellenberg's keen sense of humor and propensity for drawing out the absurdity in collegiate obsessions that takes center stage in this very strange and over-the-top but amusing novel.

(Elsa Gaztambide, Booklist)

Kirkus Reviews, 1 Feb 2003 journalist Ellenberg, a well-known Princeton mathematician, debuts with this tale of a deranged scholar out west who devotes his life to the study of the worst poet in history.

We're introduced to the woebegone campus of Chandler State University, founded in 1871 on the site of the gold mine where prospector Tip Chandler struck it rich. The mine played out decades ago, but the college remains: an island of intellectual mediocrity in a ghost town in the middle of the desert. Chandler is famous for only one thing: its world-renowned Department of Gravinics, dedicated to the study of a Monaco-sized country in the Carpathian Mountains that was swallowed up in the 1920s by the Soviet Union. Gravine's most famous poet was an English expatriate named Henderson, and the world's foremost Henderson scholar is Chandler's own Stanley Higgs, a Chandler alum who discovered a stash of Henderson's poetry in Berlin and returned to Chandler to codify the manuscripts. The fact that Henderson's poetry is considered unreadable by just about everyone makes his discovery only more of an event, and soon Higgs becomes a star in his own right, attracting students from both coasts and abroad. But, like many an academic superstar, Higgs has his personality quirks, the most notable being his refusal to speak. At first he's merely taciturn, but eventually he gives up on talking altogether-with disastrous results for his lectures, of course, and for the university, which is desperate to regain the services of its most prized teacher. A surveillance squad is assigned to monitor Higgs around the clock for signs of vocal return. Meanwhile, Higgs's dogged research into the whereabouts of Henderson (who may still be alive) begins to bear fruit. Will Henderson himself speak again before Higgs does? And, more to the point, will either one have anything worthwhile to say?

Nicely done and genuinely funny though overlong: a satire that would benefit from Polonius's famous dictum: "Brevity is the soul of wit."

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