By Zadie Smith
This book went beyond bittersweet; it felt intently personal and very human.
Every dilemma and desperate search for answers is laid out clearly for the reader by the transparent protagonist, Alex-Li Tandem, in such exquisite, yet simplistic detail. This book was very much a coming of age story about someone who was too scared to search too deeply into himself when he was younger – the protagonist might be a late bloomer who initially does his best to avoid himself and the issues that plague him from his childhood, but the catharsis he reaches at the end is well worth suffering alongside him while he finally begins to search for meaning in his life.
He alternately avoids and focuses on – what he feels is – the duality of his half Chinese heritage and his Jewish heritage while living in London. He slowly begins to examine his relationship with both his parents, past and present, in order to understand them better as well as the culture that they brought to his life. His religious searching is much more present, however. No detail of his reality is skimped over, no matter how hard it is for him to face.
The mystery that begins to come out the more he follows his heart unfolds slowly but takes up more and more interest as every part of his life; past and present, living and dead, film and reality, culture and heritage.
The Autograph Man was a unique novel that forced the reader to ask themselves the same hard questions that Alex faces while also allowing the reader to completely lose themselves in his reality and learn vicariously from his mistakes and agonizing decisions. Will he get the autographs he is searching for? Will he find the meaning he is searching for? Will he make the right decisions with both? The answers are supremely satisfying.