(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The Book of Daniel is in many ways a political mystery story. As young children, Daniel and his sister lose their parents. Condemned as spies and betrayed by members of their own family, Daniel’s parents are martyrs in the view of the Left, which is sure they are innocent. As far as Daniel is concerned, however, his parents abandoned him, and he is doubtful that they understood the implications of their actions or how much their behavior actually played into the hands of the government that executed them.

Daniel finds it both fascinating and frustrating to try to piece together the past. When he finally tracks down the relative who informed on his parents, for example, Daniel finds that he is senile. So many years have passed that it is difficult either to re-create the feelings of another age or to determine the truth of the charges against his parents. Without a heritage he can share with others, Daniel feels isolated and without an identity. He wonders on what basis he can live his own life when he has such fundamental and apparently unanswerable questions about his own parents.

As a student of history, however, Daniel is capable of seeing things in terms larger than his own personal obsessions. The chapters of the novel alternate between first-person and third-person narration as Daniel himself swings from subjectivity to objectivity. His plight, he gradually realizes, is not so different from that of his country, which tends...

(The entire section is 550 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bloom, Harold, ed. E. L. Doctorow. New York: Chelsea House, 2001.

Fowler, Douglas. Understanding E. L. Doctorow. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1992.

Kakutani, Michiko. “Do Facts and Fiction Mix?” The New York Times Book Review, January 27, 1980, pp. 2-3, 28-29.

Levine, Paul. E. L. Doctorow. London: Methuen, 1985.

Morris, Christopher D. Conversations with E. L. Doctorow. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1999.

Strout, Cushing. “Historizing Fiction and Fictionalizing History: The Case of E. L. Doctorow.” Prospects, 1980, 423-437.

Trenner, Richard. E. L. Doctorow: Essays and Conversations. Princeton, N.J.: Ontario Review Press, 1983.

Weber, Richard. “E. L. Doctorow: Myth Maker.” The New York Times Magazine, October 20, 1985, 25-26, 42-43, 74-77.