The World of Tomorrow

The World of Tomorrow

3.73 (919 ratings by Goodreads)
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June 1939. With Europe on the brink of another World War, Francis Dempsey and his deaf-mute and shell-shocked brother, Michael, are en route to New York City, masquerading as minor British nobles aboard a luxury ocean liner, having absconded with a small fortune stolen from the IRA. Their destination is the house of their older brother, Martin, a jazz musician. But when Tom Cronin, a retired henchman seeking redemption through a final job, tracks the brothers down, Francis must capitulate to blackmail or have his family suffer fatal consequences.

New York, meanwhile, is suffused with an electric feeling of hope, caught up in the fervor of the World's Fair that will host King George and Queen Elizabeth, the first time in history a reigning British monarch has set foot on American soil. Over the course of one tumultuous week, THE WORLD OF TOMORROW brims with conmen, politicians, artists, musicians, mobsters, and molls -- characters haunted by their pasts and connected by blood, love, and chance. When the befuddled Michael disappears, wandering the streets of Manhattan alone, his only hope may be the mysterious Czech photographer who takes him under her wing. With Michael missing and Francis embroiled in an assassination plot, the brothers' long-awaited reunion with Martin may be short-lived.

From the smoky, boozy nightclubs of Harlem to the mansions of the wealthy and powerful to the backroom warrens of mobsters on the make, Brendan Mathews brings prewar New York to vivid, pulsing life. The sweeping and intricate storytelling of this remarkable debut is set against the resonant backdrop of an America that blithely hoped it could avoid the war and focus instead on the promise inherent in the slogan of the World's Fair: a peaceful, prosperous "World of Tomorrow."
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Product details

  • Hardback | 416 pages
  • 162 x 242 x 42mm | 810g
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0316382191
  • 9780316382199
  • 1,055,433

Review quote

"Mathews writes extraordinarily well . . . His plot, rife with geopolitical intrigue, is nicely calibrated . . . His characters are likable and clever . . . They're Depression-weary, ready to transcend 'the sordid history of the Old World and looking boldly to the future.' This is an expansive theme, and from it, the first-time author has carved a commendable novel."--Kevin Canfield, Minneapolis Star Tribune "The World of Tomorrow is that rarest of historical novels, a book that catches a moment in a jar, holds it aloft, and displays it for what it really is: Somebody else's day before tomorrow, the instant right before the future comes . . . Mathews's entire novel takes place over the course of one week in June of that year, culminating at the World's Fair itself, in a fast-paced finale worthy of a Scorcese long-take. And I love this about the book. I love the bright-eyed joy of it. The meticulous attention to detail that actually serves the plot . . . And I like that Mathews made this big book so intimate . . . One of the strengths of his story is the way it sprawls and loops. It finds odd little corners of time and place and character to get into and, in those corners, it finds both a balancing seriousness and a wideness of vision."--Jason Sheehan, NPR "Mathews has a big, rambunctious talent . . . He is a wonderful scene-setter, whether he's describing the streets of Manhattan in the wee hours or conjuring the glories of then brand-new Rockefeller Center . . . The gusto of his prose and vividness of his characters keeps the novel gyrating with zany energy . . . An exuberant debut novel."--Michael Upchurch, Chicago Tribune "The World of Tomorrow is a big American novel, filled with ordinary people on the verge of extraordinary changes. By week's end, each will have made a pivotal choice whose consequences ripple far beyond their own lives . . . As with many novels that feel quintessentially American, immigrants and refugees are lead characters . . . This is Mathews's first novel, but you would not know it from the depth of its characters or the tight-as-a-snare-drum pacing. He connects multiple narratives in gratifying and often surprising ways, which makes this nearly 600-page story fly by faster than many books half its size . . . Mathews infuses The World of Tomorrow with the sights, sounds, and smells of 1930s New York: the energy of the dancers in Harlem's Savoy Ballroom when the band is running hot; the island-unto-itself nature of a Park Avenue mansion; the savory delicacies from a pushcart on a crowded Bowery street . . . Mathews takes exquisite care in creating even marginal characters and locales . . . [He gives] a sense of an entire neighborhood in a few phrases . . . It's rare to read a book whose range and ambition so aptly fit its title. Page after page, The World of Tomorrow lives up to its notable name."--Carol Iaciofano, WBUR Advance praise for The World of Tomorrow
"Entertaining . . . outsized . . . The World of Tomorrow views its teeming cast of characters as though from the observation deck of one of the city skyscrapers that seem to 'burst from the pages of a comic book.' . . . Reveling in bold twists and fantastic coincidences, Mathews's big, expressive debut inhabits a world that's neither of the past nor the future but wholly of the imagination."--Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal "What a book! The World of Tomorrow is a panoramic tour-de-force, a huge undertaking peopled with convincing characters and animated by a persuasive historical accuracy. But beyond all that, my fascination was with the way Mathews assembled the novel, sifting and endlessly resifting his characters like sand, as life itself piled up right in front of me. The grim realities of America on the cusp of a second World War will be recognizable, but in this capable writer's hands, the individual characters-passionate, secretive, naive, lucky, unlucky, and sometimes hapless-remain full of surprises to the last. They exist not against the backdrop of history, but tangled up in its complex, cruel, or absurd demands, desperate to find whatever space is allowed them for intimacy."--Ann Beattie, PEN/Malamud-winning author of The New Yorker Stories "What a beguiling debut Brendan Mathews has given us in The World of Tomorrow clever, smart, ambitious, richly textured, and moving."
--Richard Russo, Pulitzer Prize-winning and New York Times bestselling author of Everybody's Fool "This Doctorow-esque debut novel shimmers with the swing and swank of 1939 New York . . . Mathews's urban epic is as rich and raucous as the city it celebrates."--O., The Oprah Magazine "This is one of those books that you jump into with its first line, like a diver into an inviting pond, and just happily swim for more than 500 pages . . . Mathews creates a crowded, bustling world that's insanely fun to inhabit. I didn't want this book to end . . . Just read it already."--Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times "Mathews's first novel is all you could want in a piece of popular fiction. The tension never lets up, and the story is fast and mind-spinningly complicated....There's suspense, humor, love, of both the doomed and requited varieties....This novel should prove irresistible to anyone wanting a diverting read. It's quality stuff--and fun." --David Keymer, Library Journal (Starred Review) "Mathews' colorful debut novel examines the legacy of Irish political violence for a family in both the old country and New York during one busy week in 1939.... Among the many splashes of New York atmosphere, the strongest are snapshots of the city's prewar musical frenzy.... Mathews' debut shows impressive control of this narrative cornucopia."--Kirkus Reviews, starred review "Mathews deftly handles a large cast of characters in The World of Tomorrow . . . Perhaps the most vibrant character of all, however, is New York itself. In hard-boiled prose that ranges from gossipy to poetic, Mathews takes us from humble Bronx homes to rowdy Manhattan jazz clubs, from grimy back alleys to palatial Fifth Avenue estates . . . The World of Tomorrow is a sweeping, impressive accomplishment . . . Mathews has written an insightful immigrant epic, not to mention a first-class literary thriller."--Tom Deignan, BookPage "Masterful....This novel is a remarkably fast and exhilarating read, reminiscent of Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay....With the wit of a '30s screwball comedy and the depth of a thoroughly researched historical novel, this one grabs the reader from the beginning to its suspenseful climax."
--Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) "In this sweeping book of slippery secret identities, Brendan Mathews invites us to sink deeply into the hearts and minds of a score of colorful characters. Magically constructed and methodically researched, The World of Tomorrow is a vastly entertaining novel about the powerful pull of family, the weight of history, and the allure of escaping into a better life-all set against a vivid and unforgettable New York."--Eleanor Henderson, New York Times bestselling author of Ten Thousand Saints "Brash, bold, completely entertaining, and dazzling in its evocation of time and place, Brendan Mathews's splendid debut offers pleasures on every page."
--Andrea Barrett, National Book Award-winning author of The Air We Breathe and Ship Fever "As everything rolls toward an adrenaline-fueled finale, Mathews brilliantly creates characters who embody the esprit de corps of immigrants and movingly explores themes of class, society, race, and family. For fans of Michael Chabon and E. L. Doctorow."--Bill Kelly, Booklist, starred review "A promising writer . . . Mathews is an able prose stylist, and breathing life into so many diverse characters is no mean feat . . . The possibility of dramatic transformation amid historical ferment is at the heart of The World of Tomorrow, a fat novel stuffed with well-drawn characters grappling with different versions of themselves . . . Mathews has a flair for bringing street scenes to life, and his hopscotching narrative-from a Harlem jazz joint to a Bowery art studio to a Fifth Avenue palace-makes for an enjoyable tour of a vanished city . . . An affable debut novel."--John Freeman Gill, Washington Post "A madcap rollick tinged with a touch of menace, The World of Tomorrow delights in sending its characters pinging around pre-World War II New York, on the run from Irish gangsters, fascist regimes, and crazy relatives . . . Mathews's breezy epic captures a hustling spirit soon to be subsumed by a world at war . . . A dazzling literary debut."--Chris Vognar, Dallas Morning News
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About Brendan Mathews

Brendan Mathews writes fiction and teaches at Bard College at Simon's Rock. A 2011 finalist for the Flannery O'Connor Short Fiction Prize, he has published in Best American Short Stories, Cincinnati Review, Glimmer Train, Virginia Quarterly Review, and others. He lives with his family in Lenox, Massachusetts.
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Rating details

919 ratings
3.73 out of 5 stars
5 22% (202)
4 40% (369)
3 29% (266)
2 7% (64)
1 2% (18)
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