The Grasshopper King
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The Grasshopper King

A Novel by Jordan Ellenberg

“Jordan Ellenberg’s one of the funniest, flashiest, zaniest, cleverest and also one of the most intelligent and knowledgeable new young writers around. His first novel, The Grasshopper King, sometimes seems to have been written by the Marx Brothers; other times it’s just strong, sharp satire and a good story. If it brings half the laughs and enjoyment to the reader as it did to me, it’ll be pure pleasure.” —Stephen Dixon

April 2003
6 x 9 | 200 pages
Paperback Original

ISBN: 978-1-56689-139-4.

$15.95

Description

Chandler State University is the one thing keeping the dusty, Western town of Chandler on the map. Now that its basketball program has fallen apart, CSU’s only claim to fame is its Gravinics Department, dedicated to the study of an obscure European country—its mythology, its extraordinarily difficult language, and especially its bizarre star poet, Henderson.

Having discovered Henderson’s poetry in a trash bin, Stanley Higgs becomes the foremost scholar of the poet’s work, accepts a position at Chandler State University, achieves international academic fame, marries the Dean’s daughter, and abruptly stops talking. With all of academia convinced that Higgs is formulating a great truth, the university employs Orwellian techniques to record Higgs’s every potential utterance and to save its reputation. A feckless Gravinics language student, Samuel Grapearbor, together with his long-suffering girlfriend Julia, is hired to monitor Higgs during the day. Over endless games of checkers and shared sandwiches, a uniquely silent friendship develops. As one man struggles to grow up and the other grows old, the Grasshopper King, in all of his glory, emerges.

In this debut novel about treachery, death, academia, marriage, mythology, history, and truly horrible poetry, Jordan Ellenberg creates a world complete with its own geography, obscene folklore, and absurdly endearing characters—a world where arcane subjects flourish and the smallest swerve from convention can result in immortality.

Awards

2003 May/June BookSense 76 Selection

2003 New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award Finalist

Reviews

“Ellenberg’s offbeat premise gives rise to plenty of witty and absurd situations that recall masters like Tom Robbins and Kurt Vonnegut…Campus novels often tend toward the parochial or the arcane, but Ellenberg breathes fresh air into the genre.”Publisher’s Weekly

“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.” Booklist

“Slate.com 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…Nicely done and genuinely funny.” Kirkus Reviews

 The Grasshopper King is a traditional comic academic novel, complete with deranged deans and crass coaches and desperate professors trapped in the hinterlands…Light, amusing, and carefully crafted as it is, The Grasshopper King is a cautionary tale about the perils of precision.” The Washington Post Book World

“…a delightful little novel…” American Book Review

“A zany send-up of campus life.” The New York Sun

The Grasshopper King is a breezy discovery for readers…In this madcap novel, the grasshopper-like characters croak, leap, and butt heads—ostensibly over academic fortune, but really in an effort to understand the meaning of love.” The Boston Phoenix

[T]he Grasshopper King is engaging. Sam’s self-deprecating narration is witty and satisfyingly melancholic, Ellenberg’s characters genuinely likeable, and there is an undercurrent of conspiracies and machinations that keeps the narrative moving.” Baltimore City Paper

“Ultimately, it seems everyone is 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.” —Minneapolis City Pages

 “The funniest campus novel in ages, and a slippery, serious-minded investigation of what happens when good languages go bad.” Rain Taxi Review of Books

 “Following in the tradition of Kingsley Amis’ Lucky Jim and Richard Russo’s Straight Man, Jordan Ellenberg’s The Grasshopper King tells the story of Sam Grapearbor, a sullen ambitious grad student, and Higgs, a professor obsessed with an obscure European poet…Ellenberg really shines when he scrutinizes, with hilarious insight, and the relationship between Grapearbor and the relationship between his girlfriend Julia…It’s here, in the imperfect romantic sphere, that Ellenberg shows off his terrific, formidable humor.”Rockland Journal News

 “Like reading Murakami, readers will find themselves in a world that is so absurd, yet so palpable. Writing with wit and cleverness, Ellenberg moves deftly among moments of poignancy, satire, and slapstick comedy to make The Grasshopper King an entertaining and worthwhile read.” Manitou Messenger

 “The funniest send-up of academia since Jane Smiley’s Moo.” ForeWord magazine

 “Zany campus satire about a university with a lame basketball program whose only residual claim to fame is its Gravinics Department, dedicated to the study of an obscure European country’s only notable export—the possibly world-saving poet, Henderson. Speedy, smart, and winsome meditations on immortality and obscurity.” The Believer

 The Grasshopper King is clever without pretentiousness, filled with enduring absurdity, bittersweet feelings and quirky characters.” Ripsaw News

 The Grasshopper King is a quirky story which is warmly appealing in a rich tapestry of unfolding hidden secrets…very highly recommended reading and a novel which clearly documents Jordan Ellenberg as an author to keep track of!” Library Bookwatch

The Grasshopper King is an exceptionally silly book. It’s also quite brilliant. These two things might sound mutually exclusive but, in mathematics professor and genius Jordan Ellenberg’s hands, they’re simply delightful.” January Magazine

 “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 quite settle for merely going for laughs but actually manages considerably more.” Complete Review

 “From Coffee House Press comes The Grasshopper King, Slate columnist Jordan Ellenberg’s wryly funny Boyle-cun-Borges satire about a crabby, untalented, yet mysteriously important Kafka-like poet and the two academics who wreck their lives by trying to explain him. We laughed more than a few times, and crown King as the best thing we’ve  read all month.” The Rake

“Very funny, laugh-out-loud funny at times, and yet still had 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

 “A brilliant debut: Jordan Ellenberg’s The Grasshopper King is perhaps the funniest and best-written ‘college’ novel I’ve read since Pale Fire—with a considerably more appealing cast of characters than Nabokov’s.” —John Barth  

“Jordan Ellenberg’s one of the funniest, flashiest, zaniest, cleverest and also one of the most intelligent and knowledgeable new young writers around. His first novel, The Grasshopper King, sometimes seems to have been written by the Marx Brothers; other times it’s just strong, sharp satire and a good story. If it brings half the laughs and enjoyment to the reader as it did to me, it’ll be pure pleasure.” —Stephen Dixon