Insect Dreams

Insect Dreams

The Half Life of Gregor Samsa

Written by:

Additional Formats
  • Ebook
  • ISBN 9781101220771
  • 480 Pages
  • Blue Hen
  • Adult


The metamorphosis of Kafka’s Gregor Samsa from fabric salesman to cockroach was surely one of the momentous transformations of the modern world. Now, in Marc Estrin’s astounding debut, Gregor undergoes yet another metamorphosis—one that propels him across the rocky and often ridiculous landscape of the early twentieth century.


In these continuously surprising pages, Estrin’s Gregor—secretly sold to a Viennese sideshow by the Samsas’ chambermaid—comes to sharpen his mind against those of Wittgenstein, Spengler and Einstein; dance to the crazy rhythm of American Prohibition; appear as a surprise witness at the Scopes trial; become intimately involved in Alice Paul’s feminist movement (and with Alice Paul); encounter the KKK; and confer with FDR, and Robert Oppenheimer—and emerge from it all as the very essence of modern conscience.



“A fascinating, erudite, humorous and humanistic journey through the interwar years.”—Chicago Tribune


“[A] funny, learned and, at times, poetic first novel.”—The Atlanta Journal and Constitution


“An idea with immediate and powerful literary appeal: Gregor Samsa, last seen as man turned cockroach in Kafka’s Metamorphosis, survives. He steps out of the pages of a book into a Viennese sideshow. From there his adventures only become wilder and funnier as the 20th century wears on…Estrin has the wit and brains to pull this off with comic brilliance, but more importantly he has the heart. Not since Don Marquis’s Archy and Mehitabel or Donald Harington’s The Cockroaches of Staymore have we met such a strangely lovable insect.”—The New Orleans Times Picayune


“With wit, humour and daunting intellect, Estrin resurrects one of literature’s most recognized symbols of the plight of modern man…an intoxicating meld of fact and fiction…If you’re a sucker for existentialism, for the big why of life and the bewildering how and where we’ve gone wrong, if you like zany humour underpinned with poignant searching, try dreaming along with Estrin’s Insect Dreams. Get to know his bug. You’ll recognize your own cockroachness in him.”—Toronto Globe and Mail


“Ultimately, Insect Dreams is a compilation of our dreams. It’s the kind of book from which one wakes clutching surreal scenes, desperate to tell others, delighted and baffled and horrified. Of course, Gregor makes a particularly peculiar savior; what do we need the moral example of a frail insect for—so despised and dejected of men? But stranger things have happened.” —

The Christian Science Monitor


“This ambitious and arresting first novel resurrects Kafka’s half-cockroach Gregor character to cry out against the evils of Nazis and the atomic bomb in a thoroughly engaging and thought-provoking tragicomic romp across defining cultural milestones of the 20th century West. But if this book bears a sobering message, it is also adroitly about the incongruities of life as an insect-human whose trials and sorrows truly seem like our own.”—San Francisco Chronicle


“Brimming with ruminations and observations and delectable bites of backstage history.”—The San Diego Union-Tribune


“Gregor becomes a complex figure in Estrin’s imagination. He’s a troubled soul…A wit deepened by a vivid depiction of generosity, curiosity and heroic persistence.”—The New York Times Book Review


“First: It’s funny. Second: It’s very funny. Third: It’s brilliant.”—Frederick Reuss


“Get ready for a highly imaginative ride through the cultural frontier of the early 20th Century. A colossal book of characters and events that inspires tears of laughter and sadness in its rich blend of clever metaphor and unsettling facts, this book promises to become a pivotal literary landmark. Highly recommended.”—Library Journal (starred review)


“Inventive, puckish Marc Estrin has produced a novel—a first novel, as it happens—that stands apart from business as usual in contemporary fiction…His storytelling—loose and expansive, historical and imagined, funny and sad—is a seriously ambitious work of art as well as a fine entertainment…He asks how the world between 1915 and 1945 might look to Gregor Samsa, the ultimate outsider, and follows the track of the possibilities that present themselves. This nonmethod gives the book its feel of spontaneity and life, its energy, its freedom from the deadening conventions of ordinary fiction.”—World and I


“The joy of this astonishing book—apart from its wit and its true erudition—is the tenderness with which the author treats even the least, and least worthy, of his characters. Insect Dreams is the kind of book you finish and immediately begin rereading, to see if it was really that good. It is.”—Peter S. Beagle


“His encounters with Charles Ives, FDR, Einstein and Oppenheimer, among others, are rendered with