“Astonishing... City of God has many voices and many time frames. It has poetry, Holocaust memoir, and descriptions of the formation of the universe. Its ambitions are equal to any millennial task... I admire Mr. Doctorow’s daring for trying to pull this off —and succeeding... There are few novelists with talent as deep as his.”
—The New York Observer

“E.L. Doctorow is a national treasure, and City of God is a bright and invigorating example of his talents at their best... There aren’t half a dozen men or women alive who could have written this novel, and none even among those who could have made it work as well as it does.”
—St. Louis Post–Dispatch

“A deeply personal book... A stunning vision of metaphysics and faith, cosmology and spiritual emptiness, the rational mind and messianic longing... Sparkles with Doctorow’s rich language and ideas.”
—The Wall Street Journal

“An irresistible masterwork... Doctorow has fashioned a magically imaginative, unpredictable novel that is lushly rooted in moral philosophy and history... A careening, rollicking delight.”
—The Sun (Baltimore)

“The greatest American novel of the past 50 years... Reading City of God restores one’s faith in literature.”
—Houston Chronicle

From City of God

The Gospelers were writers. What is it you said writers do? Make the composition? Put things in, leave things out? To a secular fellow like you this may not be news, or even bad news. But if you’re a religious guy like me and you’re not a fundamentalist, you’ve got trouble... Miss? Could we have another round?
Wait a minute, Pem. You never knew any of this before?

I always knew. All of it. We all do. Divinity students read Nietzsche for immunization... I’ll tell you what I’ve kept. What I know in my heart and in my brain is the closest I’ll ever get to a revelation of my own. I am still happily, thankfully vulnerable to one aspect of the ancient apprehension: I can recognize a sign when I see one.

What does that mean?

Not a stop sign, my secular good buddy.

Uh-oh. You mean after all you’ve been saying...

...Listen: It doesn’t matter what maniacs put it there or why they did... A sign is a sign. And when you know it’s a sign, that enough. That’s how you know it’s a sign. It’s not something whose meaning is instantaneous. It doesn’t light up on Broadway. And its not something you go looking for, it has to come to you. That’s what signs do, they come to you. There is moment to this thing, where you know something... has finally happened. It is a thunderous silent thing. I made a mistake even mentioning it.

Shall I tell you about our specials?

Not now, dear, we have some drinking to do... I shouldn’t talk about it... Let’s forget the whole thing...

Come on Father.

Listen, I’ll say just this one thing. You place a big brass cross down on a synagogue roof, what could you be doing? Well, you could be doing with one brilliant stroke everything I’ve been translating into language for you...

Excerpted from City of God by E. L. Doctorow Copyright © 2012 by E.L. Doctorow. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.