ADDRESSES: Home—Burlington, VT. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Chelsea Green Publishing, 85 N. Main Street, Ste. 120, White River Jct., VT 05001.
CAREER: Bread & Puppet Theatre, VT, puppeteer; cellist with Vermont Philharmonic Orchestra, and Montpelier Chamber Orchestra, Montpelier, VT; political activist.
Insect Dreams: The Half Life of Gregor Samsa (novel), BlueHen Books (New York, NY), 2002.
Rehearsing with Gods: Photographs and Essays on the Bread & Puppet Theatre, photographs by Ronald T. Simon, Chelsea Green Publications (White River Junction, VT), 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: For Marc Estrin, writing is just another vocation, along with music, theater, science, and political activism. Indeed, his first novel came about almost without his intention, as he explained in an essay on BookBrowse.com: during a visit to Prague, "my wife and I, playing tourist, had visited [noted Czech author Franz] Kafka's grave, and I left the poor guy a note (along with all the other notes thrust into the gravel) inviting him to come visit if he got a chance…. Three weeks later, there he was, or rather Gregor, his most famous emissary, with a complete story outline on a platter."
Insect Dreams: The Half Life of Gregor Samsa focuses on the main character from Kafka's well-known novel The Metamorphosis, a man who awoke one day transformed into a cockroach, and transforms Samsa into a sort of emissary from a Europe slipping into horror to the naive United States. The book takes place in the first half of the twentieth century, and Samsa meets many of the notables of the time, including Albert Einstein, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Susan Larson noted in a review for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, "Readers will devour this book, just to see what happens next, what famous figure of the 20th century will be drawn to make the acquaintance of or test wits with a five foot-six inch talking cockroach." He also views seminal events, such as the famous Scopes Monkey Trial that dealt with the teaching of evolution, the execution of alleged anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti, and the creation of the atomic bomb.
Throughout, Samsa brings his unique perspective and unfailing decency to bear on the questions of the day, Estrin weaves philosophy, science, and history into his tale. "Indeed, if Insect Dreams weren't so perpetually funny, its philosophical ruminations and its encyclopedia of cameo appearances would be downright intimidating," commented Christian Science Monitor reviewer Ron Charles. For Library Journal reviewer David A. Berona, the result is a "colossal book of characters and events that inspires tears of laughter and sadness in its rich blend of clever metaphor and unsettling facts."
Along with his other pursuits, Estrin is also a puppeteer. In his text for Rehearsing with Gods: Photographs and Essays on the Bread & Puppet Theatre he recounts his work with one of New England's well-knonw puppet troupes. Founded by Peter Schumann in the early 1960s and still performing all over the world, the Bread & Puppet Theatre features enormous puppets made from straw, clay, and oddly, beer. They are also noted for spreading their "stage" over great distances, creating vast tableaus far different from the small spaces reserved for more conventional puppetry. The book itself is divided into eight sections, reflecting the archetypal themes of the shows, including "Death," "Fiend," "World," and "Hope." While Booklist reviewer Jack Helbig found Estrin's commentary too "subjective and self-consciously literary," a Publishers Weekly contributor commended him for making "the strong social activist component of the theatre clear, in tones that are by turns humorous and revealing." The collection of essays is enhanced by photography by Ronald T. Simon.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, May 15, 2004, review of Rehearsing with the Gods: Photographs and Essays on the Bread & Puppet Theatre, p. 1589.
Christian Science Monitor, February 14, 2002, Ron Charles, "The World Was His Roach Motel," p. 15.
Library Journal, December, 2001, review of Insect Dreams: The Half Life of Gregor Samsa, p. 52.
Publishers Weekly, December 10, 2001, review of Insect Dreams, p. 52; May 3, 2004, review of Rehearsing with the Gods, p. 188.
Times-Argus (Montpelier, VT), May 14, 2004, David M. Kaslow, "Meditation on 40 Years of Bread and Puppet."
Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA), February 14, 2002, Susan Larson, "Something Completely Different: Three Fresh Novels Push the Edge of the Envelope," p. 1.
World and I, June, 2002, Steve Dowden, "The Wound That Will Not Heal," p. 246.
Breakthrough Technologies Web site, http://www.breaktech.net/ (January 12, 2002), Dan Wickett, interview with Estrin.