Amateur Barbarians (Hardcover)

By Robert Cohen

Scribner, 9780743230360, 416pp.

Publication Date: July 7, 2009

August 2009 Indie Next List

“A hilarious novel about a mid-life crisis and the dangers of too much introspection. This is Cohen's best book yet.”
— Mary Cotton, Newtonville Books, Newton, MA
View the List


Acclaimed, award-winning novelist Robert Cohen delivers a bold, provocative exploration of the panic of midlife, follow- ing two men plateaued on either side of their forties and the unexpected consequences of changing course.

Teddy Hastings is a New England middle school principal  desperate  for  transcendence.  Unmoored  by  his brother’s death and a health scare of his own, he tries to broaden his ordinary life and winds up unemployed and on the wrong side of the law. Meanwhile, Oren Pierce, a per- petual grad student from New York, abandons, somewhat to his own surprise, his search for the extraordinary and begins settling into the humble existence that Teddy seeks to escape. What comforts Oren alarms Teddy, and their paths overlap as Teddy’s quest for the unknown and unfamiliar experience takes him on a rash trip to Africa, leaving Oren to assume the trappings of his life, including Teddy’s wife Gail.

Amateur Barbarians showcases a writer at the peak of his powers, tracing domestic ambivalence, the comic perils of introspection and desire, and the terror of an unlived life with Cohen’s signature wit and uncanny perception, proving yet again why he was touted by The New York Times Book Review as the “heir to Saul Bellow and Philip Roth.”

Praise For Amateur Barbarians

" How can a book about life's most serious questions contain so many big laughs? Only a writer of Cohen's wit and intelligence could have pulled it off. He writes with the acuity of a psychoanalyst and the compassion of a saint. His superb prose style is as good as it gets." -- Sigrid Nunez, author of The Last of Her Kind

"If there's one thing that Robert Cohen's protagonists are good at, it's running in place. His characters trail around a long list of aggrievements, especially when it comes to themselves, and are continually affecting in the comic resourcefulness of their dyspepsia and pessimism. What's most moving about them, though, is the extent to which, as they try to figure out just how this maturity business operates, they perform the act of faith of behaving like better people in the hope that at some point that behavior might become the truth. Amateur Barbarians is hilarious and wise and may be his best work yet." -- Jim Shepard, author of Like You'd Underst and, Anyway

"Robert Cohen's satirical eye is sharper than ever -- who else could have captured so perfectly the struggles of middle age? A very funny and very smart novel." -- Andrea Barrett, author of The Air We Breathe and Ship Fever