I love this book. I know that there are a lot of serious readers out there, (and a lot of less than serious readers out there) who are not fans. If you think this is going to be a story like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, give up now. Jump ship, don’t bother buying or even borrowing this book. However, if you can get past his previous works and think about this book as just its own enjoyable piece of fiction, you might love it as much as I did.
The story is a bit … unbelievable. It centers around a family that is falling apart, and on Israel, which is also falling apart. I am not Jewish. There are certain references to Jewish customs and Middle Eastern issues that I was not familiar with. I don’t consider myself to be a great judge of that section of the book, because I have no idea how plausible it actually is.
The Middle Eastern politics seem to be what bothered most people about this book. The thing is, it was easy enough for me to read (and I get bored fairly easily) because mixed in with the politics, there was also a significant amount of family drama that kept it interesting.
The characters are witty. If you love JSF’s ability to craft a beautiful sentence, this book won’t disappoint you. He writes smart children’s dialog too, able to capture the strangeness of children’s minds, and celebrates the questions they aren’t afraid to ask. The book juxtaposes some very coarse sexual language with flowing, beautiful, expressive language. At first, there are a lot of things that are hard to grasp, and this is one of them, because the dirty language breaks in throughout the book with no explanation of why. It is eventually explained, and then adds another layer of understanding to the book.
“Between any two beings there is a unique, uncrossable distance, an unenterable sanctuary. Sometimes it takes the shape of aloneness. Sometimes it takes the shape of love.”
― Jonathan Safran Foer,
The children are sometimes too smart, there are things that the eldest, Sam and the middle child, Max say that blow my mind. The ability for them to think on their feet and argue without sounding too much like whiny adolescents is a breath of fresh air, but (especially Max at 10) seems a bit unbelievable. They do have brief periods of dirty jokes that are able to anchor them back to teenage reality.
The adults also have excellent banter, and deflect what should be heavy conversations by making light of them. This ends up being part of their downfall, but it entertaining. There are also some great puns in this book.
NPR and podcasts are mentioned fairly frequently in the book, and being a talk radio junkie myself, there are certain stories that I remember hearing, mixed in with fictional stories. I really enjoyed the random pieces of information and trivia that are sprinkled throughout the book.
Overall, my recommendation is that you read this book if you like: funny banter, smart kids, dysfunctional families, upper-middle class life, offensive language, family drama and things not really having a happy ending.
Do not read this book if sexual language or political opinions bother you.
“I’ve raised my voice at a human only twice in my entire life. Both times at the same human. Put differently: I’ve known only one human in my entire life. Put differently: I’ve allowed only one human to know me.”
― Jonathan Safran Foer,