October 26, 2017

Book Review: Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer


Here I Am

by Jonathan Safran Foer

Genre: Contemporary Literary Fiction
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
Length: 571 pages
Published: August 2016
Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble
Notes: Jonathan Safran Foer is the acclaimed author Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Everything is Illuminated, and Eating Animals. In my opinion Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a genius 5-star read and I've reread it several times.

My Goodreads Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Official Book Summary:

"In the book of Genesis, when God calls out, 'Abraham!' to order him to sacrifice his son Isaac, Abraham responds, 'Here I am.' Later, when Isaac calls out, 'My father!' to ask him why there is no animal to slaughter, Abraham responds, 'Here I am.'

How do we fulfill our conflicting duties as father, husband, and son; wife and mother; child and adult? Jew and American? How can we claim our own identities when our lives are linked so closely to others’? These are the questions at the heart of Jonathan Safran Foer’s first novel in eleven years--a work of extraordinary scope and heartbreaking intimacy.

Unfolding over four tumultuous weeks in present-day Washington D.C., Here I Am is the story of a fracturing family in a moment of crisis. As Jacob and Julia and their three sons are forced to confront the distances between the lives they think they want and the lives they are living, a catastrophic earthquake sets in motion a spiraling conflict in the Middle East. At stake is the very meaning of home–and the fundamental question of how much life one can bear.

Showcasing the same high-energy inventiveness, hilarious irreverence, and emotional urgency that readers and critics loved in his earlier work, Here I Am is Foer’s most searching, hard-hitting, and grandly entertaining novel yet. It not only confirms Foer’s stature as a dazzling literary talent but reveals a mature novelist who has fully come into his own as one of the most important writers of his generation. 


Quote: 

"You only get to keep what you refuse to let go of."

Excerpt: (from Part One, Chapter One)

"When the destruction of Israel commenced, Isaac Bloch was weighing whether or not to kill himself or move to the Jewish Home. He had lived in an apartment with books touching the ceilings, and rugs thick enough to hide dice; then in a room and a half with dirt floors; on forest floors, under unconcerned stars; under the floorboards of a Christian who, half a world and three-quarters of a century away, would have a tree planted to commemorate his righteousness; in a hole for so many days his knees would never wholly unbend; among Gypsies and partisans and half-decent Poles; in transit, refugee, and displaced persons camps; on a boat with a bottle with a boat that an insomniac agnostic had miraculously constructed inside it; on the other side of an ocean he would never wholly cross; above half a dozen grocery stores he killed himself fixing up and selling for small profits; beside a woman who rechecked the locks until she broke them, and died of old age at forty-two without a syllable of praise in her throat but the cells of her murdered mother still dividing in her brian; and finally, for the last quarter century, in a snow-globe-quiet Silver Spring split-level: ten pounds of Roman Vishniac bleaching on the coffee table; Enemies, A Love Story demagnetizing in the world's last functional VCR; egg salad becoming bird flu in a refrigerator mummified with photographs of gorgeous, genius, tumorless great-grandchildren.

German horticulturalists had pruned Isaac's family tree all the way back to the Galician soil. But with luck and intuition and no help from above, he had transplanted its roots into sidewalks of Washington, D.C., and lived to see it regrow limbs. And unless America turned on the Jews--until, his son, Irv, would correct--the tree would continue to branch and sprout. Of course, Isaac would be back in a hole by then. He would never unbend his knees, but at his unknown age, with unknown indignities however near, it was time to unball his Jewish fists and concede the beginning of the end. The difference between conceding and accepting is depression.

Even putting aside the destruction of Israel, the timing was unfortunate: it was only weeks before his eldest great-grandson's bar mitzvah, which Isaac had been marking as his life's finish line ever since he crossed the previous finish line of his youngest great-grandson's birth. But one can't control when an old Jew's soul will vacate his body and his body will vacate the coveted one-bedroom for the next body on the waiting list. One can't rush or defer manhood, either. Then again, the purchase of a dozen nonrefundable airplane tickets, the booking of a block of the Washington Hilton, and the payment of twenty-three thousand dollars in deposits for a bar mitzvah that has been on calendar since the last Winter Olympics are no guarantee that it's going to happen."


My Book Review: 

Trademark JSF-style, but dripping with marital bitterness and *extreme* crudity thrown in (seriously crass, even if you're a JSF fan it's unending).

The novel details the breakup of Jacob and Julia's marriage, their identity and faith crises, emotional detachment from their children, their children's pain, and a Middle Eastern earthquake and resulting war.

As usual, Foer excels in depicting coming-of-age and elderly male voices and his insights into Jewish identity are powerful. While both Jacob and Julia are greatly unlikable, Foer positions the guilty husband as the misunderstood, pained victim and his wife (the *only* female character of any substance in the novel) as nothing short of a cruel monster. This portrayal here of the sole depiction of womanhood as nothing short of a one-dimensional demon is annoyingly transparent given Foer's   recent divorce and makes for uncomfortable reading.

At times the writing of Here I Am is without a doubt four-star quality, but the crassness could sink this ship for many.

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