Here I Am
Hello, I am back after a hiatus due to the madness that was start of my senior year. A fitting return post is Jonathan Safran Foer (author of Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close)'s first novel in over a decade. Safran Foer returns with a dazzling novel about a crumbling Jewish-American family in D.C. (the parents are splitting up) at the same time an earthquake has struck Israel, thus precipitating a major conflict. The story takes place over four weeks, and covers a ton of ground, sucking you into this world that is so similar to our own.
There was one passage I could not get out of my mind weeks after I put it down, reminding me of Amos Oz & Fania Oz-Salzberger's Jews and Words: “Judaism has a special relationship with words. Giving a word to a thing is to give it life. ‘Let there be light,’ God said, ‘and there was light.’ No magic. No raised hands and thunder. The articulation made it possible. It is perhaps the most powerful of all Jewish ideas: expression is generative.” (Emphasis mine). And for Safran Foer, he embraces this Jewish relationship with words. He life to ideas of American Jewish identity, and questions of Jewishness. The back cover asks, "How can we claim our own identities when our own lives are linked so closely to others?" How can one be Jewish, and American? Father and son? He attempts to answer.
As the NYT book review writes (in a line I particularly enjoyed): "'Here I am' is a disrupted text about disruptions." Much like his previous two novels, it throws you into the middle of dialogue, into fragmented scenes, into different point of views, into chat rooms, into news reports, into Biblical stories. Yet a coherent narrative distinctly emerges. It is a hefty book -- clocking in at just under 600 pages -- so if you want to read an excerpt before committing to the whole novel, I would recommend "Maybe It Was the Distance," published in the New Yorker this past June. It delves into an alternate-world of Israeli politics that are very much rooted in our own world. I wish we got more of this politics; I wish we got something from Julia (the wife)'s perspective... but overall, it was a fantastic to read. One more excerpt, from a chapter on page 460-461 entitled "Come Home" -- just admire the breadth of subject he packs into one paragraph. He paints such a clear picture of Jews, you are stunned:
The prime minister inhaled, and gathered into the ram's horn the molecules of every Jew who had ever lived: the breath of warrior kings and fishmongers; tailors, matchmakers, and executive producers, kosher butchers, radical publishers, kibbutzniks, management consultants, orthopedic surgeons, tanners, and judges; the grateful laugh of someone with more than forty grandchildren gathered in his hospital room; the false moan of a prostitute who hides children under the bed on which he kisses Nazis on the mouth; the sigh of an ancient philosopher at a moment of understanding; the cry of a new orphan alone in a forest; the final air bubble to rise from the Seine and burst as Paul Celan sank, his pockets full of stones; the word clear from the lips of the first Jewish astronaut, strapped into a chair facing infinity. And the breath of those who never lived, but whose existence our existence depends on: the patriarchs, the matriarchs, and prophets; Abel's last plea; Sarah's laughter at the prospect of a miracle; Abraham offering his God and his son what could not be offered to both: 'Here I am.'