Reviews

Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer

bookysue's review against another edition

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1.0

It kills me to give JSF one star because I've always called him one of my favorite authors. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is maybe my all-time favorite book. And when I heard he had a new novel out after all this time, I couldn't WAIT to read it. But maybe the anticipation was my undoing because I just do not like this book. At all. I started reading it months ago and put it down one day and never picked it up again, which should have signaled something to me, but finally I convinced myself to try it again a few days ago. I made it to pg 178, and it's official; I'm calling it quits.

I just feel like instead of the thoughtful, beautiful writing I used to love him for, he filled this book was the sort of cheap tricks that bad writers use to try to elicit emotion from the reader -- in this case, all the stuff about innocent dogs on electrified floors and the diminishing quality of life of the old family dog, etc. Ugh.

I also could never lose myself in the story because it felt so much like navel-gazing to me. Everything he wrote seemed like a slight variation of his real life, his real family, his real job...It just felt like laziness to me, which I'm sure is unfair, but there it is.

To be clear, I haven't even made it to the real story; I've just struggled so damn much with the initial character development, and I care so little about what's going to happen that I have to move on to something else.

Basically, I never in a million years thought I'd be giving up on a JSF book, but...here I am.

regina_reads21's review against another edition

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slow-paced

3.0

anderska1011's review against another edition

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The MFC had sex with a doorknob. Why, I do not know. This book was already not good, then this happened and I decided it was irredeemable.

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craftygoat's review against another edition

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3.0

I heard Diane Rehm interview Jonathan Safran Foer several months back. (I'm a sucker for author interviews.) The scene at the zoo captured my imagination, so I added the book to my "To Read" list. I perhaps should have done more research -- read some reviews or something -- as this is not a book I would have normally chosen if I hadn't heard the interview. I prefer books where I actually like some of the characters, and (ahem) this isn't a book I would have chosen to listen to while waiting to pick my kids up from school. So maybe the book wasn't a good match for me.

On the other hand, it was quite an examination of people. Good themes, thought-provoking ideas. Not being Jewish (or really having known many Jews), I wasn't familiar with a lot of the customs in the book. But most of the ideas were universal. The disjointed timeline allowed revelations about the characters, peeling layer after layer back to reveal the inner motivations, flaws, etc.
Spoiler Who, if anyone, is to blame for the spiraling down? If Jacob had told Julia about taking Propecia (and its affect on their sex life), would things have turned out differently? Did Jacob script his own downfall? The book has no real resolutions, no happy ending, but hey, "We live in the world."

Fave quotes:
p. 103 (Sam in Other Life discussing the bat mitzvah): "My bat mitzvah portion is about many things, but I think it is primarily about who we are wholly there for, and how, that, more than anything else, defines our identity."
p. 247 (Julia at mock UN): "Julia hated to see nervous children. She wanted to go to her, give her an inspirational talk -- explain that life changes, and what is weak becomes strong, and what is a dream becomes a reality that requires a new dream."
p. 298-9 (family discussing bat mitzvah plans): "'You are the luckiest people in the history of the world,' Tamir said." [...] "'The problem,' Tamir said, standing up, 'is that you don't have nearly enough problems.'"
p. 314 (on Sam wondering where God, who is everywhere, put the world when he created it): "That night Jacob did a bit of research and learned that Sam's question had inspired volumes of thought over thousands of years. [...] Basically, God was everywhere, and as Sam surmised, when He wanted to create the world, there was nowhere to put it. So He made Himself smaller. Some referred to it as an act of contraction, others a concealment. Creation demanded self-erasure. [...] Jacob wondered if maybe, all these years, he had misunderstood the spaces surrounding Julia. [...] What if she [was] making a world for their children, even for Jacob." (Is parenthood an act of self-erasure?)
p. 408 (Tamir and Jacob discussing trading freedom for companionship): "So many blessings, but did anyone ever stop to ask why one would want a blessing?" "Blessings are just curses that other people envy."
p. 511-2 (Max's bat mitzvah): "You only get to keep what you refuse to let go of. [...] It's easy to be close, but almost impossible to stay close. Think about friends. Thank about hobbies. Even ideas. They're close to us -- sometimes so close we think they are part of us -- and then, at some point, they aren't close anymore. They go away. Only one thing can keep something close over time: holding it there. Grappling with it. Wrestling it to the ground, as Jacob did with the angel, and refusing to let it go. What we don't wrestle we let go of. Love isn't the absence of struggle. Love is struggle."
p. 566 (Jacob taking Argus to vet): "We live in the world, Jacob thought. That thought always seemed to insert itself, usually in opposition to the word ideally. Ideally we would make sandwiches at homeless shelters every weekend, and learn instruments late in life [...]. But we live in the world, and in the world there's soccer practice, and speech therapy [...], and also we're only human, [...] so as nice as that idea is, there's just no way we can make it happen. Ought to, but can't. Over and over and over: We live in the world."
p. 571 (Argus's last moments): "Argus's eyes rose to meet Jacob's. There was no acceptance to be found in them. No forgiveness. There was no knowledge that all that happened was all that would happen. Their relationship was defined not by what they could share, but what they couldn't. Between any two beings there is a unique, uncrossable distance, an unendurable sanctuary. Sometimes it takes the shape of aloneness. Sometimes it takes the shape of love. [...] He told [Argus]: 'Look at me.' He told himself: Life is precious, and I live in the world. He told the vet: 'I'm ready.'

I think it's poignant that Jacob was able to be there for Argus in a way that he wasn't there for (especially) Isaac, but maybe for anyone else either.


Final notes:
- I'm not used to reading novels set in the current day. Weird to have Syrian refugees and NPR and iPhones. Foer does a good job of presenting our modern world with its modern challenges.
- The audiobook was great. As I've been doing lately, I checked out both the book and audiobook so I can conveniently listen, but still re-read and mark passages. The times when I actually read the novel, I realized how difficult it was to keep track on some of the un-attributed pages of dialogue. Glad I had a reader who made it easy to keep track.

madsreb's review against another edition

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3.0

Firstly, completely agree with all the reviews that say this book needs a serious edit. If you removed all the double negatives alone it would be about 250 pages shorter. It's confusing, meandering, repetitive, and jumps back and forth through the narrative in a completely jarring way that often serves zero purpose. Admittedly, there were a few short passages that brought me to tears or made me laugh out loud (Benjy and Max are by far the best characters), but I'm not sure whether it was worth wading through 600 pages of metaphor to find them. That said, I couldn't put the bloody thing down, and feel as though I'll never forget it. Can't decide whether zero or five stars, so three it is.

jameshousworth's review against another edition

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4.0

This is going to seem like a weird review, because at first glance, this book has a lot going against it. It's very wordy. It's very long (571 pages). The plot is minimal. The characters are all, most of the time, selfish jerks. And I lost count of all the times the author mentioned masturbation (it's almost impressive how he could consistently work it into scenes in which you never imagined the word would ever show up).

But you know what? I honestly loved this book. I've never read a 500+ page book this quickly (not even you, Harry Potter). JSF just has a way of taking a character that is nothing like you (e.g. aging Zionist holocaust survivor) and making you see that they're actually just like you. But he does it in such a methodical, strange, hilarious way that you don't even realize it until about halfway through the book.

That's what made the book for me - its fascinating, crazy, yet relentlessly relatable characters. Yeah, there's a plot. A troubled Jewish-American family grapples with a whole host of family issues while the Jewish nation grapples with an international crisis. But the real meat of the story is in its characters' relationships to each other, to Judaism, and to themselves.

If you read this review and think you'll hate it, then chances are you probably will. But if you like interesting characters and creative storytelling, then I highly recommend this book!

dorkstarr's review against another edition

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2.0

Didn't finish, got about 2/3 of the way through. Honestly this was just straight up disappointing. It had none of the sweep or bombascity of Foer's first two novels, none of the emotion or incredible use of language. Basically, Foer got divorced, had an identity crisis, and decided to write a novel about it. If the novel had been moving or poignant, that might have been okay. I gave it two stars because there was an artfulness to it, because nothing by Foer can be completely artless. I even returned the book on Audible, which I haven't had to do yet.

tealeafbooks's review against another edition

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2.0

OK is what a 2 star rating stands for.

I wanted more from the characters. I felt a lack of connection and struggled to care about what I felt like I should care about.

I cared about the end, but if you listen to or read it, you will realize that few can avoid feeling nothing about the end.

kathieboucher's review against another edition

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Incomprehensible. Just no.

tstuppy's review against another edition

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4.0

I’ve had this since release; when I tried to read it the first time, I was put off by its seriousness and neurotic voice. I expected Foer to keep doing the same narrative tricks I loved in ELIC and EII. Six years later, I found myself really appreciating the story; it felt Franzen-esque and it’s characters were emotionally compelling. While I won’t rush to read it again, I’m glad I read it.