Reviews

Here I Am, by Jonathan Safran Foer

anghelcristiana's review against another edition

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5.0

Would absolutely recommend the audiobook version of this novel! The narrator Ari Fliakos does a great job bringing the characters to life and capturing beautiful nuances that otherwise might get lost on the page. Overall this was a 10/10 for me.

emilysea's review against another edition

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3.0

I love Jonathan Safran Foer. For some reason this book just didn't do it for me though. There were some funny parts and i did enjoy the writing and his storytelling, but...I was kind of dragging toward the end.

booksaremyjam's review against another edition

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1.0

Is Safran Foer going through a bad divorce? A bout of depression? Did he contemplate the human condition, find it wanting, and decide to write the most god-awfully-depressing series of words I have ever seen?

...This isn't rhetorical.

Safran Foer wrote my all-time favorite novel Everything is Illuminated. His second story about 9/11 was not as good, but still moving and well written. Eating Animals was a nonfiction attempt to understand the human relationship with animal products and, as a vegetarian, I really enjoyed his research.

So why does Here I am suck so bad?

The novel circles around a family: husband, wife, and their three sons. Recurring characters include the paternal grandparents, and the neglected family dog Argus. The family doesn't just have "normal growing pains" or "difficult times" - each character whose brain the reader peers into hates themselves and everyone around them. They are cruel, they are selfish, they are impossible to like. They aren't even fleshed out enough to truly understand them - the reader bases their impressions on the characters hate.

And I just couldn't do it. I couldn't submit myself to ~500 pages of self-loathing and rage. After 200 pages, I skimmed through to see if they ever move past the "I hate you and you and everything" theme of the beginning of the novel. They don't. And thank god I didn't hold on until the end, because holy shit is that a terrible close to a story.
SpoilerI mean, seriously, putting the dog down?! Holy fuck, Safran Foer! Get a therapist!
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I guess this is the end for me and Safran Foer. We had a good run, bud, but fuck have you fallen far.

katyjean81's review against another edition

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4.0

Read it on the plane today. It was excellent. I cried. Well done....

gh7's review against another edition

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4.0

Whatever happened to editors? I once read a biography of Max Perkins, editor to Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, among others. The deal back then seemed to be that a manuscript arriving at the offices was 70% done. Perkins then gave his 10% and the final 20% was a collaboration of author and editor. Nowadays it often seems editors do little more than hunt out typos. If Foer had had a Max Perkins – essentially to curb his excesses, something Perkins did very well with Tom Wolfe – this could have been a truly fabulous book. Instead I found it a novel of dazzling vignettes but flawed sustained artistry. Essentially there are two storylines going on here – the breakup of a marriage and the call of the motherland in crisis. So we get a personal identity crisis and a religious/national identity crisis. I was never convinced these two narratives organically coalesced. The fictitious war in the Middle East and subsequent investigations into religious/national identity always felt like a separate block of marble. It’s called upon to give more breadth to all the deft litigation of the microcosmic family world of the first part of the book but for me felt stuck on with adhesive tape. The fictitious war can easily be seen as a somewhat forced attempt to give largesse to what’s essentially a family melodrama.

It was difficult not to read this novel in part as a dramatization of the end of his marriage with Nicole Krauss. And as such I’d say Foer has grown up quite a lot. Jacob is a television screenwriter, a sort of Hamlet without the poetry, mired in mediocrity and ennui; Julia, his wife, is an architect who has never built any of her designs. “Dad can be such a pussy,” says Sam, the oldest son. “But Mum can be such a dick.” The children are virtually always wiser (and funnier) than the adults in this novel. Foer has always been good at doing children and the children here are the stars of the show. The problem I had with him before was that the worlds he created for his children were themselves a bit childish, sentimentalised, favouring charm over depth. Jacob, the lead male character, shares many characteristics of Foer the novelist, not least of all a tendency to shirk or ironicise deep feeling. At one point in the novel Jacob accuses himself of “turning half his marriage into stupid puns and ironic observations”. That, for me, is a pretty good critique of Foer’s first two novels – brilliant in part but always marred by a juvenile stand-up comedian within who can’t shut up. This novel though provides the children with a very grown up world without much sentimentality.

The first half of this novel is given over to the breakup of the marriage, the aftermath of the moment you realise that you love your children more than you love your spouse, and provides a wealth of brilliant insights into the mounting resentment of an estranged couple, the fall into self-righteous pettiness which often heralds a period in which the children become wiser than the adults. The children are wiser and far more worthy of respect than the adults throughout this novel. The first two hundred pages are fabulous – Foer’s best achievement to date. Then the war arrives. It arrives awkwardly. At first appearing more like something happening in Other Life, the virtual world where the oldest son spends much of his time. The question it throws up isn’t very interesting to me. E.M Forster answered it in one sentence. Granted there are added nuances asking an American Jew to sacrifice his home life to help prevent the annihilation of the state of Israel. But it’s still one of those worst case scenario what if questions, like Sophie’s choice. Extreme case scenarios rarely lead to interesting debates.

The war and the ultimatum it provokes seems like the wish fulfilment of Jacob’s father’s fantasy world. He’s a right wing blogger who belligerently identifies himself first and foremost as Jewish. He would disagree with Forster. He’s also the weakest character in the novel, the closest to caricature, and so when he takes over the novel’s central discourse you fear the worst.

The last fifty pages are devoted to Jacob, the second weakest character in the novel, and felt very sketchy. When the children left the novel, the novel slowly fizzled out. 3.5 stars.

kristendom's review against another edition

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4.0

I was all set to give this one three stars after slogging through most of it - it was difficult to read at times, boring to read at others, with a few better written parts thrown in there occasionally - and then I reached the last two chapters. They made the whole rest of the book worth it - I couldn't put it down when I was reading them. Despite the fact that I didn't love most of the characters - except the kids, how could you not adore these kids? - the final two chapters made me fall in love with them. It's a lot of book to get through for that end part, but the story that happens there - well, I wish the rest of the book had been written in such a way. Instead it's an in-depth look at 3 weeks in the life of a Jewish family who is not that religious, but who thinks they should be, maybe? Jacob's and Julia's marriage is on the rocks, Jacob's great-grandfather is considering suicide or moving into a nursing home - he's not sure which is the best choice, Jacob's father is an outspoken blogger who is currently derided by most people, and Jacob's and Julia's eldest son Sam is on the cusp of his bar mitzvah - despite his objections to having one. Throw in some cousins from Israel who arrive shortly before a major earthquake in their homeland, as well as a recently divorced father who shows Julia what else life has to offer, and an elderly dog who can't control his bowels, and you have the makings of a complex and real family. I dare you not to cry when you read the last chapter.

nimbifera's review against another edition

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5.0

As incisive, hilarious and heartbreaking as ever. With less experimental literary devices than his previous work but the same philosophical and poetic insightfulness aimed at slowly dissecting life into its most mundane, its most powerful and its most sacred components, all beautifully intertwined into a 700-page, un-put-downable epic.

kyaretta456's review against another edition

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2.0

Premessa necessaria: se è il primo libro di Foer è "carino". E' pieno di retorica, di frasi costruitissime, di personaggi inesistenti ma è carino.

SPOILER:
Se non è il vostro primo libro la domanda è: Perché c'hai messo 10 anni per scrivere questo schifo?
Ci hai fatti abituare, caro Jon (ti chiamo Jon) a situazioni assurde; a persone che scappano dalla guerra, che si fottono le cognate IL GIORNO DELLE NOZZE, a glory holes, a ragazzine nei cestini, a cacce al tesoro dopo l'11 Settembre.
Partiamo dall'inizio, visto che voglio fare critica. I personaggi sono inesistenti. Il protagonista e la moglie col nome abbinato, i figli che sembrano intercambiabili, i cugini erotomani, il cane (IL CANE) incontente.
Se volevi descrivere una famiglia newyorkese, ebrea e orrenda beh, ci sei riuscito, perché non solo ci ho messo 400 pagine a capire quale figlio fosse chi ma anche a distinguere come parlassero.
E il pippone ideologico sull'antisemitismo? Dopo "Ogni cosa è illuminata"? Almeno là c'era una ragione, qua proprio non ce la vedo.
Ho capito che ora collabori col "Nuovo Dizionario D'America" ma tutte quelle domande retoriche ti portano via pagine e tempo, specie al lettore.

petradegraaf's review against another edition

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5.0

Het pakte me niet direct maar wel snel. Echt een heel fijn dik boek, jammer dat het uit is!

junkutopia's review against another edition

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3.0

Update: As predicted I already want to knock this down to 3 stars. The more good fiction I read the more clear it is that this a perfect example of a solid but flawed 3 star novel.

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I'm having a tough time deciding what I think of this novel overall, so this might be a bit wishy-washy and my thoughts could well change numerous times in future.

The first 100 pages or so were real tough going; If it wasn't by a author I've enjoyed in the past I may have quit. The latter part of the book makes sense but is choppy, a bit all over the place. But (and this is a big, important but) in the middle and leaking into the aforementioned sections there is a fantastic, nuanced family drama. Not stylistically but in it's wide scope of covering one family in microscopic detail it really reminded me of [b:The Corrections|3805|The Corrections|Jonathan Franzen|https://d2arxad8u2l0g7.cloudfront.net/books/1355011305s/3805.jpg|941200], and frankly I love that kind of shit!

But it feels gimmicky in places with more devices than necessary, which if you've read JSF before you should expect from his two previous novels. But whereas they both contained a more 'fantasy' (for want of a better word) type world via certain elements, it's much more jarring in this hyperrealistic drama setting. I found it hard to believe kids that age could really be like that, the video game parts seem to be written by a guy who has never even seen someone else play a real video game, and just in general some of the things the family gets up to seem absurd. Which there is nothing wrong with, this is a story after all, but it just doesn't sit as well in a 600 page epic novel about religion and the modern family for me.

But when it's great, it is really great. For me this mostly came out when two or more characters were talking with each other, such wonderful, realistic dialogue between family members that pages just flew by in what felt like seconds, and I'm sure most people will already be aware that Foer is excellent with words and a master of writing in such a way to elicit maximum emotional impact.

So ultimately while being pretty different from his previous two works, it's actually pretty similar for me: A strong novel, beautiful writing, a interesting and turning story with deeper meaning, but stopped being a insta-fav because that story is also clunky in places and contains a few added unnecessaries; dare I say due to trying to hard?