Summary and book reviews of The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy

The Illusion of Separateness

A Novel

By Simon Van Booy

The Illusion of Separateness
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  • Hardcover: Jun 2013,
    224 pages.
    Paperback: Jun 2014,
    256 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Naomi Benaron

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Book Summary

Whether they are pursued by Nazi soldiers, old age, shame, deformity, disease, or regret, the varied characters of Simon Van Booy's utterly compelling novel The Illusion of Separateness discover in their darkest moments of fear and isolation that they are not alone, that they were never alone, that every human being is a link in an unseen chain.

This gripping, emotional story intertwines the stories of several compelling characters: a deformed German infantryman; a lonely British film director; a young, blind museum curator; Jewish-American newlyweds separated by war; a lost child on the brink of starvation; and a caretaker at a retirement home for actors in Santa Monica. The same world moves beneath each of them, and one by one, through seemingly random acts of selflessness, they discover the vital parts they have played in each other's lives, a realization that shatters the illusion of their separateness.

Chapter 1
THE ILLUSION OF SEPARATENESS

The mere thought of him brought comfort. They believed he could do anything, and that he protected them.

He listened to their troubles without speaking.

He performed his duties when they were asleep, when he could think about his life the way a child stands in front of the sea. Always rising at first light, he filled his bucket, then swished along the corridors with pine soap and hot water. There were calluses where he gripped the handle. The bucket was blue and difficult to carry when full. The water got dirty quickly, but it didn't annoy him. When it was done, he leaned his mop against the wall and went into the garden.

He sometimes drove to the pier at Santa Monica. It was something he did alone.

A long time ago, he proposed to a woman there.

There was mist because it was early and their lives were being forged around them. They could hear waves chopping but saw nothing.

In those days, Martin was a baker at the Caf&...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Define the phrase "illusion of separateness." The author uses it three times—in the epitaph, as the name of a photo exhibit curated by one of the book's characters, and as the book's title. How do all three tie together? What is the author's message to the reader about "separateness"? Is it a part of the human condition that we feel isolated and alone? Describe the ways in which all the characters in the novel are connected.
  2. In your group, have each member play the game "six degrees of separation." What, if any, links do you share that you had not realized—or consciously recognized—before?
  3. Think about the various characters. How did their choices unite the circle of their connection? Focus ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

If there is anything not to love in this novel, it is the sense that events are too connected, that Van Booy wraps up the stories with too neat a bow. The message, “we are all one and everything is connected,” is perhaps pushed a bit too hard. But this is by no means a fatal flaw. The book shines in its language. The characters are tenderly, fully, and lovingly rendered, and their stories keep the reader falling in love.   (Reviewed by Naomi Benaron).

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Media Reviews
Library Journal

A spare, elliptical story of human connection, framed by the horror of World War II….The story snaps together beautifully. A brilliant if elusive novel that shows how a single act can echo through time.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Using restraint and a subtle dose of foreshadowing, Van Booy expertly entangles these disparate lives; but it’s what he leaves out that captures the imagination. Full of clever staccato sentences bookended by snippets of inner monologue -- obvious, but ripe with meaning, the writing is what makes this remarkable book soar.

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Operation Carpetbagger

They flew by night, predominantly during the "moon period," when there was sufficient moonlight to navigate by. Their airplanes were painted black to avoid detection, and they flew at dangerously low altitudes, often as low as 2,000 ft. The first flights were with modified B-24D Liberators; later, C-47s, A-26s, and British Mosquitos were added to the arsenal. This was Operation Carpetbagger, a little known, top-secret mission of WW II conceived of and directed by the United States Office of Strategic Services, precursor of the CIA. Operation Carpetbagger began in support of top-secret Royal Air Force (RAF) missions flown out of a small British airbase in Tempsford, Bedforshire. Their purpose was to airdrop supplies and agents to ...

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