Summary and book reviews of Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer

Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer X
Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2016, 592 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2017, 592 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte
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About this Book

Book Summary

A monumental new novel from the bestselling author of Everything Is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

In the book of Genesis, when God calls out, "Abraham!" before ordering him to sacrifice his son, Isaac, Abraham responds, "Here I am." Later, when Isaac calls out, "My father!" before asking 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 Bloch 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 quickly escalating conflict in the Middle East. At stake is the meaning of home - and the fundamental question of how much aliveness one can bear.

Showcasing the same high-energy inventiveness, hilarious irreverence, and emotional urgency that readers 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 novelist who has fully come into his own as one of our most important writers.

GET BACK TO HAPPINESS

When the destruction of Israel commenced, Isaac Bloch was weighing whether 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 ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. From Isaac and Irving to Jacob and Sam to Tamir and Barak, the male characters of Here I Am complicate simple notions of Jewish masculinity. How do the expectations of manhood differ across generations and nationalities? What do the Bloch and Blumenberg men all have in common?
  2. Jacob and Julia are not traditionally religious, but early in their relationship they practiced a "religion for two"—their own Friday Shabbat, Wednesday strolls, and Rosh Hashanah rituals, among others. What do rituals mean for the characters of Here I Am? How important are rituals—in religion, in relationships, and in everyday life—for you?
  3. Irv tells his son, Jacob, "Without context, we'd all be monsters" (page 24). What are the contexts that the ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

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I imagine that being a Jewish American (I am not), especially a Jewish American man who can relate to Jacob’s existential crisis, might cast Here I Am in an infinitely more favorable light. But one of the responsibilities of good fiction is to make the story universal, to draw the reader in. Sadly, while there might be a couple of redeeming facets to this novel, the Blochs are too busy navel-gazing to really lend anybody else a helping hand.   (Reviewed by Poornima Apte).

Full Review (807 words).

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Media Reviews

The Atlantic
In some respects, Foer's own imagination seems to have been chastened and disciplined. Here I Am lacks some of the postmodernist fireworks—the poetic and typographic inventions, the flights of magic-realist mumbo jumbo—that decorated his earlier fiction, though there are times when the conventional narrative is disrupted by video-game transcripts, teleplay excerpts, and speeches taken from news broadcasts. But most of the action is folded into scenes of sitcom-esque domestic realism, featuring dialogue studded with beats of carefully inflected smiling-through-the-pain humor.

The Guardian (UK)
Here I Am is a surprisingly old-fashioned, realist novel of ideas, and sees Safran Foer moving away from the playfulness and experimentation of his earlier works. If he doesn't go quite as far as Roth in Operation Shylock and give his protagonist his own name, there are numerous Ben Lerner-ish hints that we should identify Jacob with his creator. Here I Am is the lament of one lost in the wilderness of midlife, a Generation X-er who finds being grown up more frightening, less enchanted, than he'd been led to believe it would be.

The Sunday TImes (UK)
Dialogue pings, as animated as an Aaron Sorkin script, and is often, very, very funny.

The Economist
Here I Am, an epic of family and identity . . . offers an unflinching, tender appraisal of cultural displacement in an uncertain age.

Kirkus Reviews
Sharply observed but perhaps a bit too sprawling, Foer's novel bites off more than it can chew

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Richly rewarding...He poses several thorny moral questions ... That he can provide such a redemptive denouement, at once poignant, inspirational, and compassionate, is the mark of a thrillingly gifted writer.

Booklist
Starred Review. Foer's voluminous (verging on overblown), polyphonic, and boldly comedic tale of one family's quandaries astutely and forthrightly confronts humankind's capacity for the ludicrous and the profound, cruelty and love

Library Journal
Starred Review. Rigorous questions within an accessible story; highly recommended.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Cultural Heritage Sites Destroyed by Earthquakes

In Here I Am, a severe earthquake destroys practically all of Israel's (and its neighboring countries') cultural heritage sites. While this situation is fictional, there have been real instances of prized world heritage sites being destroyed or damaged by catastrophic seismic events. Here are a few examples of many:

The Erwang Temple, China
Erwang TempleChina's Sichuan province, home to a number of cultural heritage sites, is prone to earthquakes. When a major one struck in 2008, one of the primary treasures that suffered severe damage was the Erwang temple, built almost 2,000 years ago. The temple complex, situated on the eastern banks of the Dujiangyan dam on the Minjiang River, was built in harmony with the surrounding nature, and ...

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