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The Speed of Light

3.79 of 5 stars 3.79  ·  rating details  ·  463 ratings  ·  115 reviews
Every family has a story. Every story, eventually, must be told.

For most of their lives, Julian Perel and his sister, Paula, lived in a house cast in silence, witnesses to a father struggling with a devastating secret too painful to share. Though their father took his demons to the grave, his past refuses to rest.

As adults, brother and sister struggle to find their voice
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published August 28th 2001 by Ballantine Books (first published 2001)
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Elizabeth I decided to use the job of editing a science dictionary as Julian's occupation not only as a way of showing Julian's intellect at work but also to…moreI decided to use the job of editing a science dictionary as Julian's occupation not only as a way of showing Julian's intellect at work but also to allow readers to experience the beauty and mystery of scientific language. I'd been doing research on science dictionaries in order to improve my own understanding of both terminology and concepts when I discovered there were so many metaphors matching the characters and their interactions. I couldn't help wanting to incorporate these into the book itself. (less)
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Nov 04, 2010 Adrianna rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone with a heart.
Recommended to Adrianna by: You'd laugh.
Gillian Anderson made me do it. Even more than the idea to dye my hair red, this was the best idea she ever planted in my brain. The first time I read this book I cried and so I did on the second, third, fourth, fifth, etc. The voice of the three characters are so distinct that I barely needed the different font to differentiate. I believe in tiny miracles. I also believe that I still have more than 30 bookmarks for 30 different sections of the book that I go back and re-read whenever I start to ...more
It's like that moment after everything has broken and fallen apart and will never be okay again, and then out of the silence comes an unspeakably beautiful birdsong, hollow and sorrowful and triumphant, and everything ceases to exist outside the song.

Actually, it's almost exactly like that, except not at all cliched. If you started with that image, and wanted to write a story around it, and were an incredibly gifted poet who decided to turn your gifts to novel-writing, this is the book you woul
"There are so many languages, and so few words to say what we mean" - just one of the lines from this book that struck a chord with me.

Brother and sister Julian and Paula Perel grew up in a home with deep sadness. Their father, a holocaust survivor, had memories too grim to share, but his children seemed to absorb his pain and it dominated their lives. Julian became a scientist, but could barely leave his apartment, working in solitude on a scientific dictionary. Paula tried to ease her father's
Jun 22, 2013 Judy rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Judy by: Congregation Dor Hadash
"The Speed of Light" is a beautiful and elegant story of lives lived in the shadow of great pain and loss. Told from three different perspectives, it's about the lives of two adult children of a holocaust survivor and a young woman who witnessed the murder of her family and her entire village somewhere in Central or South America. It's well-documented that, while children of holocaust survivors did not actually experience the horror of the holocaust, they do inherit some of the pain, horror, and ...more
Sandra Oberbroeckling
The Speed of Light connected with me on many levels, despite the fact that my family (past or present) has not been persecuted in the ways described by the characters in the book. Elizabeth presents the characters gradually in such as way that by the end of the novel the varying typefaces are no longer necessary to distinguish their voices. The reader learns, bit by bit, the events that shape their perspectives. Everyday activities such as lunch or a trip to the Laundromat become important clues ...more
Oct 15, 2009 Rachel rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: adults

Excellent. How to turn "sorrow into song." Once again a wonderful character book. A wonderful read.
Barbara Stark-Nemon
"We needed the stories to tether us to the world; sharing them among ourselves could keep us connected to the dead and to one another." Such a gifted story shared, and I am tethered to Elizabeth Rosner! In my current campaign to understand the need of second and third generations to Holocaust survivors to find their places in the history and outcomes of that horror, The Speed of Light is a beautiful rendering of inherited memory, the legacy of trauma, and the enduring power of love and devotion ...more
Monty J Heying
[This is one of the most powerful scene's I have come across in literature. Isaac, a Jewish symphony conductor, speaks to Paula, a Jewish opera singer who has lost her voice after the shock of learning details about her father’s suffering at Auschwitz. As a ten year-old, the father's job had been to arrange bodies on a pallet so that when they were cremated the fat would collect efficiently for later use. Her father would never discuss what happened, but she wanted to know and had asked someone ...more
This was a reread, because I loved The Speed of Light so much I recommended it for my book group. Dazzled all over again by the gorgeous imagery and by Rosner's characterizations - although we get each of the three main characters' voices only in fragments, a few pages at a time, each character comes across with great nuance and depth. How does she do it?

I've gotten wary of books with Holocaust themes. Is it possible - is it moral - to say the Holocaust can feel overdone or it's such an immedia
Sep 17, 2008 K rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K by: Shelly
Shelves: holocaust
2.5 stars, grudgingly rounded up to 3 because I really couldn't give this the same rating I gave to "A Thousand Splendid Suns." (See what happens once you start with grade inflation?)

Initially, I found the rapidly shifting viewpoints jarring and annoying, and I felt like I just wanted to get into one person’s story and perspective. After a while I did get used to it and found that it moved the book faster; despite that, it’s not my preferred reading style. This was compounded by the fact that I
Nancy Dobson
I enjoyed this book. It alternates between three very distinct characters who each has a story to tell. The book went in a direction I was not expecting, but the end result was satisfying. You realize, at the end of the novel, that sometimes the bravest thing we can do in life is to reach out to another person. Sometimes, though, that act is terrifying, and we back away. I also like the book's approach to dealing with the past. Sometimes we are haunted by ghosts that are not our own. Family hist ...more
This was very good. I heard about it in an interview in Oprah magazine--her feature where she asks celebrities to list their favorite books. I don't even remember the name of the actress, but I'm glad she recommended this book! It's a very moving story of three people who have been damaged by the atrocities of life. They are drawn together and as limited as each of them are, they are able to help each other to heal. It's not an easy book to read, the subject matter is painful at times. It can al ...more
This novel has 3 narrators: a brother & sister, children of a Holocaust survivor who refused to talk to them about his Holocaust experience; and a housekeeper who was the sole survivor of a Latin American army's destruction of her village. All 3 have very different ways of coping with their inherited grief. The sister throws herself into her life out in the world as an opera singer; the brother almost totally withdraws from the world (I identified with him more than a normal person should); ...more
A brilliant novel of an introverted brother, world-class opera singing sister, and their housekeeper from a Central/South American country. The narrative is told linearly from each character's point of view in first person, but there is no overlap in the narrative -- the point of view leap-frog's from one character to another. Rosner uses different type fonts to indicate the different narrators. A haunting book that approaches the horrors of the Holocaust from the perspective of the children who ...more
This is a remarkable story of how three people, wounded by the memory of political violence, come to help each other begin to find a path out of darkness. Two are a brother and sister weighed down by the silences and pain of their Holocaust surviving parents. The third is a young woman from South America, sole witness and surviver of a military rampage which wiped out and destroyed her small village.

The author weaves the story out of each characters individual voice, in fact the font changes wit
I normally avoid the subject matter of this book (holocaust/mass murder survivor stories) simply because when I read, the characters become a part of me and I am affected by their stories. The tragic stories need to be told, of course. And, I have read many of them. That said, Rosner's book was a new take on the survivor perspective. She focused on two second generation survivors and one first generation survivor in a unique and captivating way. Her insights into the special ways each character ...more
Adriana Diaz
Elizabeth Rosner is a beautiful writer. The poetry within these pages of prose is exquisite. And on top of that, she is courageous. She writes this story in three fonts, from the first person voice of three separate, but related, characters. She also tackles the difficult questions regarding the inheritance of tragedy. Two of the characters are dealing with the hidden past of their father, whose numerical tattoo passed along a haunting family story, still to be discovered. The third character ha ...more
Our first book club book. I liked it, and it actually was a pretty quick read once I committed to it. My problem was that I had too many kettles on the stove at one time. I like novels that tell multiple stories/ have several perspectives. I think I liked most about this book was the idea that once you tell someone, they become a witness too. We had a nice discussion about who has more responsibility, the person telling their experience or the person listening.
Sep 17, 2010 Barbaramccoy88 rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: most everyone
This book is lyrical. It is haunting. Julian, a scientist, lives an orderly, largely silent, life in seclusion watched over by his sister Paula, an aspiring opera singer. When Paula heads to Europe for an opera tour she enlists her housekeeper, Sola, to look in on Julian. The interweaving of these three lives, these three voices, these three stories into one work is impressive and timeless. Above all it is an affirmation of life.
Naomi Jensen
This story is told from 3 perspectives, two are brother and sister and one is the housekeeper of the sister. Julian is a recluse, obsessive, withdrawn from the world. Paula is an aspiring opera singer, very much engaged with the world. They are the children of a holocaust survivor. The housekeeper, Sola, has her own dark past. The story takes place as the pain of their respective internalized histories intersect.
What a GLORIOUS, GLORIOUS book. The story line is enough to intrique, but the writing style is just incredible. The imagery.......and the depth of insight into the characters. I was blown away the entire time I was reading this book and when I finished it I immediately wanted to read it again because I was so in love with, in awe of, what I had just read. Wow. Please read this and let me know what you think!!
This is one of my new favorite books. When you should be focusing on your studies, not the best book to read because you will NOT put it down. At all! It was all I could think about. I spent months and months thinking of those characters everyday, wondering what they were doing. How they were. What was new. I became obsessed with Julian. This book was written so beautifully and perfectly. I... I have no words left.
A gentle story about loss, grief and redemption. Told in an interesting manner- each character had a different font in the book, though sometimes, the fonts of the two siblings were so similar I had trouble deciding who was speaking. It was Sola who won my heart though- with her delicate phrasing of the English language, and her struggle to help the ghosts of her past rest in peace, unforgotten.
Loved, loved, loved this book and was sad to see it end.

Started out a bit slow at first, but the book's mysteries and its characters came to life gradually -- like peeling an orange -- little bits at a time -- revealing a very sweet story.

I fell in love with the characters and once I got a third of the way through, also 'got' the symbolism and metaphors and couldn't put it down.

I loved this book. A finely crafted story of three survivors living the wounds of their histories, healing each other by witnessing their stories. Rosner writes with kindness, razor sharp perceptions and exquisite sensual details... Her characters are fully-developed and rich. She artfully avoids the maudlin, the obvious, the superfluous... Elegant, eloquent, nary a false step.
Jun 21, 2008 Meta rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Meta by: Dave at Lafayette Books
Set in Berkeley, this novel deals with the adult children of Holocaust survivors and a young woman who survived a massacre in Central America. It sounds depressing but it is truly life affirming and beautifully written. It shows how the experiences of our parents ultimately affect us, and how in a world that produces violence and hate, individuals can also find solace in one another.
Mark Souza
It's a story of wounded souls beautifully told. Elizabeth Rosner is literary talent who weaves words into Louvre-worthy images. A sister pursuing a music career abroad must leave her phobic brother. Both share scars handed down from previous generations. Before she leaves, she hires a housekeeper with fresh scars of her own. It's an easy book to fall in love with.
I liked this book. It made me realize how much of my parents past, as well as my own, that I carry in me. Not that that is exactly good, but it made me think and made the story one to which I could relate. The story was mostly sweet and upbeat as the characters overcome either their parent's, or their own, histories.
what an interesting book to read. There three main characters; Julian,his sister Paula, and Sols. I've never read a chapter book with a third person perspective. Everyone telling different stories within a single event, reading a book with different perspective is a good experience to have!
I loved this book. The overall subject of the book was interesting: the pain that the children of Holocaust survivors undergo. Her writing style was poetic. I particularly liked her depiction of introverted, terrified Julian. The way he connects with the world is beautifully strange.
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Elizabeth's newest novel ELECTRIC CITY was published by Counterpoint Press in October 2014. Her full-length poetry collection GRAVITY was published by Atelier26 Books in fall 2014 as well.

Ms. Rosner is the award-winning author of two previous novels: THE SPEED OF LIGHT and BLUE NUDE. The Speed of Light was the recipient of numerous honors, including the Harold U. Ribalow Prize and the Prix France
More about Elizabeth Rosner...
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“I want to clean myself like the window of a house, make myself clear for things to pass through. Flat and quiet.” 3 likes
“When my grandmother touches my hair in my sleep, I feel like a lost child. There is never enough of her to comfort me.” 2 likes
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