The Illusion of Separateness
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The Illusion of Separateness

4.08 of 5 stars 4.08  ·  rating details  ·  1,415 ratings  ·  352 reviews
Award-winning author Simon Van Booy tells a harrowing and enchanting story of how one man's act of mercy during World War II changed the lives of a group of strangers, and how they each eventually discover the astonishing truth of their connection

"Van Booy is a writer whose work I will forever eagerly read." -Robert Olen Butler

Whether they are pursued by Nazi soldiers, old...more
Hardcover, 212 pages
Published June 11th 2013 by Harper
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Community Reviews

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Will Byrnes
It happens from time to time that, as with people, the first impression one has of a book changes when one expends some energy, and looks more closely. I remember a girl who glowed like the sun to my heart when light shone through her hair. But I will spare you those details. I was struck with a similar sort of smitten on my first reading of Simon Van Booy’s The Illusion of Separateness, my reaction a Some Enchanted Evening experience. Wow, what a great book! Moving, poetic, artfully constructe...more
Larry Berthold
received an advance copy of this via Powell's Books Indiespensible series...thus far its pure poetry.

on finishing: Wow! loved it from end to end...distinct writing to character, a timeline encompassing the last century, and the graceful exposure of how seemingly mundane and life-altering moments both have affects for generations to follow...sheer poetry and grace. Will return over and over for short passages and re-discovery...highly recommended. oh, and the most perfect title.
Lisa Vegan
I thought I might not enjoy this book due to its gimmicky format and what I thought would be pabulum sentimentality.

I really liked it though, in part and despite the above. I found it to be a really fast read.

It helped me to make a list. As I got to them, for each of the 15 chapters, I wrote down name of the person, their location, and the year that appear at the front of each chapter. I probably didn’t need to do that, but it helped me keep track of who was who and where and when they were at...more
Erika Robuck
Imagine watching an artist begin painting on an empty canvas.

He starts on one of the lower corners with a dark shade that does not seem connected to the light on the top, the texture on the side, or the splash of vibrant color between the two. But slowly, as he works with meticulous brush strokes, the canvas becomes animated by the picture he creates. Those things that are not connected begin to show cohesion, and when he is finished, you can’t imagine any part of the painting existing on its ow...more
The Illusion of Separateness is the best book yet of the gifted Simon Van Booy. The prose is as beautiful as ever-lines so breathtaking you want to memorize them-and the story is both meaningful and inspiring. Taking its title from words of the famous Vietnamese monk and spiritual leader, Thích Nhất Hạnh, the book follows a group of seemingly disparate individuals and lifts the veil at the end to reveal how connected they really are. The feeling inside this book and its revelation is the connect...more
Shannon (Giraffe Days)
Martin, a widower, works at the Starlight Retirement Center in Los Angeles, listening to the residents, mopping the floor, fixing things. On this day in 2010, he helps prepare for the welcome party for a new resident, Mr Hugo. When Mr Hugo arrives, a very old man with a deformed head, he has a heart attack and dies in Martin's arms. The world is a small place, and connections are all around us.

Mr Hugo once lived in England. His neighbour was a boy called Danny whom he taught how to read. Danny w...more
This is not one to start reading on a plane, put down for a couple of weeks, then come back to later. That's what I did, and I wish I hadn't.

The formula here is pretty standard. A bunch of characters seemingly unrelated tell their stories, and the stories are slowly intertwined over the course of the book. The result could've been pedestrian, but the author's beautiful prose and talent for storytelling really elevated this overdone format. He also spanned decades which made the intertwining fee...more
There are about seven books (counting a series as one) I absolutely want to read for a second, third, fourth, etc. time in my life. Simon Van Booy has written four of them.

Check out the other four and five star reviews to understand why. No need to repeat my earlier reviews of his work.
With compact yet masterful prose, Simon Van Booy's latest novel explores the connections between strangers, and how seemingly random interactions can have a profound effect on a life. Spanning decades and oceans, the varied characters in The Illusion of Separateness are all struggling with loss of a kind; loss of sight, loss of family, loss of wholeness, loss of innocence. There is love, war and family. They struggle, they feel, the move unerringly forward. And how they unknowingly help stranger...more
Of all the books I have read this year, there are two that will be gifts for just about everyone on my Christmas (if I can wait that long--birthdays are coming too, after all) list. One is The House at the End of Hope Street (review to come) and the other is The Illusion of Separateness. Both are books that spoke to something inside me.

This was my first experience with a Simon Van Booy novel and what an experience it was! It is poignant and thoughtful. Told in a non-linear way, through the exper...more
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
A copy of The Illusion of Separateness was provided to me by Harper for review purposes.

'In a sense we are all prisoners of some memory, or fear, or disappointment-we are all defined by something we can't change.'

The Illusion of Separateness tells the story of six different individuals who are all interconnected in ways they don't even realize. The story begins in Los Angeles, CA in 2010 but goes as far back as 1939 in the midst of World War II. Through these first-person...more
"No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a part of the continent,
A part of the main."

As soon as I read the dust jacket, these lines from John Donne popped immediately into my head, as expressing the theme. I don't usually read novels set in present-day, but this one caught my interest. I am so glad I did read it.

It spans a number of years, from the 1930s to today. It follows the lives of six characters. It shows how simple acts of compassion have interwoven the lives and affected...more
Lori L (She Treads Softly)
The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy features of series of vignettes that show how a dissimilar group of people are actually connected. Each chapter focuses on one of the characters in the book during some point in their life. Time periods range from 1939, and WWII, to the present, 2010. As we follow the characters, or learn more about them, their interconnectedness is suspected, then slowly revealed.

Each separate narrative is beautifully written and finely crafted. The characters and...more
I read this book in one sitting -- four hours -- and already have begun to read it again. I wept -- not at the end, as we tend to do ... but several times during the middle, and through the last third. The moral force of this story -- these stories, so interlinked -- drove me from bed at 3:20 a.m. to write something in its honour.

I have read a great deal about World War II ... but never something like this. Contemporary events occur in the story (2010 is the latest date), but WWII is its marrow....more
interesting interconnected novel of characters who intersect, more than once, starting in wwii. so there are french orphans, usa bomber pilots, retired, english nurses, german soldiers. some beautiful writing, but sebald did all this better. here the characters are paper thin, the coincidences a bit "chicken soup for the novel-reading soul". a fair go at literature, but really just a 21st century normandy beach read. Austerlitz and doria russell is more historically accurate A Thread of Grace
“We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness.”
-Thich Nhat Hanh-

The meeting of two soldiers in war ravaged France in 1944 reverberates across time and continents. Van Booy’s sparse, masterful prose is extraordinarily emotional. I found it difficult to see the words as I was reading constantly through eyes blurry with tears. Throughout his incredibly poetic narrative the author reminds us again and again of our connection to one another in life and in death.
Achingly powerful!
Mij Woodward
An elongated short story, without much depth or feeling.

Felt like I was reading a recitation of circumstances in various character's lives in a cool detached way.

The story line had some interesting coincidences, some ironic connections between the characters, stemming from an incident in France during WWII.

I needed more.

I wanted to know the characters better. I wanted to care about the characters.
Joaquin Lowe
From ARC.

Van Booy might cross into over sentimentality at times, but it's a journey I was happy to take. The lives of his characters are beautiful and painful and full of hope. Even if the final chapter wraps things in a bow of high-coincidence it fits the rest of the novel well, which reads like a letter refuting the value of jadedness.
Derek Emerson
Simon Van Booy likes to write about the interconnectedness of life. Small acts by one person can dramatically impact the life of another, and neither person may even be aware of the connection. But that does not make the connection any less important. Recognizing that we are connected to others, and that those connections are important, should make us more conscious of how we live our lives.

In this most recent novel, “The Illusion of Separateness,” (slated for a June release) Van Booy goes direc...more
Audra (Unabridged Chick)
In 2011, Van Booy took my heart, crushed it, reassembled it, and gifted it to me in a wrapping of gorgeous prose in the form of Everything Beautiful Began After . Unsurprisingly, Van Booy has done it again with this book.

Van Booy is a short story writer (Everything Beautiful Began After was his first novel), and this book straddles both forms. In a series of breathtaking vignettes, Van Booy fills out a larger story arc that comes clear as we read on. Opening in 2010, the vignettes flash between...more
"We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness." -- Thich Nhat Hanh

And so, Simon Van Booy sets out to shatter this illusion by telling the intertwined stories of several characters who's lives are linked in ways that are not revealed to the individual characters. Each chapter tells the stories of each of these lives moving back and forth in time between the present and WWII.
Van Booy writes in prose that is deceptively simple while illustrating the need for and existence of human c...more
I started underlining passages that knocked me over but soon realized I was already prone on the floor and would be underlining the entire book. Truly, this was a long, beautiful prose poem that unfolded in a single exhalation. The story unfolds as small, tightly woven mini-plots. As the book progresses, small threads unravel and weave themselves into each other in a complex and yet somehow satisfyingly simple tartan of interconnectedness.

I was often reminded of Anne Michaels' FUGITIVE PIECES, o...more
Just as the 'six degrees of separation' theory suggests, wherever you are on this earth, a chance encounter invariably leads to a story thread in common. This author did a masterful job of spanning countries, generations and decades, slowly spinning out the story of an old WWII veteran, Hugo. While homeless in post-war Paris, the young son of a baker gave him leftover pastries. While living hollowed-out by memories during his retirement in England he often spent time with the little boy who live...more
Larry Hoffer
Simon Van Booy's new novel, The Illusion of Separateness, is a beautifully written, poetic book about connections, how we don't realize just how connected we are, but connections between us and others exist without our even knowing it. It's more a collection of interwoven stories than a full-fledged novel in terms of narrative, but the characters are connected in both definitive and fleeting ways.

"We all have different lives...but in the end probably feel the same things, and regret the fear we...more
Rhianna Aspinall
I'm sorry to quote John Green here, but I literally cannot pull my words into coherent forms of a sentence right now, because passion and excitement is just seeping into my bloodstream and making my head all fuzzy.
Firstly, I would like to say that I received this book as a 'First Read' advanced readers copy, however, I now think I'm going to have to buy another and turn it into a personal-library book to give around my circles of friends...more
Sarah Beth
I received an Advance Reader Copy from HarperCollins.

The Illusion of Separateness is told from six varying points of view and spans the decades from 1939 to 2010 and travels from Los Angeles and New York to France to England. Ultimately, each individual is connected due to a series of events that take place during World War II. Although most of the characters do not know one another and never will, their actions greatly affect others in the story, and their lives are intertwined in ways they can...more
Beth Strand
If words were cloth, Simon Van Booy’s “The Illusion of Separateness” would be silk. His prose flows like water and weaves a gossamer web of lives together with fragile beauty. “Illusion of Separateness” takes the reader on a journey from present day California to World War II Europe and back. Told with touching grace, Van Booy’s story serves to illustrate how interconnected our lives really are.
This was one of those books that I had to keep interrupting myself to read fabulous sentences or phra...more
The main idea in The Illusion of Separateness is explained in the title–no matter how lonely we might feel, we are never alone. Our separateness as human beings is an illusion. We are all connected in some way, even if we aren't aware of it (or never think about it). One person’s actions have the potential to affect so many other people, many of them total strangers. Our actions can have so many unknown consequences. It stands to reason that positive actions produce positive consequences (which...more
We are all connected. Van Booy begins his novel with a quote from Thich Nhat Hanh: We are here to awaken fro the illusion of our separateness. This beautiful, short novel provides the reader with ideas of how we are (could be) connected. It begins with Martin, who is a caretaker in a retirement home in current time Santa Monica. The home receives a new resident, Mr. Hugo. Next, we learn a bit about Mr. Hugo and through him we learn of Danny, a boy of a single Mom. Another young French boy finds...more
Jessica Jeffers
Few books have left me as emotionally devastated as Van Booy's knockout first novel, Everything Beautiful Began After . While it leans a little towards the side of precious, the book explored what it means to give yourself to someone else and to survive loss with the most gut-wrenching, heartbreaking prose. The book was published just a few days before one of the most difficult heartbreaks I've ever had to process and the line "To love again, you must not discard what has happened to you, but ta...more
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Simon Van Booy was born in London and grew up in rural Wales and Oxford. After playing football in Kentucky, he lived in Paris and Athens. In 2002 he was awarded an MFA and won the H.R. Hays Poetry Prize. His journalism has appeared in magazines and newspapers including the New York Times and the New York Post. Van Booy is the author of The Secret Lives of People in Love, now translated into sever...more
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“I think people would be happier if they admitted things more often. In a sense we are all prisoners of some memory, or fear, or disappointment - we are all defined by something we can’t change.” 32 likes
“Whether you know it or not, we leave parts of ourselves wherever we go.” 17 likes
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