This book ranks in my list of favorite books of all time. The story is about a young man, Samson Greene, who seems to have everything -- a beautiful w...moreThis book ranks in my list of favorite books of all time. The story is about a young man, Samson Greene, who seems to have everything -- a beautiful wife, a professorship at Columbia University, a home in NYC, good friends... a near-perfect life. But a strange tumor on his brain causes him to lose his memory -- all except the first 12 of his life. So the book starts with him wandering the desert near Las Vegas, mistaken for a homeless man, discovered by the police. His wife is called and by that time, Samson is just recovering in the hospital, still unknown whether he will survive. Starting from this crescendo, the story changes pace, elaborating on Samson's journey in Self-Discovery. The story has other plots, but I think I appreciated the themes exploring memory/mind/concept of Self: how much of a person's identity is related to their past experiences? Are past memories traps -- is a person more free if they relinquish their past life? How do the memories of others shape our own minds?
Within this personal story, there's a broader theme. Samson becomes part of an experiment that studies empathy. Ray, the scientist, uses Samson's memory-void mind to plant a powerful memory from someone else's life. Even though this seems an important cause -- making it possible for others to fee empathy, from the perspective of Samson, we feel more the violation and frustration of having the mind played with. This introduces the theme of how medical science may be helping others for a greater good, while potentially hurting and harming one vulnerable individual deeply as the guinea pig. What I found especially artful was that by this point in the story, I felt more sympathy for Samson's wife, Anna, than I did for him. It seemed that with his memory, he lost some ability to empathize, making his decisions rather selfishly and almost mechanically. It was surprising how this experiment affected him, like a personal assault. I think he was almost chosen for the experiment because of his aloofness, yet his reaction was passionate.
Also, I LOVED the ending. It is tempting to have everything neatly tied up at the end, but... the author rather chooses to end describing a simple, everyday scene in the future. Things are not resolved, but mirroring life, slowly being worked out... with hope, but perhaps some baggage too.
The language is Nicole Krauss poetry. I love how she is able to show, almost visually describe a scene, how the characters feel and think. Her description of what it means to be a lover, or how hurtful it is to have your mind violated... these are so beautiful and the reason I look forward to more books by this author! I am adding some of my favorite excerpts here:
"Tell me, was I the sort of person who took your elbow when cars passed on the street, touched your cheek while you talked, combed your wet hair, stopped by the side of the road in the country to point out certain constellations, standing behind you so you had the advantage of leaning and looking up?" (page 140)
"What Ray had refused to see was that no matter how great the desire to be understood, the mind cannot abide any presence but its own. To enter another's consciousness and stake a flag there was to break the law of absolute solitude on which that consciousness depends. It was to threaten, and perhaps irrevocably damage, the essential remoteness of the Self. this transgression was unforgivable." (page 206)
"Once there was a woman he loved. That was how it begun. But from there the story might have unfolded any number of ways. Only the end was always the same: he had emptied himself of the ballast of memory and lunged weightless into the future." (page 208)
"What is life without a witness?" (page 209)(less)
what a great resource! I'll have to report back based on how the tips worked in practice in a few months, but I definitely saw great, helpful discussi...morewhat a great resource! I'll have to report back based on how the tips worked in practice in a few months, but I definitely saw great, helpful discussion about situations that happened in my first birth. I can see that if I had read this book back then, and put some of the advice to work, I might have felt more satisfied and in control of the experience. This time I expect I am better prepared. I liked that there was a good balance of stories and real-life experiences with scientific research and her cultural perspective based on Russian hospital births. I didn't think she was preachy given that the attitudes towards natural birth can often take an all or nothing approach. I also appreciated that the structure of the book makes it flow,while also allowing each chapter to stand alone for quick reference. For example I will definitely reread the birth plan chapter and the tips for active labor, plateaus, etc. I already employed the suggestions for interviewing my OB and I think it helped open up important conversations that might otherwise been delayed or missed... Anyway, I think anyone set on a hospital birth, yet wishing to be empowered and knowledgeable about their options should read this book carefully.(less)
I read this in high school and still remember the beauty and simplicity of the language and the complexity of the emotional and psychological aspects...moreI read this in high school and still remember the beauty and simplicity of the language and the complexity of the emotional and psychological aspects of the story. I hope to re-read this since I think I might have a fresh reaction as the adult me. So many books... so little time :)(less)
Just read this with my five-year old. What a classic! It's a great first chapter book with important themes of friendship, sacrifice, growing/aging, a...moreJust read this with my five-year old. What a classic! It's a great first chapter book with important themes of friendship, sacrifice, growing/aging, and just as important in our case... not being too afraid of spiders. We've been checking out spider webs rather than running away with "ewwwww...." This is one to read again and again. (less)
There are just some books that you love and in thinking about them you can't even organize your thoughts because it is one big gush! This is one of th...moreThere are just some books that you love and in thinking about them you can't even organize your thoughts because it is one big gush! This is one of those. I loved the language -- almost poetry! I loved the way the two stories wove together eventually. But sadly, I only remember loving the book and can't say more about it because I forgot to review it after finishing it and I am really bad with remembering the details. Oh well... guess I will have to read again. (less)