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The Illusion of Separateness

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  4,306 ratings  ·  755 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
Hardcover, 212 pages
Published June 11th 2013 by Harper
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C. Somehow this book has come into my collection; I picked it up to examine it, and opened it. After 2 hours of non-stop reading I reached the end,…moreSomehow this book has come into my collection; I picked it up to examine it, and opened it. After 2 hours of non-stop reading I reached the end, rather stunned. Lucky am I for the circumstances which allow me to just drop everything and be immersed in a such a marvelous book. It is perfect like a poem - no extraneous words, written with simple beauty telling a complex story like a vision snapping into focus. (less)

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3.98  · 
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 ·  4,306 ratings  ·  755 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 constructed ...more
Debbie "DJ"
Apr 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
I keep going back and forth on this book. There are a lot of characters, and I kept trying to connect them. Some do, others, only faintly. I would say to read this as more of a short story collection. Also, the writing really threw me. A paragraph starts out in the most simplistic of language, then ends with such a profound statement I had to highlight. I never felt close to the characters, but those philosophical statements can't be missed.
Erika Robuck
Jul 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Jun 20, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle
This was part of my BookTube Recommends project, and was suggested by the lovely Brooke Lee. Thanks for the recommendation Brooke!

This is not the type of book I would normally pick up for myself unless prompted. I'm not typically a fan of wartime literature, which is what I assumed this would predominantly be going into it. However, Simon Van Booy's The Illusion of Separateness is so much more than that. It is a commentary on what connects us, even when we think we are alone and unloved in the w
Jan 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Larry Berthold
Feb 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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.
Mij Woodward
Nov 14, 2013 rated it it was ok
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.
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
Diane S ☔
Feb 28, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: roadrallyteamb
This is a book that I should have liked but for me it never quite came together. The writing style was many short sentences, actually kind of brisk. Put together they often made brilliant paragraphs, but it also kept me from bonding with any of the characters. The novel is meant I know, to show how even though we can feel alone we are always connected to someone, somewhere and that small acts can have effects felt later in time. It went back and forth in history, time periods, different places, ...more
Jul 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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.
Book Concierge
3.5*** (rounded up)

From the book jacket This gripping novel – inspired by true events – tells the interwoven stories of a German infantryman; a British film director; a young, blind museum curator; two Jewish American newlyweds separated by war; and a caretaker at a retirement home for actors in Santa Monica. They move through the same world but fail to perceive their connections until, through seemingly random acts of selflessness, a veil is lifted to reveal the vital parts they have played in
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
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
Feb 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: war, indiespensable
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
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.
Apr 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
May 06, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book warrants a reread. I attempted to map out every characters' relationship with one another after my first read, and I had to go back and forth to do so.

It is beautifully written and as any other book by Van Booy, it is a gorgeous piece of work. He made sure you are engulfed in the same bubble of loneliness as each character, and even when you've reached the last page, the feeling never really goes away. When I finally closed the book and put it down, I was dazed for a good amount of ti
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
Jul 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Lori L (She Treads Softly)
Jul 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: library, reviewed
"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
Apr 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
“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!
T'is was a great great read. I loved this book. Simon has the power to tame the wild beast of the spirit with his words and his writing has the quality of meditation. A book by Simon is much like sitting in a sweet calm place with all the leisure time at your hand, everything is softly revolving at its own frequency. Such a poignant read with a major reveal in the end, Ah...bless this man.
Joaquin Lowe
Feb 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013, favorites
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.
Nov 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is one of those books that was all about the beauty of the language for me - incredible beauty! The author follows several characters through seemingly separate stories, only to slowly reveal that their separateness is only an illusion. We are all interconnected and therefore not alone.
Robin Friedman
Mar 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Buddhist Influence In A Contemporary Novel

The doctrine of dependent origination is at the heart of Buddhist teachings of all schools. It is a profoundly difficult teaching in its implications. In the Suttas, the Buddha rebukes even the most learned of his disciples for thinking they understand dependent origination. Broadly, dependent origination teaches that persons and things lack substantiality and fixity and are invariably changing. There is nothing substantial, fixed, and independent in, fo
Jessie Seymour
Mar 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
So this book took all of maybe two and a half hours to read. It was very quick. But it was also complete. At first I wasn't totally into it. There are a lot of fragments at the beginning, and though I understood what was happening, I wasn't connecting to the story. For about the first 50 pages, I was disappointed. By the description, I thought I would really like this book and even asked for it for my birthday/Christmas. (I got it for one of the two. My birthday is in November.) I thought I'd en ...more
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Simon Van Booy is the award-winning and best-selling author of 10 books of fiction, and three anthologies of philosophy. He has written for the New York Times, the Financial Times, NPR, and the BBC. His books have been translated into many languages. He lives in New York with his wife and daughter. In 2013, he founded Writers for Children, a project which helps young people build confidence in the ...more
“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.” 92 likes
“Sometimes I wake up and lie still enough to hear a petal drop from the vase of flowers. Sometimes I lie awake and wish there was someone to hear my falling.” 45 likes
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