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3.53  ·  Rating details ·  4,428 ratings  ·  602 reviews
One of our most gifted writers of fiction returns with a bold and piercing novel about a young single mother living in Harlem, her eccentric aunt, and the decisions they make that have unexpected implications for the world around them.
Reyna knows her relationship with Boyd isn't perfect, yet she sees him through a three-month stint at Riker's Island, their bond growing t
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published February 7th 2019 by Allen & Unwin (first published November 14th 2017)
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Ramin Hosseini For a number of reasons, I think, yes. It does.
It shows different aspects of some characters already introduced in the previous chapters, namely Bruno…more
For a number of reasons, I think, yes. It does.
It shows different aspects of some characters already introduced in the previous chapters, namely Bruno and Steffi. We learn that even Bruno is capable of doing some good and Steffi while dealing with death tries to keep her face and, in her own why, play the role of the mother (interestingly enough she is mostly addressed as “her mother” in this chapter).
We can see the dominant themes of the novel (sacrifice, forgiveness, money, death, and love) in this chapter as well.
This chapter present us with a view of the modern Berlin with its stumble stones and Holocaust Memorials.
Last but not least, Silber through establishing the relationship between Monika and Lynnette enables us to see the latter from a totally different point of view than that of Rayna.

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Average rating 3.53  · 
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Diane S ☔
Nov 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The butterfly effect ably displayed in literary form. We start with an aunt, KiKi, who has had a varied life, but is now living fairly close to her neice, Reyna. Reyna has a young son, but visits her boyfriend who is serving a short term at Rikers. When he gets out, he and his friends, hatch a money making scheme, which if discovered could carry serious penalties. Reyna, in a moment of weakness, makes a decision that she later rescinds. This would have a snowball effect on many lives.

A decision
Elyse  Walters
May 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I knew nothing about this 72 year ‘stunning-attractive’ author until “Improvement”. I’m not even sure what drew me to it. The library had it readily available as an e-book on my OverDrive. I downloaded it and started reading with zero information just because something about the title and internet book cover caught my attention.
I’m loving the easy connection to our libraries more and more.

There are six narrators making this book feel like a cross between a novel and linked stories. The last time
This is my first novel by noted author Joan Silber and I was immediately consumed by her easy, natural writing style and the theme--that of the butterfly effect--is one that I am often drawn to in literature. In this novel, the effect of one person’s choice affects what happens to another which leaves yet a third with questions and another grappling with the aftermath. I’m being intentionally vague as the concept is what gives this novel its significance and it is best left for the reader to dis ...more
Oct 29, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Like the other of her books I read, Ideas of Heaven, Improvement is a set of interconnected stories. As the title suggests all the characters are striving to improve their lives - as a theme not perhaps terribly ambitious as who isn't trying to do that?! Joan Silber for me is a very accomplished writer who I'm always happy to read. She has lots of interest to say about daily life. These stories are set around the world - New York, Turkey, Berlin - and involve people of different races. The real ...more
Sep 29, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
“Improvement” is a novel constructed as a series of interrelated vignettes. The first story arc revolves around Reyna, a young single mother who has a penchant for making poor life choices. Reyna is currently involved with a young man on probation from Rikers in New York. He and his buddies hatch a scheme to smuggle cigarettes from Virginia into New York and Reyna is reluctantly pulled into their plans. She ultimately makes a decision that has unintended consequences, altering lives and relation ...more
Jul 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In chaos theory, it is said that if a butterfly flutters its wings, a typhoon can ultimately occur halfway around the world. Put another way, even the smallest step changes lives immeasurably.

And so it is in this satisfying new novel by Joan Silber. Reyna is involved with a petty thief named Boyd, who is doing time at Rikers Island. He leaves the stint mostly unrepentant and soon enough, Reyna is drawn into his cigarette smuggling scheme. As the mother of a toddler, she backs away, setting in mo
Jennifer Blankfein
Connecting 1970s Turkey and New York today, 72 year old author Joan Silber, winner of the 2018 Pen/Faulkner Award for Fiction weaves a tapestry of interpersonal connections and shows how relationships bind us together and decisions have widespread impact across countries and over time in her latest novel, Improvement.

Reyna is a single mother living in Harlem and standing by her not so perfect boyfriend, Boyd, as she visits him during his 3 month incarceration at Riker’s. Her Aunt Kiki lives in t
Roger Brunyate
Dec 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: stories
It’s a Connected World
Darisse was secretly becoming more religious, but in private; she had her own rituals. She sat on her bed with her eyes closed; she thought of the walls of the room turning into air. Air from a larger space. The point was to ask for strength. Improvement wasn’t coming any other way. She was doing this almost every night and there was an aftereffect that pleased her.
First, some background. I have been interested in Joan Silber ever since reading her Ideas of Heaven i
Judith E
Dec 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Quietly, Silber unpeels the layers of her connected character’s lives. Unknowingly, their behaviors and decisions stimulate actions in this chain of people. From New York City’s Rikers jail, to Turkey, Germany, and Virginia, some people muddle through life, some have a clear vision and some have a spur of the moment reaction. It is a flowing, interconnected slice of life that produces contemplative narrative.

I’m not savvy enough to dissect this wonderful book and what makes it so great but I ju
Jessica Woodbury
Mar 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: best-of-2018
This book is awfully close to five stars for me. If you enjoy Elizabeth Strout's style, you should give IMPROVEMENT a try.

Silber takes the set of interconnected stories to a place I've never quite seen it taken before here, and the effect is rather breathtaking. Reyna is at the center of the book, a white single woman barely getting by living in an illegal lease and waiting for her boyfriend to get out of jail. Reyna is in her late 20's, working for low wages as an assistant in a veterinary cli
Sep 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
National Book Critic Circle Award 2017. Silber’s interconnected stories move like a river from one to the next. The novel begins with Reyna whose boyfriend ends up at Rikers Island for three months for selling 5 ounces of weed. She faithfully visits him every week. Her aunt Kiki supports Reyna’s decisions, but subtly questions Reyna’s trust in Boyd. Silber has the narrative river flow from Reyna to Kiki—who married a Turk and lived in Turkey for a number of years. This becomes pertinent when the ...more
switterbug (Betsey)
IMPROVEMENT is a novel, mostly centered in New York, but also Berlin and Turkey, about people trying to improve their lives, despite the small or catastrophic tragedies that changed their position or outlook. The people in Silber’s cast are either related to each other by family; their circumstances; by a generation; or by several degrees of separation. In some instances, they are intimately associated with each other, or acquainted, but at times, it is only a casual or chance agency that is rel ...more
Jonathan Pool
My first Joan Silber, an author unknown to me until the shortlisting of Improvement in this year’s (2018) National Book Critics Circle Award.
I enjoyed the read, the prose is easy, and this set of linked stories are relatively uncomplicated and gently revealed.

There are two clearly signposted themes in the stories. Firstly, that of the interconnectedness of life - the butterfly effect; secondly the endeavours we undertake to improve our lives, not least through our connection with lovers, who mig
Jennifer Louden
I read this in a few hours but in the end I was like "huh?" I didn't get how the stories worked together or feel much. The voice keeps a distance. Yet the writing and voice are hypnotic. ...more
Dec 29, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interlocking stories form the backbone of this novel (Silber has used a similar technique before in her collection of stories, Fools: Stories). The book consists of stories told by several very different people: Reyna, a single mother living in Harlem who is in love with a petty thief, her aunt who lives in the Village and who lived for a number of years in Turkey, the daughter of one of the women Kiki (the aunt) met in Turkey who is connected to the sister of a friend of the first story. The bo ...more
I’ve been thinking a lot about linked short story collections recently. I find them easier to read than the average short story volume because there are fewer characters and settings to keep track of, and you get the fun of tracing unexpected connections between characters. Improvement didn’t quite work for me in that way, mostly because you can tell that it started as one short story, “About My Aunt”: now the untitled first chapter, it is, as you might guess, a solid stand-alone narrative about ...more
Apr 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It’s happened again, I’ve fallen in love with another author, which means more books to want to read. With this novel alone Silber will be one of the names I mention alongside the contemporary women writers I love, Anne Tyler, Elizabeth Strout, Deborah Eisenberg and Barbara Trapido. If you like any of these authors, I highly suggest adding Improvement to your TBR. This globetrotting short novel looks at the loves and struggles of several characters whose lives are connected in ways direct and in ...more
Ivana - Diary of Difference
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I really enjoyed Improvement by Joan Silber, because it was unlike any other book I have read. I fell in love with the characters in this novel.

Thank you to the teams at ReadersFirst and Allen & Unwin (Atlantic Books), for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


This is a story about a young single mother living in Harlem and her eccentric aunt. They end up making some decisions that have unexpecte
Apr 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Improvement by Joan Silber has already won the Pen Faulkner Award for Fiction as well as the National Book Critics Circle Award and I can definitely see why. It is beautifully crafted without being overdone. The writing is crisp and clear, but never ordinary.

It is hard to give you a sense of the plot of Improvement without taking away its magic. Silber tells the story of a single mother, Reyna, who is visiting her boyfriend, Boyd, in prison. Once Boyd is released, he falls in with friends who a
Rachel Hall
Mar 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
A delightful testimony to the circle of life and human connections the whole world over! Beautifully written, genuinely moving.

Joan Silber’s insightful and compact novel, Improvement, takes the form of a series of interconnected stories and examines how a decision in one characters life can go on to have such a consequential impact on that of another. Spanning the 1970s to 2012 and providing a snapshot of over a dozen characters the result is a rewarding and gently humorous ensemble of stories i
Oct 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This readable literary novel consists of several storylines woven together. The characters are striving for their idea of "improvement," some more successfully than others. I liked the Turkish settings and culture since I spent time there decades ago. The book gets bonus points for the wry humor. The smugglers' misadventures in Turkey probably engaged me the most. ...more
Improvement by Joan Silber is an interconneced book of short stories, and like every one I've ever encountered, is a mixed bag. It takes a writer of tremendous power to create different characters and make all of them interesting, especially when they're directly comparable to each other, and while this is a relatively slim volume, it also suffers from the very natural sentiment that there were some characters (and stories) that were, simply put, a lot more interesting than others. Funnily enoug ...more
May 15, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I really don't get all the hoopla about Silber, nor why this won the National Critic's Circle Award. I found the storyline (such as it is) boring, the characters unconvincing, the prose totally unremarkable, and there is also an unsettling subtle strain of racism (towards both African-Americans and Germans) here that I found disturbing. There was really nothing new or innovative in the loosely connected interlinked stories format either. I almost abandoned it several times, and wish I had, as th ...more
robin friedman
Mar 13, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Life And Chance

Joan Silber's short critically-acclaimed novel "Improvement" (2017) is a story of people and of the frequently surprising consequences of their actions. The book is a tapestry, a metaphor used throughout, of different times and places, including New York City, Turkey, Germany, Virginia, and Philadelphia. The events in the story take place over a time frame of about forty years.

The novel is philosophical in tone. The title "Improvement" suggested to me the concept of meliorism, or
Joe Kraus
One answer to post-post-structuralism was the idea (mostly by way of Delleuze and Guattari) of the rhizome, the sense that there is a structure beyond easy structure, an organic form that blurs the line between a recognizable pattern and mess. That is, the rhizome has a pattern, but it isn’t anything we can replicate. It grows where space and opportunity permit, and it’s only after the fact that we can see its support of the mushroom or other fungus above it.

I’m a big admirer of what seems the f
Dec 09, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Between 3 and 4 stars, but I couldn’t quite stretch to 4. I enjoyed the snippets of intersecting lives, but overall is kind of average. Was a good diversion from more serious/challenging reads.
Susan Liston
This is probably deserving of more stars, I liked the writing, but it should be called what it is, interrelated short stories. After getting involved with the original narrator and her hippy-ish aunt, they both disappear and I had to wade through a new bunch of characters instead, none of whom I was particularly interested in. (Which might not be their fault, just that I was annoyed at the unexpected turn) The originals do pop in again, but not in any significant way. I predict that I will forge ...more
Aug 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: borrowed, august-2019
Joan Silber's ninth novel, Improvement, was the winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction in 2018.  The wonderful contemporary novelist Sarah Moss comments: 'I admire Joan Silber's ability to braid the narratives of objects and people lost and found into a shapely story.'  Lauren Groff, another of my favourite authors, praises: 'I love all of Joan Silber's work for her mastery of character, her ferocious and searching compassion, and her elegant lines that make the mind hum for hours'.  The W ...more
Dec 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It’s early on Christmas morning as I write this, having just finished Joan Silber’s dynamo offering, Improvement. Fittingly I’m pondering how I too can improve: as a father, husband, family member, friend, writer, Goodreads enthusiast. I imagine I’ll be granted temporary reprieve the moment my daughter wakes up and sees that Santa was very generous this year. It’ll be an area I shan’t need any immediate improvement in (for at least a half hour); Silber’s novel, however, had me contemplating the ...more
Feb 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Loved Joan Silber's writing. The front cover doesn't give much away about the feeling for this excellent novel. I would have liked to have seen a different cover to reflect this fabulous book. Two things that grabbed my attention. The first thing is that a portion of this novel have been printed in magazines. The first chapter of Improvement actually first appeared under the heading About My Aunt in Tin House. Then came a chapter four that appeared under the title Coverage, in the Colorado Revie ...more
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Joan Silber is the author of six previous works of fiction. Among many awards and honors, she has won a PEN/Hemingway Award and has been a finalist for the National Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Fiction Prize. She teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and lives in New York City.

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