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The Illusion of Separateness

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  4,489 ratings  ·  776 reviews
A harrowing story of how one mans act of mercy during WW2 changes the lives of a group of strangers, and how they each eventually discover the astonishing truth of their connection

In The Illusion of Separateness, award-winning author Simon Van Booy tells the haunting and luminous story of how one mans act of mercy on a World War II battlefield changes the lives of six
Kindle Edition, 224 pages
Published July 1st 2013 by Oneworld Publications (first published June 11th 2013)
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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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Average rating 3.97  · 
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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 Booys The Illusion of Separateness, my reaction a Some Enchanted Evening experience. Wow, what a great book! Moving, poetic, artfully constructed. ...more
Angela M
Dec 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars
This is the third book I have read by Simon Van Booy, and it is the third one that I have found to be beautifully written and so emotionally affecting. It evokes thoughts about how we are connected perhaps by having touched others lives by chance or fate if you will, or simply connected by our human condition. This collection of connected stories, a novel in effect reminded me that I should read more of his stories. The narrative moves from character to character, from one place to
Debbie "DJ"
Apr 08, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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 cant imagine any part of the painting existing on its own
Diane S ☔
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
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 didnt need to do that, but it helped me keep track of who was who and where and when they were at
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 ...more
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
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.
Larry Berthold
Feb 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
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
Feb 16, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book had one ingredient that had something going for it, and that whetted my appetite. Supposedly it was about different characters who did not know one another but who in the end it would be revealed were inextricably linked. And each chapter was titled with the name of one of the characters.

The writing was good. But I did not like the book too much.

In the beginning there is a 20-page chapter with the title Martin, Los Angeles, 2010. And it describes a caretaker at an old folks home. It
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
Larry H
Jun 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Aug 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: indiespensable, war
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
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  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Lit Folio
This is a beautifully written, but strangely told tale. It has a lovely elegance in the writing, to be sure, but it has no soul. To me, it reads as if the writer is in one room and the events and "characters" are in another. I don't know how else to describe the strange overall reading experience of this, but it is weird.

I'm giving it three stars, as I waiver between three and four. With its strange structure, we are presented with window-glimpses of these characters, from different time
Apr 25, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads-won
*Received from Goodreads first reads giveaway.

What a beautiful and moving book. The writing was often poetic and quite lovely. The book is about 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. The book is about how our interactions and even minor interactions with others can have a profound effect on the lives of others The story is about various people and how they are
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
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  ·  review of another edition
The main idea in The Illusion of Separateness is explained in the titleno 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 persons 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 is ...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
Jul 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed, library
"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
Dec 11, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a beautiful little book about how connected we all are, all the time, to those around us.

My only complaint is that I don't see how the characters came to see their connections. I could buy that Mr. Hugo recognized Martin when they met again. And that John knew that the picture his granddaughter described as part of her exhibit was the one he lost so long ago. But how could Danny have known that his film on St. Anne was about Martin's mother? And do we know enough to know who Danny's
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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 ...more

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