Neil's Reviews > The Sorrows of an American

The Sorrows of an American by Siri Hustvedt
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really liked it
bookshelves: 2016

Although it is very obviously a very different book, I often found myself thinking of Richard Powers' The Echo Maker as I read this. Both deal with the way the mind works, the tricks it plays on us. Both make mention of Capgras' syndrome (it's the key plot element in Powers but is mentioned in Hustvedt). Both are post-9/11 books. Both make at least veiled references to The Wizard of Oz. It is also true that Hustvedt writes intelligently and beautifully, as does Powers.

There are a lot of characters in this book. A few times I was glad I was reading it on my Kindle where I could simply press on a character's name and see all the previous references to them: it helped me keep characters and their part in the story clear and I think I might have got confused in a paper version. Chalk one up for the Kindle.

It's not just because of the multiple characters, but you really do have to keep your wits about you as you read this book. The structure jumps between different plot elements quite freely and often without giving away the change of focus immediately. It also jumps around in time with excerpts from the narrator's father's journal mixed in with the other story lines. These journal entries gain extra poignancy when an afterword explains they are genuine extracts from Hustvedt's father's journal copied into the book with barely any changes. Hustvedt also discusses some intellectual topics which mean you need to concentrate as you read.

But the joy of the book is the characters that Hustvedt creates. They all have their own characters and voices, they all draw the reader in and become very real. I've only read one other Hustvedt book (The Blazing World) and the main character from that still lives vividly in my memory after a few years. I think some of the characters in this book will live with me for quite some time, too, which is a testament to the skill of Hustvedt's writing.

All in all, this was a thoroughly enjoyable read for me. Some reviews I've seen since I finished it (I try not to read reviews until after I've read a book) expressed disappointment at a sense of anti-climax. I didn't feel that at all as I read it. I enjoyed the way the different story lines developed and climaxed. I will definitely read more of her books.
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Reading Progress

August 4, 2016 – Shelved
September 28, 2016 – Started Reading
September 29, 2016 –
page 103
October 1, 2016 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-4 of 4 (4 new)

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message 1: by Doug (new) - added it

Doug I really liked The Blazing World also ... so added this to my already overflowing TBR list ... sigh!

message 2: by Hugh (last edited Oct 02, 2016 06:16AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Hugh This is one of my favourites too and for me one of her best 3 - the others being What I Loved and The Blazing World, and The Blindfold is not far behind. The Powers connection is an interesting one.

Britta Böhler I second Hugh's 'rating' re Hustvedt's best three. And I also love her nonfiction, esp. on art, but also The Shaking Woman.

Neil Looking forward to What I Loved, then! The NYT said The Echo Maker, related to 9/11, is "not an elegy for How We Used to Live or a salute to Coming to Grips, but a quiet exploration of how we survive, day to day." I think this book has the same feel to it. I do see quite a few parallels between Hustvedt and Powers, probably because both combine science and art and write "intellectually" about some similar topics.

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