Here I Am
by Jonathan Safran-Foer, Penguin/Random House.
Jewish-American screenwriter Jacob Bloch is having a midlife crisis. “I’m smaller than life,” he complains to his Israeli second cousin Tamir, who is staying with him at his Washington DC home as their extended family get ready to celebrate Jacob’s son Sam’s bar mitzvah. As Tamir’s soldier son prepares for war in his homeland of Israel, which is being invaded, the smallness of Jacob’s problems in comparison to his visiting relative’s feels immense. Jacob’s marriage is dissolving (not helped by his sexting relationship with a co-worker or his architect wife’s growing attraction to a client), his career is at a standstill, his great grandfather, Holocaust survivor Irv’s health is failing and he may not see his great-grandchild’s bar mitzvah, and his relationship with his son Sam is complicated. For this disconnected dad, it’s also troubling to know that his number one son has a better understanding of his parent’s inadequacies than his own. It’s proving to be too confronting and uncomfortably insightful. Foer’s massive, sprawling novel is a chaotic read – so clever in parts that you want to return to some paragraphs and savour the eloquence of the sentences, and so graphic and shocking in others, you might wonder if you want to continue – but it’s worth persisting. Allow your irritation towards the narcissistic tendencies of mankind to take a back seat and take on board Jacob’s father Isaac’s words of wisdom: “Not to have a choice,” he says, “is also a choice.”