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Here I Am: A Novel
by Jonathan Safran Foer

Published: 2016-09-06
Hardcover : 592 pages
4 members reading this now
2 clubs reading this now
3 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 1 of 3 members

Instant New York Times Bestseller
A New York Times Notable Book of 2016
A Time Magazine Top 10 Novel of 2016
A Times Literary Supplement Best Book of 2016

Dazzling . . . A profound novel about the claims of identity, history, family, and the burdens of a broken world.” ?Maureen Corrigan, ...

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Introduction

Instant New York Times Bestseller
A New York Times Notable Book of 2016
A Time Magazine Top 10 Novel of 2016
A Times Literary Supplement Best Book of 2016

Dazzling . . . A profound novel about the claims of identity, history, family, and the burdens of a broken world.” ?Maureen Corrigan, NPR’sFresh Air”


In the book of Genesis, when God calls out, “Abraham!” before ordering him to sacrifice his son, Isaac, Abraham responds, “Here I am.” Later, when Isaac calls out, “My father!” before asking him why there is no animal to slaughter, Abraham responds, “Here I am.”

How do we fulfill our conflicting duties as father, husband, and son; wife and mother; child and adult? Jew and American? How can we claim our own identities when our lives are linked so closely to others’? These are the questions at the heart of Jonathan Safran Foer’s first novel in eleven years?a work of extraordinary scope and heartbreaking intimacy.

Unfolding over four tumultuous weeks in present-day Washington, D.C., Here I Am is the story of a fracturing family in a moment of crisis. As Jacob and Julia Bloch and their three sons are forced to confront the distances between the lives they think they want and the lives they are living, a catastrophic earthquake sets in motion a quickly escalating conflict in the Middle East. At stake is the meaning of home?and the fundamental question of how much aliveness one can bear.

Showcasing the same high-energy inventiveness, hilarious irreverence, and emotional urgency that readers loved in his earlier work, Here I Am is Foer’s most searching, hard-hitting, and grandly entertaining novel yet. It not only confirms Foer’s stature as a dazzling literary talent but reveals a novelist who has fully come into his own as one of our most important writers.

Editorial Review

An Amazon Best Book of September 2016: Jonathan Safran Foer is back (after eleven years) and may be better than ever. While Everything Is Illuminated remains one of my favorite books, Here I Am will also be added to the list. Classic JSF with a powerfully personal touch, this novel will make you laugh, challenge your perceptions, and truly just impress. Here I Am follows an already fragile family in crisis, and examines how they approach their fractured marriage through their religious identity as Jewish Americans and Israelis, as well as how each individual within a relationship takes on specific roles, and why. Fans of JSF get ready to swoon, and to those who aren't fans yet--get ready to become one. --Penny Mann, The Amazon Book Review

Excerpt

GET BACK TO HAPPINESS



When the destruction of Israel commenced, Isaac Bloch was weighing whether to kill himself or move to the Jewish Home. He had lived in an apartment with books touching the ceilings, and rugs thick enough to hide dice; then in a room and a half with dirt floors; on forest floors, under unconcerned stars; under the floorboards of a Christian who, half a world and three-quarters of a century away, would have a tree planted to commemorate his righteousness; in a hole for so many days his knees would never wholly unbend; among Gypsies and partisans and half-decent Poles; in transit, refugee, and displaced persons camps; on a boat with a bottle with a boat that an insomniac agnostic had miraculously constructed inside it; on the other side of an ocean he would never wholly cross; above half a dozen grocery stores he killed himself fixing up and selling for small profits; beside a woman who rechecked the locks until she broke them, and died of old age at forty-two without a syllable of praise in her throat but the cells of her murdered mother still dividing in her brain; and finally, for the last quarter century, in a snow-globe-quiet Silver Spring split-level: ten pounds of Roman Vishniac bleaching on the coffee table; Enemies, A Love Story demagnetizing in the world’s last functional VCR; egg salad becoming bird flu in a refrigerator mummified with photographs of gorgeous, genius, tumorless great-grandchildren. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

1. From Isaac and Irving to Jacob and Sam to Tamir and Barak, the male characters of Here I Am complicate simple notions of Jewish masculinity. How do the expectations of manhood differ across generations and nationalities? What do the Bloch and Blumenberg men all have in common?

2. Jacob and Julia are not traditionally religious, but early in their relationship they practiced a “reli- gion for two”—their own Friday Shabbat, Wednesday strolls, and Rosh Hashanah rituals, among others. What do rituals mean for the characters of Here I Am? How important are rituals—in reli- gion, in relationships, and in everyday life—for you?

3. Irv tells his son, Jacob, “Without context, we’d all be monsters” (page 24). What are the contexts that the characters refer to in order to explain their behavior? Are they being honest when they do this? Does the context for behavior make a person more or less responsible for his or her actions?

4. What did you think of Julia’s reaction upon discovering Jacob’s secret cell phone? How would you have reacted?

5. Technology is central to the lives of the characters of Here I Am: texting, virtual worlds, tablets, the Internet, television, Skype, podcasts, blogs, and so on. What are the different roles that tech- nology plays in the lives of these characters? How does technology affect your own life and the ways you communicate?

6. What do Sam and Billie learn about love and con ict at Model UN? How does the students’ imaginary leadership differ from the responses of world leaders when an actual crisis erupts in the Middle East?

7. In the chapter “Maybe It Was the Distance” (beginning on page 219), we learn that Isaac and Ben- ny (Tamir’s grandfather) were the only siblings out of a family of seven brothers who survived the Shoah. After a few years together in a displaced persons camp, Isaac settles in America, and Benny in Israel. Foer writes, “Isaac never understood Benny. Benny understood Issac, but never forgave him.” Did Isaac evade his responsibilities to the Jewish homeland by moving to Washing- ton, D.C.? What did you think of Jacob’s decision not to go to Israel? Was he being cowardly or courageous? How do the other characters, like Tamir and Irv, de ne courage?

8. “Before [Jacob and Julia] had kids, if asked to conjure images of parenthood they would have said things like ‘Reading in bed,’ and ‘Giving a bath,’ and ‘Running while holding the seat of a bicycle.’ Parenthood contains such moments of warmth and intimacy, but isn’t them. It’s cleaning up. The great bulk of family life involves no exchange of love, and no meaning, only ful llment. Not the ful llment of feeling ful lled, but of ful lling that which now falls to you” (page 466). If you are a parent, do you agree? Did this vision of family life ring true to you?

9. At Isaac’s funeral, the rabbi says: “And so it is with prayer, with true prayer, which is never a request, and never praise, but the expression of something of extreme signi cance that would otherwise have no way to be expressed. As Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, ‘Prayer may not save us. But prayer may make us worthy of being saved.’ We are made worthy, made righteous, by ex- pression” (page 350). What is the role of prayer for the characters in the novel? What does prayer mean in your own life?

10. Compare the early version of Sam’s bar mitzvah speech, which begins on page 101, to the nal version, which begins on page 450. How has his view of the world, and of himself, been trans- formed?

11. The novel takes its title from passages in Genesis in which God calls out, “Abraham!” before ordering him to sacri ce his son, Isaac. Abraham dutifully responds, “Here I am.” When do the novel’s characters let each other know “Here I am,” bound by duty? How does this kind of duty both make us free and constrain us?

12. How does Jacob and Julia’s divorce affect their three sons? Does it bring them together? What did you think of the “family conversation” between the brothers that begins on page 437?

13. After viewing a documentary on concentration camps, Sam is wracked with the notion that “his life was, if not the result of, then at least inextricably bound to, the profound suffering, and that there was some kind of existential equation, whatever it was and whatever its implications, be- tween his life and their deaths. Or no knowledge, but a feeling . . . The feeling of being Jewish, but what was that feeling?” (pages 338–39). How does the legacy of the Holocaust affect the Blochs? How do they de ne their Jewish identity?

14. How did you react to Jacob’s terrifying, exhilarating experience in the lion’s den (page 390)? What was Tamir’s motivation in insisting that Jacob make the leap? How does that moment serve as a metaphor for their adult lives?

15. Discuss the “How to Play” instructions that make up part VII, “The Bible.” What autobiographi- cal details do they reveal about Jacob? Has everyone in his family spent their lives performing an invented role? How do the different characters use humor to express their feelings?

16. Should Julia have run away from Mark, or should she have run to him even sooner? Could Jacob and Julia have saved their marriage? Was it the texts that undid their marriage, or was it something else? Why do you think Jacob wrote the texts?

17. “More than a thousand ‘constructed languages’ have been invented—by linguists, novelists, hobbyists—each with the dream of correcting the imprecision, inef ciency, and irregularity of natural language. Some constructed languages are based on the musical scale and sung. Some are color-based and silent. The most admired constructed languages were designed to reveal what communication could be, and none of them is in use” (pages 427–28). The characters of Here I Am struggle to express outside what they feel inside, to overcome the inadequacy of language and say what they really mean. What con icts in the book are rooted in failures of communication? Do you struggle, like Julia, Jacob, Sam, Isaac, and the others, to express yourself, to speak hard truths?

18. Do you think the book stakes out a position on Israel and its relationship with the United States and the Arab world?

19. What makes Argus’s story a tting conclusion to the novel? What has Argus taught Jacob about nding ful llment in life?

Suggested by Members

The title "Here I Am" made us ask--who are you here for?
by Kwizgiver (see profile) 01/14/17

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

No notes at this time.

Book Club Recommendations

Here I am
by Carolynr (see profile) 09/25/16
i read the first 80 pages of this book...I found the writing not well done and did not get how the sexual overtures related to this at all Then again I really couldn't figure out the storyline even after reading the jacket of the book So decided life is too short to read something I don't get or that I dislike. Maybe someone else will find it better than I did.

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
  "So much to talk about..."by Kwizgiver (see profile) 01/14/17

There is so much going on in this book that it gave us plenty to talk about. One of our livelier discussions, for sure.

 
  "Although the book is interesting, I was disappointed in its presentation."by thewanderingjew (see profile) 11/06/16

Here I Am, Jonathan Safran Foer, author; Ari Fliakos, narrator

What is the point of Foer’s book? Is he comparing American Jewry to Israeli Jewry, America’s position relative to Israe

... (read more)

 
by Carolynr (see profile) 09/25/16

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