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Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer

JSFoerAquiFoer, author of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, as well as Everything is Illuminated, again has written an edgy, thought-provoking book. Here I Am explores identity –as a writer, a father, a husband, and an American Jew—in a profoundly personal way.

The title forms a major theme that permeates every character’s life. In Genesis, Abraham is called upon by God to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. When God calls Abraham, he answers, “Here I am.” Similarly, when an angel calls to Abraham as he is about to put the knife to his son’s neck, he responds, “Here I am.” Those words, Hineni in Hebrew, are uttered by a man fully present to God and to the angel. Abraham is everything that the narrator, Jacob, is not.

Jacob is a nebbish who, to escape unpleasantness, listens to NPR science podcasts. He is a financially successful writer of an HBO program. He believes he has squandered his talents and secretly crafts a program about his multi-generational family. He hides this project in a drawer. Worse, still, is something else he writes. Hidden in another drawer is a phone with sexts to a colleague. These sexts are cleverly scattered throughout the first part of the book and seem to appear out of nowhere. Julia, his wife of 15 years, discovers the phone and their marriage unravels. The book is the story of that unraveling.

Juxtaposed against this family drama is a crisis in Israel—one of such magnitude that its very existence is threatened. A terrible earthquake has struck the region. The prime minister has asked that Jews throughout the Diaspora come to Israel to help. Jacob decides to go, despite Julia’s objections, further straining their relationship.

The tragedy that befalls the state of Israel--in particular, the choices it makes to survive--mirrors the turmoil in Jacob’s life and state of mind. What happens to the conscience of a nation and its people when it must choose who in a disaster is helped and who is not? And ultimately, why does Jacob’s action concerning his aged dog, Argus, figure so prominently and become a metaphor for the conflicted decisions we, as humans, make?

Here I Am blends laugh-out-loud humor with pathos. It is a masterpiece of literary fiction, once again establishing Foer as one of the most prominent writers of his time.

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