I received this book for free from the publisher / TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy
Published by Harper on June 11, 2013
Source: the publisher / TLC Book Tours
Goodreads | Amazon
The characters in Simon Van Booy's The Illusion of Separateness discover at their darkest moments of fear and isolation that they are not alone, that they were never alone, that every human being is a link in a chain we cannot see. This gripping novel--inspired by true events--tells the interwoven stories of a deformed German infantryman; a lonely British film director; a young, blind museum curator; two Jewish American newlyweds separated by war; a lost child on the brink of starvation; and a caretaker at a retirement home for actors in Santa Monica. The same world moves under each of them, so that one by one, through seemingly random acts of selflessness, a veil is lifted to reveal the vital parts they have played in one another's lives, and the illusion of their separateness.
(from the back cover)
Let me just start by saying that this is easily one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. The Illusion of Separateness gets top-five status on that list. It’s relatively short–I took two days to read it because I was savoring it, but I could have easily read it in a day–but it leaves a huge impact.
The Illusion of Separateness is a book of interconnected vignettes (I think that’s the word I want) about a group of people who have had a major impact on each other’s lives, sometimes without even being aware of it. The story starts in 2010 with Martin, a caretaker at a retirement home for wealthy/famous people in California. Mr. Hugo, a new retiree, is being welcomed to the home. The events and memories in this first story lead to the next story, which goes back in time to 1981 and tells a portion of Mr. Hugo’s history. Mr. Hugo’s vignette then leads to the next one, which takes place in 1968 and tells about a boy in France named Sébastien. The book continues on in this way, with each successive story expanding on something or someone from the story before, leading as far back in time as World War II and bringing everything full circle in the end.
The main idea in The Illusion of Separateness is explained in the title–no 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 person’s 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 what this book focuses on), and negative actions will most likely produce negative consequences. I don’t want to do too much soapboxing here, but The Illusion of Separateness reminded me how important it is for us to be kind to one another and to treat one another with respect. Pay it forward, people. That’s all there is to it.
This is the first book by Simon Van Booy that I’ve read, and I’m very impressed. I love the writing style in this book–the sentences are frank and to-the-point, which works very well with the subject matter. The loveliness is in the stories themselves; complicated prose isn’t the least bit necessary to get that across. Along with the story, the blunt writing style was one of my favorite things about The Illusion of Separateness.
The characters are equally wonderful. I wanted to hug them all and thank them for being such good people. They’re all realistic characters: they all have realistic personalities and they’ve all had complicated lives. But they all use their not-so-nice experiences to serve as a reminder to be kind and helpful, instead of being bitter and nasty. Or maybe the characters are better described as people who are kind and helpful despite what life has thrown at them. People like that deserve ALL THE HUGS.
I highly recommend The Illusion of Separateness to everyone…yes, everyone. I’m not going to narrow it down because this is one of those books that I want to tell everyone to read, no matter their reading preferences. Just read it, please and thank you.