Here I Am

Here I Am

In the book of Genesis, when God calls out, “Abraham!” to order him to sacrifice his son Isaac, Abraham responds, “Here I am.” Later, when Isaac calls out, “My father!” to ask 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 ca...

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Title:Here I Am
Author:Jonathan Safran Foer
Rating:
ISBN:0241146186
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Paperback
Number of Pages:571 pages

Here I Am Reviews

  • Maxwell
    Dec 23, 2015

    Full review to come.

  • Rebecca Foster
    Jan 13, 2016

    Is it a simple account of the implosion of two Washington, D.C. fortysomethings’ marriage? Or is it a sweeping epic of Judaism from the biblical patriarchs to imagined all-out Middle Eastern warfare? Can it succeed in being both? I didn’t really think so. If this was simply a family novel of the Jonathan Franzen–Jami Attenberg–Jonathan Tropper variety about Jacob and Julia Bloch – their three precocious sons, their adulterous urges, their amusing ancestors – I might have liked it better. T

    Is it a simple account of the implosion of two Washington, D.C. fortysomethings’ marriage? Or is it a sweeping epic of Judaism from the biblical patriarchs to imagined all-out Middle Eastern warfare? Can it succeed in being both? I didn’t really think so. If this was simply a family novel of the Jonathan Franzen–Jami Attenberg–Jonathan Tropper variety about Jacob and Julia Bloch – their three precocious sons, their adulterous urges, their amusing ancestors – I might have liked it better. The dialogue between this couple as they face the fallout is all too real and cuts to the quick. I enjoyed the preparations for Sam’s bar mitzvah and I could admire Julia’s clear-eyed capability and Sam, Max and Benjy’s almost alarming intelligence and heart at the same time as I wondered to what extent she was Nicole Krauss and they were the authors’ kids.

    But about halfway through I thought the book got away from Foer, requiring him to throw in a death, a natural disaster, and a conflict with global implications. This draws attention away from Jacob, who is meant to be the terribly flawed but sympathetic Everyman hero whose search for mindfulness – really being present in his own life, as the title suggests – we go along with. Of course Foer writes well. The prose is not the issue, though I did get annoyed by sentences set up like lists, repetition, anatomical mixed metaphors (e.g. “triggered a reflex in Jacob’s brain’s knee”) and downright weird phrases (e.g. “Freudian amounts of sushi”). My problem was this feels more like an early novel by Philip Roth or maybe one by Howard Jacobson, what with frequent masturbation and sex talk on the one hand and constant quarrelling about what Jewishness means on the other.

    The novel is based around speeches: Sam’s Torah commentary for his bar mitzvah, whence comes the title phrase uttered by Abraham; Deborah’s speech at Jacob and Julia’s wedding (probably the best part of the entire book); oration from the U.S. president, the Israeli prime minister, the Ayatollah; and so on. In between, it is also based around speech: dialogue is a real strength. However, I felt that the central message about being present for others’ suffering, and your own, got a little lost under the flood of major projected-current events. Ultimately I’m glad I read it, but it’s a long book to wade through considering it’s Foer’s least satisfying.

    “the desire to wring out a few more drips of happiness almost always destroyed the happiness you were so lucky to have, and so foolish never to acknowledge.”

    “All communication had become subterranean: shifting tectonics, felt on the surface, but not known.”

    “[Julia] hated the person he forced her to sound like: pissy and resentful, unfun, the nagging wife she would have killed herself to avoid becoming.”

    “Judaism gets death right, Jacob thought. It instructs us what to do when we know least well what to do, and feel an overwhelming need to do

    .”

    “But [the moments when life felt big, precious] made up such an utterly small portion of his time on earth: five minutes a year? What did it sum to? A day? At most? A day of feeling alive in four decades of life?”

  • Kirsty
    Jul 11, 2016

    Since the moment I heard that the god of contemporary authors, Jonathan Safran Foer, was going to be releasing a new novel, the barely-concealed bookworm inside me has been almost continually squealing with excitement. Whilst markedly different to the original information –

    was supposed to be released in 2015 – his newest novel,

    , is well worth the wait.

    The novel focuses upon a family living in Washington DC. Jacob and Julia Bloch have been married for si

    Since the moment I heard that the god of contemporary authors, Jonathan Safran Foer, was going to be releasing a new novel, the barely-concealed bookworm inside me has been almost continually squealing with excitement. Whilst markedly different to the original information –

    was supposed to be released in 2015 – his newest novel,

    , is well worth the wait.

    The novel focuses upon a family living in Washington DC. Jacob and Julia Bloch have been married for sixteen years, and have three sons – Sam, on the cusp of an unwanted Bar Mitzvah, ‘basically eleven’-year-old Max, and five-year-old Benjy. We also meet members of the Bloch’s extended family – Jacob’s parents, Irv and Deborah, his great-grandfather, Isaac, and several of his Israeli cousins. The plot revolves around the sudden failure of the Bloch’s marriage, and Sam’s Bar Mitzvah celebration, which is supposed to be filled with pomp and circumstance, and which he is utterly dreading.

    is a deep familial jigsaw, which has been incredibly well pieced together. The dialogue is wonderfully constructed, and there is a very dark humour to it in places, which adds a great balance to the whole. Above all, the novel feels very believable; the characters are lifelike, and their problems and interactions are very realistic indeed.

    Safran Foer’s writing is, as ever, both startling and stunning, and I was reminded immediately as to why I love his work so much. Throughout, I adored the little details which he made use of – for instance, ‘a redheaded boy who still got chills from so much as thinking about the epilogue of

    .

    As always, the Jewish history which Safran Foer has included was both rich and fascinating. In terms of the plot, Here I Am begins in a manner which feels less historically reliant than

    (2002) and

    (2005), but this history builds, and is consequently used in masterful ways. He is an incredibly thoughtful and understanding author, who sees the importance and consequences of many things which have occurred throughout history; primarily, here, the focus is upon the effects of the Holocaust upon the children and grandchildren of survivors.

    I was pulled into

    immediately, and despite its almost-600 page count, I found myself racing through it, quite unable to put it down. Never once does the story become lost. I was reminded of Zoe Heller throughout (also a wonderful contemporary author), who examines similar themes in

    (2008). Elements are discussed which can be found in Safran Foer’s earlier efforts; not in a repetitive way, but in a more grown-up, political manner. Identity, family, and Jewishness are the most prevalent of these. Here I Am is politically shrewd on a global scale; Julia and Jacob’s marital problems play out against the backdrop of a Middle East fraught with disasters – an earthquake which triggers a cholera epidemic, starving people, and full-blown war.

    is as strong a novel as his previous works, but it feels like a departure of sorts from them; it is a more grown-up novel, with less experimental writing, and a dose more realism. Here I Am feels very personal on a number of levels, and the ending is nothing short of heartbreaking. I loved this well-realised and masterful novel, but I must admit that in no way was it what I was expecting.

  • Gill
    Jul 20, 2016

    'Here I Am' by Jonathan Safran Foer

    2.5 stars/ 5 out of 10

    I was very impressed by "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" by Jonathan Safran Foer, so was interested to read his latest work, "Here I Am".

    I found the story disjointed to begin with, but after about 50 pages I settled into its pattern. I thought the way that Julia and Jacob's relationship changed over time was developed in an interesting way. It kept me eager to find out more about them and their family. I found the sections relating t

    'Here I Am' by Jonathan Safran Foer

    2.5 stars/ 5 out of 10

    I was very impressed by "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" by Jonathan Safran Foer, so was interested to read his latest work, "Here I Am".

    I found the story disjointed to begin with, but after about 50 pages I settled into its pattern. I thought the way that Julia and Jacob's relationship changed over time was developed in an interesting way. It kept me eager to find out more about them and their family. I found the sections relating to the avatars thought provoking. I enjoyed some of the humour, but felt that much of it was lost on me, because my cultural background is so different from that of the protagonists.

    I found the sudden change of focus halfway the book quite strange, and I didn't find it an easy one. I'm sure that Jonathan Safran Foer had a clear intention as to why he did this, but I thought it made the first and second half of the book disconnected. I found the part of the plot relating to the Middle East hard to follow, and I wasn't engaged enough to try to understand it more. There were still aspects of the 'family' story that I enjoyed in the second half of the book, but overall I lost interest.

    This novel did not come up to my expectations. It may be that I am not the audience that Jonathan Safran Foer was aiming for, but I found the novel overlong, confusing and often uninteresting.

    Thank you to Penguin Books (UK) and to NetGalley for an ARC.

  • Ayelet Waldman
    Jul 29, 2016

    Amazing first half. The Israel stuff left me cold.

  • Elyse
    Sep 15, 2016

    "Here I Am", is one of those type of books that is likely to receive every possible rating......depending on the readers perspective. Readers can easily justify their options, positive or negative.

    Rather than get tangled with debates about this novel--controversy chit chat....

    These are 'my' suggestions ---[take them or leave them]---if on the fence about reading this book.

    If not clear:

    Good reasons 'not' to read this novel:

    ......unrefined and vulgar dialogue

    ......off-putting characters are of

    "Here I Am", is one of those type of books that is likely to receive every possible rating......depending on the readers perspective. Readers can easily justify their options, positive or negative.

    Rather than get tangled with debates about this novel--controversy chit chat....

    These are 'my' suggestions ---[take them or leave them]---if on the fence about reading this book.

    If not clear:

    Good reasons 'not' to read this novel:

    ......unrefined and vulgar dialogue

    ......off-putting characters are off-putting to 'you'.

    ......Graphic sex descriptions might have you shaking your head.

    ......If you already know you can't stand reading authors such as Jonathan Franzen,

    Philip Roth, or Shalom Auslander...then you might not like this book either.

    Good reasons 'to' read this novel:

    ......You love Philip Roth, Jonathan Franzen, and Shalom Auslander

    ......You are a fan of painfully hilarious profound observations.

    ......American-Jewish upper middle class contemporary family stories get your juices going. Off-putting characters are part of your DNA so much you love them: ( feels familiar).

    ....... You love witty, intelligent, reflective, articulate, screwed-up characters

    .......You enjoy reading sentences and dialogue that not only make you pause--you

    'must' re-read them -and discussions about them excite you. You know your partner will get a thrill out of the book, too ( half the fun is reading parts together)...even if "shaking your head"...."ITS SO WRONG", Paul says... Then laughs - He loves it!

    ......You simply enjoy devilishly funny 'taboo' fiction

    .......You don't offend easily.

    .......Quick & pretentious dialogue 'some-how' feels satisfying

    ......A part of you likes frustrated aloof pathetic personalities in novels.

    ......You're willing to invest your time with a hefty 600 page book. --- KNOWING NOT ALL OF IT IS GOING TO HOLD UP TO A 5 star rating... ( you can 'feel' the downhill slide coming)

    Jacob and Julie are the parents of three boys: Sam, Max, and Benji.

    Sam is in Bar Mitzvah preparations at the beginning of the book. He's accused of

    a 'NO-NO' in Hebrew school. His 'crime' is bad enough that both parents are called in to speak to the Rabbi. Sam says he didn't do 'the naughty crime'. Jacob believes him- Julie doesn't. Much friction continues - at home - around whether or not Sam is guilty or innocent.

    Problems are beginning to surface in Jacob and Julie's marriage also. The kids notice- everyone is observant in this family - even the youngest peanut of a child.

    The grandparents and great-grandpa, ( Holocaust survivor), are all involved....( everyone has an opinion).....

    In the meantime Sam doesn't want to have his damn Bar Mitzvah.

    Here's Sam's first Torah commentary: -part of it- ITS ACTUALLY MUCH LONGER: 3 LONG PAGES...( this is only the first paragraph)...

    "It is with a sense of history and extreme annoyance that I stand at this bimah today,

    prepared to fulfill the so-called right of passage into adulthood, whatever that is. I want to thank Cantor Fleischman, for helping transform me, over the past half year, into a Jewish automaton. On the extreme off chance that I remember any of this a year from now, I still won't know what it means, and for that I am grateful. I also wish to thank Rabbi Singer, who is a sulfuric acid enema. My only living great grandparent is Isaac Bloch. My dad said that I had to go through with this for him, something my great grandfather has never, himself, asked of me. There are things he 'has' asked, like not to be forced to move into a Jewish Home. My family cares very much about caring for him, but not enough to actually care, and I didn't understand a word that my chanting today, but I understand that. I want to thank my grandparents Irv and Deborah Boch, for being inspirations in my life and always urging me to try a little harder, dig a little bit deeper, become rich, and say whatever I want whenever I feel like it. Also my grandparents Allen and Leah Selma, who live in Florida, and who's mortal status I am only aware of thanks to the Hanukkah and birthday checks that haven't been adjusted for cost-of-living increases since my birth. I want to thank my brothers Benji and Max, for requiring great portions of my parents attention. I cannot imagine surviving and existence in which I bore the undivided brunt of their love".

    THE SPEECH CONTINUES .....could give a Rabbi a heart attack!

    As we can see-- Sam is not just a rebellious, aloof, young teenage kid---his speech expresses anger, frustration, and sadness. --even some 'truth'.

    He's not the only one breaking down. Jacob and Julie's are splitting at the seams - plus, there is a major earthquake disaster in the Middle East... which becomes the fuel for "The Destruction of Israel". [This is that downhill slide in the book I was talking about]

    The first half of the book which focuses on the Bloch family is stronger than when the story shifts to theology- Israel - and politics -"The war of God against the enemies of God will end in triumph!" Oh vey! I wasn't sure what the hell to make of this section.

    I clearly chose to read this 'hefty book'. The parts I loved...I LOVED A LOT!!!

    The parts I didn't care for-- I didn't feel emotionally connected.... or particularly understand.

    I enjoyed the FAMILY STORY... and brilliant witty dialogue! Great humor. Overall - at least 50% of this novel was OUTLANDISH!!!

    ---The other 50% wasn't 'as' exciting... but I let it sly....( and made Paul read it)... BAD WIFE AS I am... ( made him explain it to me). The later part was still mumble jumble...

    HOWEVER....

    I LOVE WHAT I LOVED!!! ... and THAT my friends was good enough for me!!!

    So, definitely not for everyone....yet - for me - I'm glad I read it. I don't think I'll forget Jacob, Julie, Sam, Max, Benji, and even the dog Argus! :) I liked this family - pimples and all!

    As for our author, Jonathan Safran Foer: I'm aware of the street talk about him. I'm not completely naïve--( well sometimes) I've yet to read one review or utube or interview --- I've stayed away. Now that I 'have' read it... I'll explore a little - read what others have to say.

    Me: I have NO PROBLEM with Foer as an author or a human being. As an author....I'm more than 'ok' with him.

    I used to say, (shhhh), that he and Nicole Krauss, where the hottest, most attractive brilliant couple - of authors around. I wanted to know them both - hang with them both.... ( just a groupie- book reading crush fantasy)....

    I only 'heard' through the grapevine, that he and Nicole split. This makes me a little sad! I wish them both the best!

  • Emily May
    Sep 20, 2016

    2 1/2 stars. Foer explores what it means to be a Jew in this epic, messy monster of a book. He starts with a Franzen-style look at the American family - a spiraling web of relationships and conflicts that on its own would have still resulted in a dense, challenging work, but probably one significantly less convoluted and more satisfying.

    The protagonist is Jacob - a modern day version of the biblical man by the same name. Much of his conflict - internal and external - is either about family or fa

    2 1/2 stars. Foer explores what it means to be a Jew in this epic, messy monster of a book. He starts with a Franzen-style look at the American family - a spiraling web of relationships and conflicts that on its own would have still resulted in a dense, challenging work, but probably one significantly less convoluted and more satisfying.

    The protagonist is Jacob - a modern day version of the biblical man by the same name. Much of his conflict - internal and external - is either about family or faith, reminiscent of his namesake. Foer makes a lot of interesting observations about humanity, Americans and Jews, and it is the family aspect of the book where he shines.

    However, the novel just gets weighed down more and more by everything else Foer keeps adding. The geopolitical conflicts between Israel and the Arab world add another huge layer to an already complex novel. This drags the second half of the book down and, unfortunately, the introduction of the struggles in the Middle East made me lose interest in the parts of the story I was previously enjoying.

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  • Chelsea Humphrey
    Dec 01, 2016

    DNF. Just wasn't for me.

  • helen the bookowl
    Feb 26, 2017

    This was my first read by Jonathan Safran Foer and it was BEAUTIFUL! It wasn't the writing - which a lot of people seem to praise him for - that affected me the most. Actually, it's hard to put a finger on what exactly it was. But several times during my reading of this novel I almost teared up because it affected me emotionally in a way that no other book has for a long time.

    "Here I Am" combines a frustrating and hard every-day family life with religion. It deals with Jacob in America and Jews

    This was my first read by Jonathan Safran Foer and it was BEAUTIFUL! It wasn't the writing - which a lot of people seem to praise him for - that affected me the most. Actually, it's hard to put a finger on what exactly it was. But several times during my reading of this novel I almost teared up because it affected me emotionally in a way that no other book has for a long time.

    "Here I Am" combines a frustrating and hard every-day family life with religion. It deals with Jacob in America and Jews and Israel. It's a funny combination that works so well.

    One of the things that won my heart over in this novel - besides from the adorable children and pet - was Jacob's digressions. He could be describing a scene and then suddenly turn to a childhood memory and thoughts provoked by that memory before going back to the original scene, and it all related and made perfect sense in the end.

    I am very impressed by this unique novel, and I'm convinved I have to read more by this author who, according to this book, has a lot of impressive thoughts, things and stories to offer.

  • Andrew Smith
    Mar 01, 2017

    Let me be clear, I only award one star to books I fail to finish. I failed to finish this book. In fact, I’d barely started it – I was probably no more than an hour into this chunky seventeen-hour audio version. And I don’t think I’ve ever given up any book that early.

    The problems for me were:

    1. I didn’t understand much of it

    2. I didn’t like the bits I did understand

    I’ve subsequently tried to read a couple reviews of the book, published in newspapers I respect, to see what I am missing out on. B

    Let me be clear, I only award one star to books I fail to finish. I failed to finish this book. In fact, I’d barely started it – I was probably no more than an hour into this chunky seventeen-hour audio version. And I don’t think I’ve ever given up any book that early.

    The problems for me were:

    1. I didn’t understand much of it

    2. I didn’t like the bits I did understand

    I’ve subsequently tried to read a couple reviews of the book, published in newspapers I respect, to see what I am missing out on. But it seems that the learned journalists whose observations I fell upon seemed keen to engage in erudite discussion that left me as cold as the book itself.

    I do believe that many readers will find much to admire within the pages of this novel, but I’m done with it. I’ve filed it away on a shelf marked ‘life is too short’.