Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer


There’s a lot going on in Jonathan Safran Foer’s Here I Am – an earthquake followed by a war in the Middle East; the death of a family patriarch; an unwanted bar mitzvah; a crumbling marriage. But through all this ‘busyness’, you quickly understand that Here I Am is Foer’s ode to family and his Jewish faith.

“Parents don’t have the luxury of being reasonable, not any more than a religious person does. What can make religious people and parents so utterly insufferable is also what makes religion and parenthood so utterly beautiful: the all-or-nothing wager. The faith.”

The story follows Jacob and Julia Bloch, their three sons (Sam, Max, Benji), their beloved dog (Argus), and a vast extended family, notably Jacob’s father, grandfather and the ‘Israeli cousins’ (who are visiting the Blochs in Washington for Sam’s bar mitzvah). The focus is on a month-long period when Jacob and Julia’s marriage reaches crisis point. At the same time, there is political uncertainty in the Middle East and Jacob’s grandfather dies.

“Every child wants to see the marks ascend the door frame, but how many couples are able to see progress in simply staying the same? ….Jacob and Julia were never ones to resist convention on principle, but neither could they have imagined becoming quite so conventional; they got a second car (and second-car insurance); joined a gym with a twenty-page course offering; stopped doing their taxes themselves; occasionally sent back a bottle of wine; bought a house with side-by-side sinks; doubled their toiletries; had a teak enclosure built for their garbage bins…”

There are many layers to this story and some appealed to me more than others. I’m not going to comment on Foer’s analysis of Judasim – I simply don’t have enough understanding or context (the Shriver element strikes again!). However, I can share what I loved about this book because in sum total, it is love.

For those that have read Here I Am – the TV ‘bible’; the flashbacks to when the kids were little; the analogies with the online game; the UN exercise; Julia’s dream houses; Nirvana lyrics; incontinent Argus… these were the details that were overwhelmingly good. Did you wonder if it was an autobiography in disguise?

For those that haven’t read Here I Am, know the following – there are some bits that are laugh-out-loud funny and some that are darkly humorous; sections of dialogue are so long that quite frankly, Foer tests the friendship – hang in there and write those bits off like you did the last twenty pages of Tartt’s Goldfinch; there’s vulgar language but it’s in context; there are some thoughts about families that are breathtakingly beautiful and bits about relationships that are uncomfortably truthful; and you might need tissues (the ending left me in tatters).

Here I Am is the ultimate #firstworldproblem story – how do we put our daily personal issues in perspective, when there are ‘real’ problems (war, starvation, crimes against humanity) happening at the same time?

“The news that reached America was scattershot, unreliable, and alarmist. The Blochs did what they did best: they balanced overreaction with repression.”

For me, Foer’s writing shines in the detail –

“…and every chair in Starbucks was occupied by someone who would finish his life before finishing his novel, leaving Jacob no place to go deep into his very thin phone.”

“After a snowfall, there are only desire lines. But it always warms, and even if it takes longer than it should, the snow inevitably melts, revealing what was chosen.”

Some will say that this novel is exhausting, self-indulgent, chaotic and altogether trying to do too much – I understand where those criticisms come from but I loved this story and I’ll never look at Steven Spielberg in the same way again (you’ll have to read it to find out why).

4.5/5 I laughed out loud and bawled and bawled – what more can you want from a story?

I received my copy of Here I Am from the publisher, Penguin Books (UK) via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

13 responses

  1. I really loved this too; I think it’s easily his best and one of the best books I’ve read all year. It’s the book I now compare all “serious literary fiction” to. I’m glad to read a review by someone else who really enjoyed it.

    • Seems to be one of those books that will either get one or five stars. There were bits I didn’t like and elements a bit much (kids with very adult voices in parts) however, a week after finishing, there were so many good and quite different aspects of the book that have stayed with me (particularly the dialogue between Julia and Jacob, and the concurrent life/death of the grandfather and Argus) that make it one of the best books I’ve read this year.

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  3. I’ve heard lots of chat about the book, but not read a review yet. I love books that make you laugh out loud. Looks like I’ll need to add this to my pile of books awaiting my attention. Thanks for this.

    • Thanks for that – really interesting article. I loved the bit – “What matters stays with you. Everything else just falls away.” Words to live by, I reckon.

      Did you ever read the NYT piece between him and Portman? It was odd, to say the least!

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