Bearing the Body


A New York Times Notable Book of the Year

At the start of Bearing the Body, Nathan Mirsky learns that his older brother has died in San Francisco, apparently murdered after years of aimlessness. On the spur of the moment, Nathan leaves his job as a medical resident and heads west from Boston to learn what he can about Daniel's death. His father, Sol—a quiet, embittered Holocaust survivor—insists on coming along. Piecing together Daniel's last days, Nathan and Sol are forced to ...

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A New York Times Notable Book of the Year

At the start of Bearing the Body, Nathan Mirsky learns that his older brother has died in San Francisco, apparently murdered after years of aimlessness. On the spur of the moment, Nathan leaves his job as a medical resident and heads west from Boston to learn what he can about Daniel's death. His father, Sol—a quiet, embittered Holocaust survivor—insists on coming along. Piecing together Daniel's last days, Nathan and Sol are forced to confront secrets that have long isolated them from each other and to being a long process of forgiveness.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"It can hurt to be shown reality, to be told the truth. But Bearing the Body reminds you that there's nothing like it. . . . Extraordinary."—Francine Prose, The New York Times

"An ambitious novel driven by a wonderfully talented writer's sense of history, coupled with a deep compassion for his characters, every one of which is rendered fully and with great wisdom."—Richard Russo

"An impressive achievement from a highly gifted writer . . . This sorrowful but beautiful work is richly layered."—Chicago Tribune

"Beautifully, meticulously structured . . . A reader is also forced to notice, with particular acuity, the heavy inadequacy of human relationships."—Los Angeles Times

"The characters in Bearing the Body are riveting. They try and fail, they resist and accept, they survive and feel real."—The Oregonian

"Riveting . . . This novel, more than any I have read in decades, is a masterful meditation on the immorality of familial silence."—The Jerusalem Post

Francine Prose
Havazelet is a writer who takes huge risks, who challenges us—and himself—to love those who are the most unlovable, the most deeply and humanly flawed…Havazelet's novel won't make you happier, unless it cheers you to admire a writer who doesn't merely describe but actually reproduces experiences that seem simultaneously universal and intimate. Reading about Sol and Nathan feels like being adopted into a family you might not want to have, precisely because (as with "The Sopranos") you recognize the similarities it bears to your own. It can hurt to be shown reality, to be told the truth. But Bearing the Body reminds you that there's nothing else like it.
—The New York Times
Kirkus Reviews
A complex family drama arises following the death of its eldest son in this first novel from the author of two noteworthy short-story collections (Like Never Before, 1998, etc.). When 1960s war protester Daniel Mirsky is discovered dead in San Francisco in 1994, his younger brother Nathan, a Boston medical resident, travels west to learn what happened, leaving behind his long-suffering and indignant girlfriend Janet. To Nathan's surprise, his widowed father Sol(omon), a former factory owner and Holocaust survivor, decides to accompany him. As present action is interwoven with each character's (often guilty) reminiscences, we learn that Nathan had both idealized and resented the charismatic, hectoring Daniel, and that Sol, still burdened by haunting images of his family's wartime sufferings and losses, also grieves, silently and stubbornly, over his estrangement from his son's accusatory political troublemaking. Havazelet widens the novel's scope persuasively, narrating some of its content from various other viewpoints, notably those of Daniel's former lover Abby, her 6-year-old biracial son Ben, even Sol's long-dead wife Freda. The novel gains significant force from varying its concentration on Nathan, whose morose introverted self-hatred is more than a little wearying. Still, there are far too many borderline-lugubrious insights (e.g., "medicine, like the various lives he had contemplated for himself, . . . confirmed how little could be done in the face of history, fate, the odds"). Momentum and interest quicken whenever we follow Sol's mental and physical peregrinations, especially as the climax draws near, and his determination to shake off restraints and reshape the life remainingto him is deftly paralleled with Ben's attempt to "escape" from all that threatens to confine and limit him. Overstuffed and intermittently awkwardly constructed. But it's charged with the material of real life, and its characters demand, and earn, the reader's empathy.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312427504
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 11/25/2008
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 514,247
  • Product dimensions: 8.26 (w) x 5.38 (h) x 0.84 (d)

Meet the Author

Ehud Havazelet is the award-winning author of two story collections, What Is It then Between Us?and Like Never Before, which was a New York Times notable book and a Los Angeles Times Best Book. He has been awarded fellowships from the Guggenheim, Whiting, and Rockefeller foundations. He teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Oregon, and at the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers. He lives in Corvallis, Oregon.

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Read an Excerpt

Bearing the Body

By Ehud Havazelet

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC

Copyright © 2007 Ehud Havazelet
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-374-29972-9

Chapter One

It was a spring evening and he had come in too soon. Beyond the dining room window the catalpa tossed heavily, leaves grown huge this week, trailing seedpods comically like tassels. The light over the houses was a charged blue, not as in winter when it drained abruptly into night, but softer, a presence, almost liquid, an invitation, a tease. In the street, a car circled a second time, its radio up, and he leaned in to hear but caught only the thin edge of a melody before it turned the corner and faded.

Nathan was fourteen and after two hours of basketball had run the mile home, could have run another. He sat in his damp clothes with his body humming. A plate of food was in front of him, chicken, potatoes, beans boiled until their skin came loose, but he wasn't eating. The sweatshirt against his neck just beginning to cool, his calves, the area between his shoulders throbbing an agreeable ache. He watched his mother cut small pieces of chicken with a knife, her eyes fixed on the news across the room. His father, the Post beside his plate, also not eating, glancing from time to time at his food as if surprised to find it there, stabbing something without looking and bringing it to his mouth. Nathan reached past his father for the carton ofmilk, looked at his parents, at the newscaster a blank moment, then back out the window.

Long ago-he couldn't even remember when-he had developed the art of segregating himself. So while part of him hovered nearby, made sure he answered questions, chewed some food, the other part-the essential part, he knew-was able to split off entirely. He was back on the cement court behind the school, the warm, nubbly ball in his hands, waiting at the top of the key for Larry Cohen to lunge, as he knew he would, so he could put a shoulder into him, glide by and float the ball from his fingertips into the basket, while all Cohen could do was gape, flabbergasted, as if it were all choreographed, inevitable.

At the same time he was behind the chain-link fence where some girls, including Shari Rosenheim, paused on their way from the library to watch, books squeezed to their sweatered breasts, in among the smells and laughter and quiet sarcastic appraisals. And he was upstairs, where he had gone straight from coming in, on his bed with the lights out, with the towel he had bought himself and which he really needed to replace, Shari Rosenheim in her plaid skirt, the green sweater gone now, hair falling into her face as all his blood gathered and he closed his eyes and she reached down to touch him.

His mother had said something. Nathan had missed it and so had his father. His father looked up, eyes batting as they did when he worked to be patient, but his mother was alarmed as she said it again, "Daniel," and they all looked at the set. The six o'clock news, Walter Cronkite's dull, reassuring baritone, the same every night, guaranteeing that even if something happened nothing ever changed. Columbia. The demonstrations. Cameras zooming in and out, kids hanging from windows, banners, students facing off with cops on the library steps. A red-haired guy shouting into a megaphone. Just after he'd made that move, split the defenders and left Cohen holding his dick, he'd looked back at Shari Rosenheim, who had smiled as she walked away. She'd seen it. He knew she had.

On the television a camera was jostled, everything slurrying, and when it steadied, the building came into focus, steps, white columns, second-story windows where students called down and threw papers, one huge sheaf catching wind and scattering. A reporter was saying, "Walter, this may be growing serious here." Kids were barricaded in the building, had trashed offices. Now rumors a fire was set, chaos, many students had fled, concern for those remaining inside. The camera pulled in to three kids on the ledge, holding the sill behind them, cops below on the ground scrambling at their legs. There he was. His mother said it again, "Daniel." Though the breeze whipped his hair they could see the green army jacket, the black hat, the thin face, the complacent half-grin, the eyes. Daniel. His mother made a noise. Now two cops had him by the feet, hauling him down. But first he straightened, looked at the crowd. He moved hair off his face with two hands, put his arms out to the sides, as if he was on the board at the lake at camp, as if he was about to take off right over their heads. And before he was dragged down, two cops in face shields, another red-faced and cursing, they saw him look at the camera and smile.

The car passed a third time, its radio blasting. Some neighborhood kids out riding, circling the streets. Nathan could see their faces, their elbows on the door frames, the cigarettes in their mouths. They were cruising, they could drive into the city, upstate, anywhere. The same song. Was it? He leaned into the sound, made out a guitar, a drumbeat, and he leaned harder, determined this time to catch it.


Excerpted from Bearing the Body by Ehud Havazelet Copyright © 2007 by Ehud Havazelet. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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