The Book of Calamities: Five Questions About Suffering and Its Meaning

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Overview

What does it mean to suffer? What enables some people to emerge from tragedy while others are spiritually crushed by it? Why do so many Americans think of suffering as something that happens to other people-who usually deserve it? These are some of the questions at the heart of this powerful book.
Combining reportage, personal narrative, and moral philosophy, Peter Trachtenberg tells the stories of grass-roots genocide tribunals in Rwanda and tsunami survivors in Sri Lanka, an ...

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The Book of Calamities: Five Questions About Suffering and Its Meaning

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Overview

What does it mean to suffer? What enables some people to emerge from tragedy while others are spiritually crushed by it? Why do so many Americans think of suffering as something that happens to other people-who usually deserve it? These are some of the questions at the heart of this powerful book.
Combining reportage, personal narrative, and moral philosophy, Peter Trachtenberg tells the stories of grass-roots genocide tribunals in Rwanda and tsunami survivors in Sri Lanka, an innocent man on death row, and a family bereaved on 9/11. He examines texts from the Book of Job to the Bodhicharyavatara and the writings of Simone Weil. THE BOOK OF CALAMITIES is a provocative and sweeping look at one of the biggest paradoxes of the human condition—and the surprising strength and resilience of those who are forced to confront it.

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Editorial Reviews

<b>Publishers Weekly</b>
[Starred Review]"Writing movingly about victims and survivors of natural disasters, war, genocide, domestic violence, addiction, illness, suicide and injustice, Trachtenberg deftly intermingles their stories with observations from religion, philosophy and literature....The Book of Calamities, like Andrew Solomon's The Noonday Demon, succeeds because it asks the right questions, calls on the experience of articulate witnesses and--through skillful narrative and trenchant observation--beguiles the reader into facing heartbreaking reality."
<b>Cathleen Medwick</b>
"Frank and urgent....Trachtenberg raises complex questions about justice, malice, compassion, blame, self-pity, personal responsibility, faith, and doubt....He harvests wisdom from the likes of Primo Levi, Siddhartha, and Simone Weil, from Aeschylus's Oresteia and the book of Job."
O, The Oprah Magazine
Cathleen Medwick - The Oprah Magazine O
"Frank and urgent....Trachtenberg raises complex questions about justice, malice, compassion, blame, self-pity, personal responsibility, faith, and doubt....He harvests wisdom from the likes of Primo Levi, Siddhartha, and Simone Weil, from Aeschylus's Oresteia and the book of Job."
From the Publisher
"Frank and urgent....Trachtenberg raises complex questions about justice, malice, compassion, blame, self-pity, personal responsibility, faith, and doubt....He harvests wisdom from the likes of Primo Levi, Siddhartha, and Simone Weil, from Aeschylus's Oresteia and the book of Job."—Cathleen Medwick, O, The Oprah Magazine

[Starred Review] "Writing movingly about victims and survivors of natural disasters, war, genocide, domestic violence, addiction, illness, suicide and injustice, Trachtenberg deftly intermingles their stories with observations from religion, philosophy and literature....The Book of Calamities, like Andrew Solomon's The Noonday Demon, succeeds because it asks the right questions, calls on the experience of articulate witnesses and—through skillful narrative and trenchant observation—beguiles the reader into facing heartbreaking reality."—Publishers Weekly

Cathleen Medwick
Frank and urgent....Trachtenberg raises complex questions about justice, malice, compassion, blame, self-pity, personal responsibility, faith, and doubt....He harvests wisdom from the likes of Primo Levi, Siddhartha, and Simone Weil, from Aeschylus's Oresteia and the book of Job.
O, The Oprah Magazine
Publishers Weekly

Trachtenberg (Seven Tattoos) wryly observes: "Everybody suffers, but Americans have the peculiar delusion that they're exempt from suffering." He shared in this denial until a friend died of cancer, and then he began to ask questions. "Most of these are unanswerable," he admits. Why me? How do I endure? What is just? What does my suffering say about me? about God? And what do I owe those who suffer? This book is "a layman's response" to unimaginable anguish, a collection of powerful stories rather than a philosophical treatise. Writing movingly about victims and survivors of natural disasters, war, genocide, domestic violence, addiction, illness, suicide and injustice, he deftly intermingles their stories with observations from religion, philosophy and literature. Not everyone will want to face this much misery, and Trachtenberg offers no easy solutions. His book, however, like Andrew Solomon's The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, succeeds because it asks the right questions, calls on the experience of articulate witnesses and-through skillful narrative and trenchant observation-beguiles the reader into facing heartbreaking reality. (Aug. 27)

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Library Journal

Now-perhaps more than ever, in the years after 9/11, in a kind of instance of graveside humor-we jest about calamity with books like The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook or the Lemony Snicket series. The Book of Calamities is no jesting matter. Trachtenberg, an award-winning writer of essays and short stories and himself a recovering drug and alcohol abuser, pulls no punches in his depictions of mass murder, suicidal despair, martyrdom, disease, and the effects of natural catastrophe; he offers no easy answers. To Trachtenberg, the "true meaning" of such suffering is "not so much found as made, maybe the same way God is supposed to have made Adam, from breath and earth and spit" and that the creation of such meaning itself may ease the pain of suffering. Recommended for most collections.
—Graham Christian

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316158794
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 8/27/2008
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 1,153,239
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Trachtenberg's essays and short stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's, TriQuarterly, Bomb, the Jewish Forward, and Chicago, and have been broadcast on NPR's "All Things Considered." He received the Nelson Algren Award for Short Fiction and the Jerome Lowell DeJur Award for Fiction from the City College of New York. He has taught at Brown University, The New School, Johns Hopkins, NYU, the School of Visual Arts, and City College of New York. He lives in Rhinebeck, New York with his wife, Mary Gaitskill.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 18, 2008

    Tasteful approach...

    The Book of Calamities is collection of stories demonstrating suffering and the way people react. The stories range from governmental, natural phenomenon, terrorist attacks to ancient events and Biblical accounts. Different cultures and individuals face tragedy in different ways. Peter Trachtenberg shows the mistaken belief of much of the world concerning Americans. ¿Why do so many Americans think of suffering as something that happens to other people¿who usually deserve it?¿ He shows Americans facing suffering head on and growing stronger from it. In the midst of suffering and tragedy, it is only natural to search for answers. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do bad things happen to bad people? Why do bad things happen? How do we continue? Where do we go from here? Trachtenberg is to be commended on his tasteful approach to this tough topic.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted February 5, 2013

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