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The Illusion of Separateness: A Novel

The Illusion of Separateness: A Novel

3.8 8
by Simon Van Booy

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In The Illusion of Separateness, award-winning author Simon Van Booy tells a harrowing and enchanting story of how one man’s act of mercy during World War II changed the lives of strangers, and how they each discover the astonishing truth of their connection.
Whether they are pursued by Nazi soldiers, old age, shame, deformity, disease,


In The Illusion of Separateness, award-winning author Simon Van Booy tells a harrowing and enchanting story of how one man’s act of mercy during World War II changed the lives of strangers, and how they each discover the astonishing truth of their connection.
Whether they are pursued by Nazi soldiers, old age, shame, deformity, disease, or regret, the characters in this utterly compelling novel discover in 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 an unseen chain.

The Illusion of Separateness intertwines the stories of unique and compelling characters who—through seemingly random acts of selflessness—discover the vital parts they have played in each other’s lives.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The latest addition to Van Booy’s eclectic literary repertoire is a fractured but fine-tuned narrative revealed through the sum of its pieced-together parts. The story is based on actual events and told from the perspective of six distantly related characters in alternating chapters stretching from New York in 1939 to France throughout WWII, and to East Sussex, England, and Los Angeles, Calif., both in 2010; it quietly unfolds around a multigenerational family ravaged by war, loss, and regret. Mr. Hugo is a disfigured Nazi soldier atoning for his crimes; Martin is a French caretaker at a retirement home for aging starlets; Amelia is a blind 20-something searching for love while setting up programs for the sightless at New York’s Museum of Modern Art; and John survived the crash of his B-24 plane over Nazi-occupied France to join the French resistance. Using restraint and a subtle dose of foreshadowing, Van Booy (Everything Beautiful Began After) expertly entangles these disparate lives; but it’s what he leaves out that captures the imagination. Full of clever staccato sentences (“Most nights, he watches television. Then he falls asleep and the television watches him”) bookended by snippets of inner monologue—obvious, but ripe with meaning (“We all have different lives... but in the end probably feel the same things, and regret the fear we thought might somehow sustain us”), the writing is what makes this remarkable book soar. Agent: Carrie Kania, Conville & Walsh Literary Agency (U.K.) (July)
“This short and deceptively simple novel, which affords the pleasure of discovering its well-wrought patterns, is likely to grow in stature as it lingers in memory.”
Wall Street Journal
“His writing is consciously poetic and at times aphoristic, and he deftly portrays his characters’ raw emotions.”
Boston Globe
“Masterful prose....From minimalistic sentences he wrings out maximum impact, stripping away artifice and elaboration in favor of stark, emotional clarity and honesty.”
New Hampshire Public Radio
“Van Booy writes like Hemingway but with more heart. It’s a gorgeous story about people whose lives are connected all because of a baby who is saved during World War II. Warning: don’t read this in public, or you might sob in front of strangers.”
Daily Candy
“World War II flashbacks, random acts of kindness, and the amazing thing that happens when seemingly disparate story lines come full circle.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“The uncanny beauty of Van Booy’s prose, and his ability to knife straight to the depths of a character’s heart, fill a reader with wonder….There are so many wonderful sentences in this book, a reviewer groans for want of room to list them.”
Library Journal
Impressively, Van Booy follows up Everything Beautiful Began After, his leisurely, rich-bodied debut novel of contemporary love, with something completely different: a spare, elliptical story of human connection, framed by the horror of World War II. Working at the Starlight Retirement home in 2010, Martin meets Mr. Hugo, whose severe facial injuries he assumes resulted from the war. Thereafter, the narrative leaps back and forth in time, introducing characters and events whose associations emerge slowly. Only after a French boy is seen playing in an "iron skeleton" he's discovered in the woods does American soldier John Bray crash his B-24 Liberator in France. Mr. Hugo's friendship with talented young Danny in 1980s Manchester, England, is linked to both the crash and the retirement home. And when a soldier wakes up in a French hospital in 1948, realizing that he is "one of those: hated," the way is paved for an earlier battlefield confrontation that is the moral crux of the story. VERDICT At first glance, clues to what's happening seem uncomfortably scattered; at second glance, the story snaps together beautifully. A brilliant if elusive novel that shows how a single act can echo through time; definitely recommended, though not for easy-reading folks. [See Prepub Alert, 1/14/13.]—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
Kirkus Reviews
Wartime violence prompts a handful of lives to intersect deeply in Van Booy's fourth work of fiction (The Secret Lives of People in Love, 2010, etc.). Unlike the author's previous works, this novel doesn't emphasize romance, but the author retains an abiding interest in interconnectedness, and his tone remains poetic and optimistic. The story opens in 2010 as Martin, an employee at a retirement home, awaits a Mr. Hugo, who dies upon his arrival. From there, the story branches out, with chapters dedicated to Hugo, who obscured his Nazi past to become a successful filmmaker in England; John, a U.S. World War II bomber pilot who crashes in France in 1944; his blind granddaughter, Amelia, who works at the Museum of Modern Art in the present day; and more. Van Booy's intention is to show how fleeting moments of generosity can have an impact decades after the fact, and the pay-it-forward philosophy produces some sentimental lines. ("Sébastien is not looking through the window, but through the scrapbook of things that have pierced his heart.") Even so, Van Booy is skilled at crafting characters in a few strokes, and both John and Hugo are so well-drawn that their intersection becomes appealing and affecting. And the shifts back and forth in time give the story a tension that, once the fullness of the men's wartime ordeals is revealed, gives his redemption depth. If it seems too on the nose that Amelia helps create an exhibit of American photos lost in Europe during World War II called "The Illusion of Separateness," the overall sense is that Van Booy is foregrounding a we're-all-in-this-together theme that many novelists needlessly obscure. This gentle book feels like a retort: Why not just say how much we owe each other? And so Van Booy does.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Meet the Author

Simon Van Booy is the author of two novels and two collections of short stories, including The Secret Lives of People in Love and Love Begins in Winter, which won the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award. He is the editor of three philosophy books and has written for The New York Times, The Guardian, NPR, and the BBC. His work has been translated into fourteen languages. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and daughter.

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The Illusion of Separateness: A Novel 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As the title suggests, the characters are separate, but unbeknownst to them, their paths have crossed before. The stories skip forward and backward through time. It can become confusing to keep straight. On first reading the connectivity seems like a prize just out of grasp. Since the book is short, it is easy to read a second time and it all clicks in place.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a lyrically written, profoundly moving book.
Octlow More than 1 year ago
I had such high hopes for this book, but there really is not much depth to it.
kentharris51 More than 1 year ago
Very interesting read, with its method of presentation by the author, of the intertwining lives of all of the characters of the book, over decades, continents, and races. These connections were sometimes overt, sometimes implied, but always thoughtfully presented. A different read....I would recommend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Kiss your hand then post this three other times then look under your pillow