“Inquiring and intelligent . . . The Secret is a meditation on that central puzzle of human life, the puzzle of identity.”
—The Washington Post
“An intelligent and delightfully bizarre excursion into ethical and philosophical issues raised by technology.”
“THE COMPELLING STORY OF AN INDIVIDUAL GIRL TRYING TO FIND OUT THE TRUTH ABOUT HERSELF.”
“Hoffman’s consistent sensitivity is informed by her wide erudition. . . . The Secret is compelling throughout for Hoffman’s prose, for her insights on identity, for her reflections on history.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“Hoffman brilliantly meditates on [a] mystery in her auspicious fiction debut. . . . This is a novel of ideas in the tradition of 1984 and Brave New World.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Hoffman’s . . . multilayered, cautionary ‘fable’ of genetic engineering in the near future proves compelling, in both its cool intelligence and its insistent moral questioning. . . . The Secret is intriguing and deeply sinister, even as it ultimately affirms those mysteries of life and human freedom that still elude us.”
“VERY MUCH RECOMMENDED . . .[A] thoughtful, philosophical treatment of the devastating effects a wholly fatherless state can trigger. An uneasy look at the potential fallout from biological tampering, this first novel . . . is ripe for lively book discussion.”
“A serious, intelligent, psychological novel which will enhance Hoffman’s reputation for wise words gracefully expressed.”
“Hoffman sketches a creepily plausible near-future in which her protagonist experiences a very 21st-century identity crisis.”
“A modern allegory somewhere between Frankenstein, the golems of Jewish folklore, and Blade Runner.”
—Independent on Sunday
At [its] best when [Hoffman] explores Iris' anguish in the context of technology's threats to our traditional notions of self.)
A fierce and provocative inquiry into the ethical, social and epistemological significance of human cloning...
The Secret is compelling throughout for Hoffman's prose, for her insights on identity, for her reflections on history.
A meditation on...the puzzle of identity...As a cautionary tale, warning against human hubris..., [it] strikes the telling notes.
Can a clone contain a new human soul or just a photocopy? Hoffman brilliantly meditates on this mystery in her auspicious fiction debut as she examines the bond between Iris and Elizabeth Surrey, which gives new meaning to the well-worn term "my mother myself." Iris's search for identity begins when the teen discovers her birth in 2005 was achieved via cloning. Iris's single mom, Elizabeth, fled Manhattan to the Midwest to rear Iris after becoming estranged from her parents and sister. They live a quiet, symbiotic life until Iris turns 12 and her mother falls in love with Steven, a professor, who becomes disturbed by the unnatural closeness of the two and leaves. It's not long before Iris, in a tailspin of heart-wrenching confusion, flees home to see if she is more than just an extension of someone who is "not quite a mother and more than one: home, sibling, the larger part of myself, as much me as my limbs or bloodstream." Unraveling the secret of self takes her on a quest not easily ended. The relentless first-person viewpoint showcases the emotional and spiritual ramifications of being a cloned child: "I was her, I was her, I was her... Then who was I, who was she, what had she done? Did she steal my soul, my very self, or did she give me her own, by an unspeakable act of black magic?" Some SF readers may find the philosophical musings old hat, but wiser ones won't. (Nov. 5) Forecast: As the author of three books of serious nonfiction, Lost in Translation, Exit into History and Shtetl, Hoffman should find more of a mainstream than a genre audience, despite this novel's SF elements. As the imprint suggests, this is a novel of ideas in the tradition of 1984 and Brave New World. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
The time is 2022, the place is Chicago, and Iris Surrey has an unusually close relationship with her chilly mother, Elizabeth. At 17, Iris is wearying of the odd stares she triggers in others, especially when her look-alike mother is with her. Iris wants to learn the identity of her father, which, alas, is not possible; the reader will figure out before Iris does that she is the product of genetic engineering. When Iris uncovers the truth, she goes on an emotional rampage, intent on tracking down any blood relatives in the hope that they will make her feel more authentic. The results are painful, for Iris's kin are unable to embrace what they see as an uncanny freak of science. It is only through a relationship with a sympathetic young man that Iris finds respite. Those who shrug off today's headlines regarding imminent human cloning would be wise to read this thoughtful, philosophical treatment of the devastating effects a wholly fatherless state can trigger. An uneasy look at the potential fallout from biological tampering, this first novel by nonfiction author Hoffman (Shtetl) is ripe for lively book discussion. One minor quibble: British spellings abound, which can be disconcerting, given the setting. Still, very much recommended.-Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Set in 2022, this impressive first novel by nonfiction author Hoffman (Shtetl, 1997, etc.) sketches a creepily plausible near-future in which her protagonist experiences a very 21st-century identity crisis. The title is deliberately misleading. The real, "all-too-human secret" will not be fully understood until the story's fnal pages. Hoffman expertly inserts enough clues for readers to guess the putative secret regarding narrator Iris Surrey's birth shortly before she does it on page 60: Iris isn't just Elizabeth Surrey's daughter, but her mother's clone. Finally understanding the reason for "The Weirdness," the preternatural closeness that always set them apart in the midwestern college town where her mother raised her, Iris flees to Elizabeth's native New York City, whose actual streets are subtly different from the Virtuals she viewed in school: "there were elements of surprise in the actual." The grandparents she's never met have moved from the Park Avenue address she found on old letters, so she takes up with Piotr, who can help her break into a classified e-mail address to locate them. Meanwhile, she watches organic artists reshaping actual animals using computer implants; visits a virtual club, where people use memory-chips to give themselves invented identities for a few hours; attends a debate on "Whither Human Design?"; and tries Piotr's Affect Simulator, which allows users to acquire specific emotions at particular intensities. Hoffman gradually and subtly makes the point that although Iris may feel especially unreal due to her origins (her birth in 2005 was one of the first human clonings), she lives in a world where "reality" is virtual as often as physical. Yet thecautiously optimistic ending suggests that authentic identity and experiences are still attainable. As can happen in philosophically inclined science fiction, the issues are more fully explored than the characters; but when those issues include the nature of reality and the location of the human soul, it's not such a drawback.