Book Review: The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy


Most of us live our lives never knowing of the intricate connectedness we have with one another. The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy looks at the lives of six strangers and how their lives are connected by random acts of kindness. The book follows the lives of a German infantryman who head is deformed from battle; a British director in Hollywood who, although surrounded by parties and activity, lives a lonely life; a blind museum curator who creates art exhibits for the blind; a pair of Jewish American newlyweds who are separated by the war; and a caretaker in a retirement home for aging actors in Hollywood. 

The story of the newlyweds is inspired by the true story of Bert and Annette Knapp. Mr. Knapp crashed in his B-24 Liberator into Nazi-occupied France during WWII. He survives the crash and lives until 1994. In the book, the couple are John and Harriet Bray. They have just married when he is sent into war. When his plane crashes into the French countryside, he must find a way to survive and make it back to his young wife. Meanwhile, his wife has been told that he is MIA and must deal with life without him. John also finds himself spending the night with the enemy and, after deciding not to kill him, sharing a meal before going their separate ways.

The German infantryman is Mr. Hugo, a man surrounded by mystery about his past. No one is quite sure who he is or how he came to be deformed. He, too, is unclear of much of the details of his life. After being injured, he spends time in France where he finds himself in the unlikely position to save a young child's life. He ultimately makes his way to England where he befriends his neighbor's son and helps him overcome dyslexia.

Amelia is the young blind museum curator. Her latest project involves photographs from soldiers during WWII. One of the photographs is of a young woman in Coney Island and was donated by a French couple who found it in a crashed B-24 when they were children. Amelia is unaware of her connection to the photograph.

Danny is a young film director originally from England and Scotland. He is devoted to his mother and his dogs. Even though he constantly goes to parties and is surrounded by glamorous people, he prefers quiet evenings at home with the dogs. Lately he has been remembering his early childhood and the kindness of the man next door. He's not sure but he thinks that man may have taught him to read.

And finally, Martin is a quite caretaker in a retirement home for actors. He is called Monsieur Martin because of his french accent. No one is quite sure of his age because when he was a baby, a man suddenly put him into the arms of the woman he knows as his mother. He is so unclear about his history that it comes as a surprise to find that he is Jewish when a lover points out that he is circumcised unlike most European men. And although he may not know the truth of his life, his mother tells him "my love for you will always be stronger than any truth."

Simon Van Booy is such an elegant writer. There are sentences that must be inhaled or ingested until they become a part of you at a cellular level. These are words that change you after you've read them. There is no way to look at the world or the people around you in the same way after reading this book. I love this quote from the book: "What people think are their lives are merely its conditions. The truth is closer than thought and lies buried in what we already know." 

I strongly recommend reading this book (maybe twice like I did). You can pick it up in my Amazon store at the top of the page or at iTunes here:

Thanks for stopping by and getting buzzed! Let me know what you think of the book after you read it.