Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Review: The World Without You by Joshua Henkin

Here is a summary of the book from the Random House website:

It’s July 4, 2005, and the Frankel family is descending upon their beloved summer home in the Berkshires. But this is no ordinary holiday. The family has gathered to memorialize Leo, the youngest of the four siblings, an intrepid journalist and adventurer who was killed on that day in 2004, while on assignment in Iraq.

The parents, Marilyn and David, are adrift in grief. Their forty-year marriage is falling apart. Clarissa, the eldest sibling and a former cello prodigy, has settled into an ambivalent domesticity and is struggling at age thirty-nine to become pregnant. Lily, a fiery-tempered lawyer and the family contrarian, is angry at everyone. And Noelle, whose teenage years were shadowed by promiscuity and school expulsions, has moved to Jerusalem and become a born-again Orthodox Jew. The last person to see Leo alive, Noelle has flown back for the memorial with her husband and four children, but she feels entirely out of place. And Thisbe —Leo’s widow and mother of their three-year-old son—has come from California bearing her own secret.

Set against the backdrop of Independence Day and the Iraq War, The World Without You is a novel about sibling rivalries and marital feuds, about volatile women and silent men, and, ultimately, about the true meaning of family. 

My Review:
This book covers a lot of emotion and familial turmoil as it takes place over the period of just a few days, while a family gathers at their summer home to attend a memorial for the youngest family member.  Leo was killed in Iraq just a year ago, and the family cannot seem to move on since this tragedy.

Henkin packed a punch with this novel that is full of the most beautiful writing I have read in quite some time.  Among the family members that Leo left behind are his wife, a son, three older sisters, and his parents.  All have agreed to meet for the Fourth of July holiday for his memorial.  Everyone seems to be at a crossroads in their lives, wanting to move on but maybe afraid of the consequences if they do.  When Leo's sisters find out about their parents upcoming separation, their lives become even more fragile.

Not only did this book delve into the broken lives of those involved, but also the Jewish religion that created the foundation for who they are today.  The family members did not renounce their religion in any way, but they also did not celebrate it, except for the youngest sister Noelle.  Interesting how she was the wild, party girl in her teenage years, but turned into a devout, Orthodox Jew as an adult.  Throughout this book, everyone contemplates the decisions they have made, including Noelle as she questions why her religion has to be so strict.

The characters in this novel were so real to me and were all facing their own challenges after Leo's death.  They help each other as they deal with their grief over this period of a few days, but the novel stays realistic to me as when they all prepare to leave and go back to their every day lives, problems are not completely resolved.  They've all made progress, but they still have a long way to go.

I loved this novel that depicted human relationships in such a true form.  Henkin made his characters honest and raw, and didn't hold back.  With themes of love, death, and forgiveness, I can't help but think this would also make a great book club selection.  I highly recommend this novel.

My Rating:  5/5

Disclosure:  This ebook was provided to me by the publisher through the Netgalley program in exchange for an honest review.


bermudaonion said...

I thought Henkin's characters and relationships were fabulous in Matrimony. I'm glad to see he wrote another winner!

Vicki said...

I'm seeing a lot of books about family relationships lately. I myself just finished Summerland by Elin Hilderbrand. I love stories like these!!

Ti said...

I remember the characters in Matrimony being pretty realistic as well. I am a sucker for good character development.

Anna said...

From what I've heard about Matrimony and this book, Henkin does a great job with his characters. Glad to see you loved it.

Jenny Girl said...

I have to really be in the mood for a book like this. All those emotions and things, but these books can be good for the soul for some reason.