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CL Reads: No Book but the World

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CL Reads: No Book but the World

No Book but the World

Starting a new book is like beginning a relationship—there’s excitement, a sense of the unknown, a fear of disappointment—you commit to spending time with the pages and hope for a memorable experience. I’m happy to report that Leah Hager Cohen’s No Book but the World exceeded my expectations. My relationship with this book was so positive, in fact, I was sad to read the last page.

Set to be published on April 8, 2014, No Book but the World revolves around Fred, a developmentally challenged man who has been accused of a horrible crime. Over the course of the novel his older sister Ava tries to piece together the events while her brother is incarcerated. We learn that as children, Ava and Fred ran free on the grounds of their father’s now defunct “free school.” Their parents believed in “free children,” and turned away from civilized society with its need for formalized education and conformity. While the philosophy resulted in unusual freedom for the children, as a result, their son’s development disabilities were largely overlooked and undiagnosed. What I love about this novel is its moral complexity. If Fred, a mentally and socially challenged man, did commit a crime, who is responsible? How deep do family obligations run? Has Fred been ill prepared to live in the world, raised as he was with an absence of boundaries? Have his parents done him a disservice by eschewing diagnosis or supervised care? Who is guilty, if guilt is to be laid? There are no easy answers. Pondering the questions makes this novel an exceptional and compelling read. Themes of belonging/not belonging, community and connection, and the inherent difficulties in knowing or understanding another person run throughout. Cohen also examines the idea of story itself—how we tell stories and narrate our own lives and the lives of others. She deftly illustrates that sometimes, in telling stories, we obscure the truth. But does that matter? Written elegantly with great power and empathy, every well chosen word of this novel is to be savoured. We are swept up in Ava’s journey and her struggles to solve the mystery that she hopes will prove her brother’s innocence. And our hearts break a little as the story is finally revealed, and not revealed. It’s no surprise that five out of Cohen’s nine books have been named New York Times Notable Books. No Book but the World resonates deeply and reminds us that the ties that bind family are never broken, and that in our humanity, we must live in shades of grey. No Book but the World by Leah Hager Cohen Riverhead Books, $29.50 Image Courtesy of Penguin Group (Canada)
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CL Reads: No Book but the World

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