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The Canvas by Benjamin Stein
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The Canvas

by Benjamin Stein

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Six-word review: Memory and identity, smoke and mirrors.

Extended review:

The twists and turns of this book include literally turning the book upside down to read the half that goes in the opposite direction, like a bilingual instruction manual with two fronts and no back. The ends of the two narratives meet in the middle. Deciding how far to read in one half before switching to the other is up to the reader, placing this book somewhere within the wider reaches of the category of ergodic literature.

Ordinarily I dislike gimmicks in books, and I'm not sure how necessary this one was to the realization of the author's intention, but it does enhance the sense that nothing in this story is straightforward and linear. Some books achieve that sort of circularity without special effects; one that I can think of is The God of Small Things. Nevertheless, I do see the physical configuration of the hard copy as a meaningful contributor to the experience of reading the novel.

I've given it four stars because it's a well-written and original treatment of an endlessly fascinating theme, that of memory and identity, with many layers and interesting story elements and complex characters. It also sent me off for a reread of The Picture of Dorian Gray (and that's not a spoiler, or if it is, I have yet to figure out how). I enjoyed letting the author lead me through this hall of mirrors. But as for what actually happened in there, I'd have to read it again before I could form a coherent hypothesis. For now, I'm content to entertain the questions. ( )
1 vote Meredy | May 20, 2014 |
The primary themes in this tale are memory and identity. Memories can change, identities can be forgotten. Identities can be chosen, memories can return. Memories can be shared, memories can come in dreams. Identities can be forced upon one, identities can be faked. Two characters, Amnon and Jan, struggle to live their lives and the intersection of their lives in this psychological novel. The backdrop for the book is Orthodox Jewry, with a touch of Kabbalah mysticism.

I am left with the profound desire to discuss this book with someone else who has read it, because I do not think I can fully grasp its meanings without some shared conversation. I think anyone who reads this will have a similar experience. ( )
  hemlokgang | Mar 9, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Benjamin Steinprimary authorall editionscalculated
Zumhagen, BrianTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Für gewöhnlich öffnen wir am Schabbes nicht die Tür, wenn es läutet. (Jan Wechsler)
Ich glaubte lange Zeit, ich hätte so etwas wie einen sechsten Sinn. (Amnon Zichroni)
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There are two main paths and intertwined side-trails running through this novel. Behind each cover is a possible starting point for the action. Where you being reading is up to you, or to chance.

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