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Tree of Codes (2010)

by Jonathan Safran Foer

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3741448,313 (3.81)14
"Tree of Codes is a haunting new story by best-selling American writer, Jonathan Safran Foer. With a different die-cut on every page, Tree of Codes explores previously unchartered literary territory. Initially deemed impossible to make, the book is a first -- as much a sculptural object as it is a work of masterful storytelling. Tree of Codes is the story of an enormous last day of life -- as one character's life is chased to extinction, Foer multi-layers the story with immense, anxious, at times disorientating imagery, crossing both a sense of time and place, making the story of one person's last day everyone's story. Inspired to exhume a new story from an existing text, Jonathan Safran Foer has taken his 'favorite' book, The Street of Crocodiles by Polish-Jewish writer Bruno Schulz, and used it as a canvas, cutting into and out of the pages, to arrive at an original new story told in Jonathan Safran Foer's own acclaimed voice"--Publisher description.… (more)
  1. 00
    Light Boxes by Shane Jones (DetailMuse)
    DetailMuse: Both are short, experimental, nearly poetic stories of social deterioration.

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English (13)  German (1)  All languages (14)
Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
This is the strangest concept for a book that I’ve ever read. I’ve always enjoyed Jonathan Safran Foer’s work, so when this one came out I was immediately intrigued. I bought a copy in 2011 and it’s been on my shelf ever since. It’s not one of those books you can easily pick up and read.

The entire book is created out of the text of another book, Bruno Schulz’s The Street of Crocodiles. Foer chose his favorite book and then painstakingly chose a few words from each page to craft a new work. Every single page is die-cut, which makes it difficult to read. I finally found that the easiest way for me to read it was to place a dark sheet of paper after each page that I read. It was time-consuming, but that slowed me down enough to reflect on the words.

It’s absolutely a gimmick that could be a crutch, but somehow the novel is beautiful and haunting in its own right. Here’s one section…
"In the depths of the grayness, weeks passed like boats waiting to sail into the starless dawn, we were full of aimless endless darkness."

The plot revolves around a boy watching his father’s decent into madness or depression. The lyrical lines convey the anguish, but the plot is secondary.

My only regret is that I didn’t read The Street of Crocodiles first. That’s the main reason I waited so long to read Foer’s book, but I just haven’t found a copy yet. I need to just order one online, because I’d love to compare the works.

BOTTOM LINE: A fascinating work of art. The plot matters very little, but Foer’s skill as a writer comes through even when he is whittling away instead of building from scratch. It was an experience to read it. Not one I’d repeat, but definitely worth doing once. ( )
  bookworm12 | Oct 27, 2016 |
Already for some time our town had been sinking at the edges,
lowering under the fantastic domes of night.
We lived in one of those dark houses, so difficult to distinguish one from the other.
This gave endless possibilities for mistakes.
the wrong staircase, unfamiliar balconies, unexpected {…}

Yes, this is a gimmick (though a meaningful gimmick) and yes, it works.

Bruno Schulz’s The Street of Crocodiles is Jonathan Safran Foer’s favorite book, and he likens its existence (amid the destruction of most of Schulz’s work) to the fourth wall at the ancient temple site that resisted destruction and became the Wailing Wall. Foer had long wanted to “sculpt” a new book by redacting words from an existing “block” of text, and Tree of Codes is that, and an homage to Schulz.

I went through phases as I read: he’s stealing Schulz’s story; then: no, he’s just using words that are freely available, including in Schulz’s work. In the end, it did seem to be Foer’s own work, yet with a feeling of the larger original, particularly that so much is a father, mother, family in decline. Most pages are a mere sentence or two, written with the brevity and imagery of poetry. Schulz’s work is surreal fantasy and Foer’s even more so. ( )
  DetailMuse | Jul 28, 2014 |
This may be at the pinnacle of its genre and an impressive work of art that repays reading and rereading. But despite being a unique and memorable experience, it wasn't for me.

Tree of Codes is essentially a short story formed by Jonathan Safran Foer taking Bruno Schulz's The Street of Crocodiles and cutting out most of the words on every line. What is left is a story with a completely different title (___ _tree of C_o_d__es) and a completely different story. I only dimly comprehended the story, which seemed to be about a city, a father, and various other things -- although I'm sure that the dim comprehension was some sort of failure on my part. If it were printed like a normal story I would not have finished it, but the experience of turning the puzzle-like pages, each one cut in a different manner leaving holes and spaces and truncated words, was fascinating and worth doing once a lifetime.

The other big plus of this book is that it motivated me to read The Street of Crocodiles. ( )
  nosajeel | Jun 21, 2014 |
This book is a serious piece of art. I guess it could be gimmicky to some, but I think it's beautiful. The story itself took me like 45 minutes to read, which was mostly being scared to turn pages too fast, but I did find it compelling. I haven't read The Street of Crocodiles yet, but I definitely want to. ( )
  earthforms | Feb 2, 2014 |
I admit that I probably rushed through this too much; there's just something about the way that it is made up that just kept pushing me further. A few pages caught my eye, but they were as individuals rather than the whole. I'm not quite sure there is a coherent whole, but I will make sure to read it more carefully the second time. It's just difficult to string the pages together when they're halfway see-through and you have to move the piece of paper you put under each page in order to see what you're reading every time you flip to a new page. It's a very, very cool idea and I commend JSF for his inventiveness and his ability to create a whole new meaning out of someone else's work to make it his own. There were some veritably beautiful moments. I'll just have to read it again to see if the work as a whole is beautiful. I have hope. ( )
  lizmcglynn | Apr 10, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
It’s just too bad that in the case of Tree of Codes, the reading experience is far more interesting than the actual novel. Holding the book, you can feel an absence of weight in the middle. Even within 3,000 words, Tree of Codes inconsistently waivers from abstract poignance (“The tree stood with the arms upraised and screamed and screamed.”) to the sort of pretentious mediocrity you might find in DeviantArt poetry (“I could feel waves of laid bare, of dreams.”). It boils down to whether or not you find Foer’s lyricism to be poetic or merely sentimental.
added by Shortride | editThe Millions, Kevin Nguyen (Jan 14, 2011)
Het is een mooie gedachte. Maar in de praktijk is zijn extract een weinig overtuigend allegaartje geworden. Als het gewoon gedrukt was, op gewoon papier, zou het niet veel lezers hebben getrokken. Nu wel, maar alleen door de spectaculaire vormgeving.
added by SimoneA | editNRC, Guus Middag (Dec 14, 2010)

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You can fly over a city or walk through it: your movement influences what you see and how. Your body cannot help but chart the shape of a building, the time it will take to reach the other side of the intersection, spaces and gaps. It generates a personal narrative, entangled in the endless stories of the city.

This also happens in books, although we rarely think about it. If the reader's movement is made explicit from one word to the next, from page to page, from a while ago to two minutes from now, time assumes a key role in our reading experience. The gaps in-between words and pages -- all of the book that isn't black ink -- resonate.

This is precisely what happens in Tree of Codes, an extraordinary journey that activates the layers of time and space involved in the handling of a book and its heap of words. Jonathan Safran Foer deftly deploys sculptural means to craft a truly compelling story. In our world of screens, he welds narrative, materiality, and our reading experience into a book that remembers it actually has a body. -- Olafur Eliasson, artist
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