Here I am by Jonathan Safran Foer, is one of the most powerful books that I read in a long time. It is a beautiful, elegant, spiritual, funny, and daring book. It explores the life of a secular American Jew family, their dilemmas, their relation with religion and Israel and the freedom of choice.
The main character, Jonathan, is a man in his early 40s, a television writer, husband, and father of three boys. The show he is working is not really ‘his show’, and Jonathan spends a lot of his time imagining “the perfect show”, while he is writing a massive and complicated autobiographical show with detailed instructions for each of each character.
Jonathan is a vain man, he desires to be someone else, but lacks the strength to do it. He is also a fearful man; he avoids intimacy with other people. Only his wife Julia, manages to penetrate his cover and reveal his weakness and fears. They know each other terrifyingly well, their marriage – or I should say partnership? – is efficient, almost perfect. They love each other, they have their rituals, they talk, they share, but they are not given to themselves space to be themselves. They keep secrets from each other, they become cruel to each other. Even their silences are concealing, distracting.
I raised my voice to a human only twice in my entire life. Both times at the same human. Put differently: I’ve known only one human in my life: I’ve allowed only one human to know me.
In a sadness, beyond anger, pain and fear, I screamed at Julia: “Unfair! Unfair! Unfair!”
It is this lack of space that alienate themselves from each other, it creates an unoccupied space, that ‘longing to be allowed into what is wide open’to them. Their relationship was defined not but what they could share, but what they couldn’t.
Just as their marriage collapses, a terrible earthquake hits the Middle East, overturning the region’s geopolitical order. The family crisis unfolds as Israel’s very existence becomes threatened.
The power of relationships is dynamic, fluid in character and therefore complex in practice. Jonathan struggles to deal with conflicting obligations, he tries to be present, Here I am, as a husband, Here I am, as a father, Here I am, as a Jew. But who is really? We are what we choose to be, but not to have a choice is also a choice.