Alice Lichtenstein The Genius of the World

ISBN 13: 9781581950182

The Genius of the World

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9781581950182: The Genius of the World
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Ira Stein is a brilliant, troubled boy who repudiated everything his grandfather stood for and turned to Buddha. Abby Stein, Nobel Prize-winning physicist, was present as they detonated the first atomic bomb. Twenty-six years later he visits his grandson, dying of cancer at the age of twenty-one. He is incensed by Ira's inner calm and acceptance. Ira's sister Phoebe is the fulcrum on which these two poles of the family teeter back and forth. The Genius of the World is a sensitive and spiritual novel about bridging the gap between faith and reason.

"The Genius of the World is a shattering story told with astonishing insight and redemptive clarity. This bold novel is a journey of the body and the spirit."-Melanie Rae Thon

"This is a compassionate and beautifully written first novel. It is a fine and sensitive portrait of an idiosyncratic family confronting the ironies and inevitabilities of fate."-Tony Eprile

An excerpt: Phoebe, 1976

1.

This is my theory: everyone everywhere is lying almost all the time. I am anyway.

Example. Wrote to Ira today. Told him I was happy. Told him I was beginning to see the Buddha nature, the good, in everyone and this was making me feel good.

Bull shit. I'm not seeing the Buddha nature. I'm seeing everyone's alive and oblivious to the privilege. I see that they're alive and he's going to die. I can't forgive all these blind people; can't forgive Ira for going about so calmly as if it's all a lie.

I DON'T WANT YOU TO DIE. That's what I should've written.

No one here to talk to. No one. Joanne tries, but I can't stand her tucked up in her desk chair like a cat, elbows on the desk and those reading glasses with the narrow rectangles reducing me in their lenses. Extending her forearms, she clasps her hands, leans her elbows on her propped thighs and peers at me over the rims. I swear it's some shrink trick she learned from her father. So obvious, so fake. She's only nineteen.

"How is your brother?" she asks in that whispery, throaty voice she's been cultivating all semester ("People tell me I sound like Greta Garbo," she says. In your dreams.)

That's my cue to cry, I know. To eject myself into her waiting arms, pay her her due. I stay put. N

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From Publishers Weekly:

From Princeton, N.J., to Berkeley, Calif., and a Buddhist ashram in San Francisco, Lichtenstein's slow-moving memoir-style debut novel chronicles the emotional dynamics of a mid-20th-century Jewish family. Alternating between the first-person perspectives of college-age Phoebe Stein, middle child and family peacemaker; her grandfather Abbey, Nobel-winning physicist and authoritative family patriarch; and her older brother, 22-year-old Ira, who, as Phoebe informs the reader in the first chapter, is dying, Lichtenstein weaves a heartfelt but dated tale. In endless back story, the reader learns of Ira's childhood learning disability and inexplicable attraction to the Buddha room in a local museum, of Phoebe's worship of Ira and Abbey's arrogance and long-term extramarital affair with the beautiful Diana. Like many of his '60s contemporaries, Ira searches for meaning in his life through drugs, and rebels against the establishment. When a friend has a bad trip, however, Ira calls the police and gives his real name. As a result, he is arrested and plea-bargained to a private drug-rehab facility. Escaping to San Francisco, Ira meets a group of bluegrass-playing Buddhists who live communally and invite him to join their band and share their religion. Ira at last finds purpose and peace, but his salvation is short-lived when he is diagnosed with a brain tumor. Ira's death and Abbey's redemption are handled movingly, but the overly familiar and tediously detailed story of a dysfunctional family prohibits the reader from engaging emotionally in the lives of the characters. (July)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review:

Alice Lichtenstein's first novel is an intimate record of love and loss. -- The New York Times Book Review, Nina Sonenberg

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