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Forgetfulness Hardcover – September 6, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Just has long observed the fault lines in human nature and a person's moral code. In his 15th novel (after the 2005 Pulitzer finalist, An Unfinished Season), Just, using an unlikely hero, sets his journalist's eye on the ethically fraught war on terror. Thomas Railles is a 65-year-old American expatriate portrait painter of moderate fame who lives with his French wife, Florette, in a Pyrenees village. When Florette goes for a solitary walk in the mountains and is killed by Moroccan terrorists, Railles blames himself for her death: two of his childhood friends now work in intelligence, and he has pulled several "odd jobs" for them over the years, including one that may have inspired this belated "payback." When he eventually faces one of Florette's killers, Railles must decide whether to avenge her death or find a different peace of mind. "Forgetfulness is the old man's friend," he muses, but he is aware of the irony. The ethical questions of Just's tale add moral heft to an emotionally charged narrative. Author tour. (Sept. 6)
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From Bookmarks Magazine

A well-respected—if generally underappreciated—writer for more than three decades, Ward Just, who began his writing career as a journalist for Newsweek and the Washington Post, evokes a strong sense of place and character in Forgetfulness, his fifteenth novel. Previous novels of his have been short-listed for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award (see below). The story that Just tells here—thriller, psychological character study, social commentary—fills a gap in what critics see as a dearth of serious, nuanced fiction dealing with terrorism and related issues in the wake of 9/11. Just's novel resonates with critics in a way that John Updike's recent effort, Terrorist (**1/2 Sept/Oct 2006), did not.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (September 6, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618634630
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618634637
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,772,463 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

WARD JUST is the author of fifteen previous novels, including the National Book Award finalist Echo House, A Dangerous Friend, winner of the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for fiction from the Society of American Historians, and An Unfinished Season, winner of the Chicago Tribune Heartland Award and a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

59 of 63 people found the following review helpful By G. Bestick VINE VOICE on August 31, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Which has done more to retard the upward progress of humankind, nationalism or religious fundamentalism? Both exert their malign influence in Ward Just's masterful new novel. This story of post 9/11 America is told in a refracted way that brings in subtle truths, sets them down, and gives you space to absorb them.

Thomas Railles is a portrait painter of some renown, an American expatriate living with his French wife Florette in a small village high in the Pyrenees. One autumn Sunday Florette goes out for a walk while Thomas entertains Bernhard and Russ, two old chums from his Wisconsin boyhood. She's found in the woods the following morning with her throat slit.

Bernhard and Russ work for one of America's intelligence agencies. While Thomas reels with shock, Bernhard calls in some chits from his French counterparts, who soon bring four Moroccan Arabs into custody. The French think the four men slipped across the Spanish border into France to carry out a terrorist mission. They murdered Florette because she happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Bernhard brings Thomas to Le Havre to watch their interrogation. Thomas has no interest in the Moroccans' politics; he only wants to know what happened to his wife and why. Thomas asks for and gets permission to spend time alone with Yusef, the group's leader. What occurs between Thomas and Yusef in the interrogation room provides an unexpected and profound moral center to the story.

Thomas knew an old Spanish communist who introduced him to the German word "lebensluge," which translates as "the lie that makes life bearable." For the Spaniard, it was the belief that Communism is moral, even if the men who practice it aren't.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Edward Aycock on October 3, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This novel succeeds beautifully in the opening scenes; Florette, suffering from a broken ankle due to a Sunday walk gone bad, is slowly freezing at the base of the Pyrenees. These opening pages get into her mind as she drifts in and out of time, recalling her life and wondering about the four strange men are who have half-heartedly come to her rescue, or what at first apears to be a rescue. Just's descriptions of the little things in Florette's memories are so vivid, you can feel the cold air coming over the mountains. Unfortunately, once Florette's story is done (and she exits the tale all too soon), I found the novel less captivating. There are later bright spots with the memories of the neighbor, Sir Thomas Granger, but Granger is also dead, having passed away soon before the story begins, and we have a novel where the dead are more interesting than the living. The main character of the story is Thomas, Florette's husband, an American expatriate, sometime espionage agent and one of the most passive characters to come along in some time.

When Just's novel focuses on the everyday effects of loss, it's devastating and moving. The story is much less successful at conveying American's attitudes in the contemporary world. Though the novel takes place within the past year (a mention of the London subway bombings provides this clue), many of the American characters have an immediate post-9/11 mindset and, sadly, seem to be possessed of one mind. The dialogue in these sections is clunky, forced and doesn't sound anything like the way real people speak.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By J. Grattan VINE VOICE on September 23, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book finds sixtyish Thomas Railles, an expatriate, a portrait artist, and sometimes participant in intelligence work for the US, living in a small French village in the Pyrenees with Florette, his French-born wife of five years. But his relaxed life takes an abrupt hit as Florette does not come back from a typical walk and is found the next day frozen to death with her throat slit.

One might think that the book would mainly consist of tracking down the perpetrators and imposing a suitable punishment. But Thomas is a man that is more accepting of life's turns, seeking to understand rather than exact revenge. The book is largely composed of Thomas' reflections and observations of life, where forgetfulness is both a positive and negative factor.

Thomas' artistic eye enables him to notice nuances in people whether it is the reclusive old gentleman living next door on the mountain, the village café operator, or the alleged perpetrator of the crime against his wife as he is being interrogated by the French intelligence service.

The book moves slowly - fortunately it is rather short - yet it never drags. Thomas' recalling of his past life from his boyhood in Wisconsin, to his life as a struggling artist in New York City, to his painting of a Spanish rebel as an exercise in intelligence gathering - all of these scenes interleaved with reflections on the present take the reader on a journey of understanding the subtleties of life right along with Thomas.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By K. M. VINE VOICE on January 7, 2007
Format: Hardcover
"Forgetfulness" is told through the eyes of a wife first and then her surviving husband. Frenchwoman Florette goes walking on the Pyrenean mountain out her back door, and the first chapter is her stream of consciousness as one bad break leads to another and another (reminding one of Jack London's "To Build a Fire"). In a novel that is usually emotionally muted, her meandering thoughts singularly singe the reader.

When we join painter, retired CIA dabbler and displaced American Thomas Railles; widower already, he seems the typical cut-off-from-his-feelings male. He too, in accustomed Ward Just methodology, ponders many things in jumbled succession, including his wife, but somehow stays curiously detached. Yet it is this detachment that builds in Thomas a "forgetfulness." He cannot, or will not, feed anger toward the Moroccan men -- terrorists perhaps -- who stand accused of killing his wife.

Antoine, the official interrogator of those men, converses with Thomas at one point and states bluntly he doesn't think Thomas has a conscience because Thomas doesn't care what happens to the men. Antoine wants to know whether Thomas believes in justice, without which a society cannot function. Antoine says dealing with terrorists requires a strong stomach, patience, and attention to detail. Not to mention a "certain ideology" by which he means "anger." He says, "The common denominator of all ideology" is anger. "A belief in the righteousness of your cause and the squalor of all other causes." He continues, "It's not for everybody. You need an excellent memory. You must never, ever forget. Forgetfulness leads to --" Thomas interjects, "Forgiveness?" "No not that. Do you think so?" "No, I don't." And so it is."Forgetfulness" is not about forgiveness.
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