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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Soho Press; First Edition edition (August 23, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1569479755
  • ISBN-13: 978-1569479759
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #946,420 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review


A Letter from Author Alex Shakar

People have been asking me if my new novel, Luminarium, is a 9/11 novel, a post-9/11 novel, or perhaps a post-post-9/11 novel.

The story begins in New York in the summer of 2006, closing in on the fifth anniversary, which for me marks the beginning of the end of the post-9/11 period. The hero, Fred Brounian, is on the verge of losing everything. After 9/11, financial backing for his virtual world software company dried up, propelling him into a bad business agreement with a military contracting conglomerate. Now, his company has been swindled away from him. His fiancé has left him. He’s lost his swank high-rise apartment and has had to move in with his parents. His twin brother—his best friend and business partner—lies dying in a cancer-induced coma. And he’s being harassed by prank emails claiming to be from said comatose twin. These events, and loneliness and desperation, propel him into a neuroscientific study in which “peak” spiritual experiences are induced artificially by means of an electromagnetic helmet.

During the writing of Luminarium, I felt I was following the story’s needs and joys rather than imposing any will of my own; in retrospect, however, I can see that Fred’s story was in certain ways my own. While I wasn’t by any stretch a 9/11 “victim,” I too had been impacted by the event in certain ways. I think my experience, to a greater or lesser extent, accorded with that of a great many others, not only in New York but around the world, everywhere that anyone was feeling the repercussions of the changed world. I observed, at times with shell-shocked detachment, at other times with disgust, how everyone was scrambling to reposition themselves, to get out in front of the new order, to adapt, simply said, to cash in, with American flags or military entertainment software or 9/11 novels or whatever. I saw this in everyone from artists to pundits to businesspeople, this blind march to a tune beyond anyone’s control. I saw it in myself. Inevitably, my disgust became Fred’s own.

My questions became: How do we deal with a changed world, with a universe that one day seemed with us and the next seems to turn against us and oppose us at every turn? And to what extent are our beliefs—our inner narratives of victimhood, of divine contracts, of ideological rightness—themselves to blame for the sicknesses of the world? To what extent are our very selves our own?

The search for the answers to such questions ultimately becomes a spiritual one. For Fred, an experimental god helmet is the all-purpose tool for taking apart his experiences and building his existence anew. For me, there have been a few such tools, but the main one of the last few years has been Luminarium itself.

Review

Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction.

“Heady and engrossing ... Shakar is such an engaging writer, bringing rich complications to the narrative.... At times, Luminarium reads like a Christopher Nolan or Wachowski brothers movie as scripted by Don DeLillo.”—The New York Times Book Review

“A brilliant book dogged in its pursuit of disassembling human experience in hopes of finding the essence, or at least an astoundingly prismatic view.”—Los Angeles Times

"A strikingly metaphysical novel that never dematerializes into misty cliches, a book to challenge the mystic and the doubter alike."—Ron Charles, Washington Post

“Something like an adult version of ‘Sophie’s World’ for readers clicking between ‘Mortal Kombat’ and Immanuel Kant, Shakar’s metaphysical novel explores different facets of belief and the manipulation of consciousness.” —Washington Post, "Notable Fiction of 2011"

“As Shakar suggests in the book, maybe the whole universe is one big computer game and we are all bit players plotting a course through the multiple parallel realities this adventure-seeking void generates. It's a fascinating idea on which to hinge this worthy novel.”—Seattle Times

Luminarium is dizzyingly smart and provocative, exploring as it does the state of the present, of technology, of what is real and what is ephemeral. But the thing that separates Luminarium from other books that discuss avatars, virtual reality and the like is that Alex Shakar is committed throughout with trying, relentlessly, to flat-out explain the meaning of life. This book is funny, and soulful, and very sad, but so intellectually invigorating that you’ll want to read it twice.”—Dave Eggers

“This fascinating, hilarious novel, though set in the past, is the story of the future: technology has outlapped us, reality is blinking on and off like a bad wireless connection,  the ones we love are nearby in one sense, but far away in another. Yet at the book’s galloping heart, it’s the story of what one man is willing to go through to find—in our crowded, second-rate space—something like faith. This novel is sharp, original, and full of energy—obviously the work of a brilliant mind.”—Deb Olin Unferth, author of Revolution

“Illusion is the substance of Luminarium, and worlds coming apart, though quietly, like the way Fred Brounian's comatose twin brother starts sending him emails from the Hindu hell of flawed angels. For all the collapsing bardos, there is a kindness that infuses this deeply engaging book.”—Zachary Mason, author of The Lost Books of the Odyssey

“I got the sensation that the book was expanding, encapsulating so much of what so many novels have tried to do in the past few years, both consuming and furthering the zeitgeist…a beautifully written big-questions novel.”—Time Out Chicago (Five star review)
 
“Shakar is a flesh-and-blood, intensely intelligent writer.”—Chicago Reader
 
“Encompassing, caring, provocative, and funny, Shakar's novel astutely dramatizes moral and spiritual dilemmas catalyzed by the frenetic post-9/11 cyber age, while love, as it always has, blossoms among the ruins.”—Chicago Tribune
 
“Luminarium is a crashing and rainy light-show that makes us vulnerable and scared, but also invigorated and, dare I say, hopeful.”—BOMBlog
 
“[A] wonderfully corrosive satire.”—Vogue.com

“[A] penetrating look at the uneasy intersection of technology and spirituality…Shakar’s blend of the business of cyberspace and the science of enlightenment distinguishes the novel as original and intrepid…Shakar’s prose is sharp and hilarious, engendering the reader’s faith in the novel’s philosophical ambitions. Part Philip K. Dick, part Jonathan Franzen, this radiant work leads you from the unreal to the real so convincingly that you begin to let go of the distinction.”—Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

Editor's Choice Award 2011 —Booklist

“In his long-awaited second novel after the razor-sharp The Savage Girl (2001), Shakar takes measure of our post-9/11 existential confusion in a technology-avid but sciencephobic, ‘ever-complexifying world.’ A radiantly imaginative social critic, Shakar is also a knowledgeable and intrepid explorer of metaphysical and neurological mysteries. With beguiling characters trapped in ludicrous and revelatory predicaments, this is a cosmic, incisively funny kaleidoscopic tale of loss, chaos, and yearning.”—Booklist, Starred Review

"Luminarium is ... one of the most exciting and bracing books I've read this year, because it has the guts to ask questions—and even venture some answersregarding issues most contemporary American fiction won't touch."—Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

“Virtual and 'real' reality intertwine in unpredictable ways in this ingenious novel; to his credit, Shakar’s approach is more philosophical than sci-fi ... Shakar succeeds in a delicate balancing act here, securing the novel simultaneously (and paradoxically) in real, virtual and supernatural worlds.”—Kirkus Reviews

 

Luminarium is a sprawling, brilliant look at the globally interconnected world we live in, and the protagonist, Fred Brounian, is a wonderful guide to it — a lovable Eeyore of a guy just trying to find a few answers (or at least figure out the right questions). I loved this one—maybe last year’s most ambitious novel, and certainly one of the strangest.” -Flavorwire

“If contemporary fiction has been striking you as a little too ‘lite,’ take a look at Luminarium.”
—Washington Post (Included in “My Favorite Novels of 2011” on Style Blog

"The Year in Books" selection. —Austin Chronicle


Praise for Alex Shakar and The Savage Girl:
 
“An exceptionally smart and likeable first novel that tries valiantly to ransom beauty from its commercial captors.”—Jonathan Franzen

“It’s exciting to meet a new novelist who’s not afraid of heights.”—The New York Times Book Review, a Notable Book of 2001
 
“The most sensitive, observant, and shrewdest writers are preternaturally attuned to the undercurrents that twist and warp society, and Shakar, a seer with extraordinary literary skills and a piquant sense of humor, will join the ranks of George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, and Tom Wolfe.”—Chicago Tribune


More About the Author

Alex Shakar's latest novel, Luminarium, won the 2011 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Fiction. It was also named an Editor's Choice by The New York Times, a Notable Book by The Washington Post, and a best book of the year by Publishers Weekly, Booklist, The Austin Chronicle, and The Kansas City Star. His first novel, The Savage Girl, was named a New York Times Notable Book and has been translated into six foreign languages. His story collection, City In Love, won the FC2 National Fiction Competition. A native of Brooklyn, NY, he now lives in Chicago.

Customer Reviews

This would not be a problem if the characters themselves were interesting and engaged in doing interesting things, but they're not ... at all.
J. Smallridge
I hate to say it, but this book was very hard for me to get through; it was painfully boring, and I found myself skimming past pages just to see "what happens."
J. Case
I guess the only good thing I can say is that I do see something under the surface that could be salvaged but the book is already out there as it is.
Kimberly J. Karas

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Lisa Love VINE VOICE on August 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This was an interesting novel. Deeper than I expected it to be. It takes a brave author to dive into the vast realm of spirituality and build a compelling story around it. Shakar has quite a flair for seeing things in a unique light. The prose is wickedly smart. For the most part I enjoyed that aspect of it.

But it's not going to be a good fit for everyone. It's not an easy read, in either the depth of the text or in length. It's not a hard science-fiction novel, but I think it will appeal to the same sort of reader (lots of hard-science concepts and related terminology).

It's difficult to say what this book is about because it's about so many things: the meaning of life, the role of religion, how or if science explains religion, and the metaphysical that can't be explained any other way. "Faith without ignorance." It also explores the FPS/MMO realm via Urth, a virtual reality simulation of the real world, a look at just how real a fake world can get (and therefore become to people).

On the surface, this novel chronicles Fred Brounian's life struggles following the loss of his company and his mysteriously comatose twin-brother. But it also examines the nature of the universe, the nature of reality. It spans many quasi-religious viewpoints over the course of Fred's spiritual discovery, exploring a host of different spiritual/psychological ideologies in subtle ways. Hinduism plays a major role, along with reiki.

On an intellectual level I liked this novel. I enjoyed his sessions in the NYU study. I found the parallels between neuroscience and commonly perceived spiritual experiences very interesting.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Pat Loftfjeld on August 23, 2011
Format: Hardcover
The premise of LUMINARIUM is that spirituality is available to everyone--even people with no faith in anything. At the center of his spiritual awakening is a study Fred Brounian enrolls in that claims to try to help participants embrace "faith without ignorance"--the idea that it's possible to have a spiritual experience without believing in God (or taking any leaps, as it were). Fred is the perfect test subject. He has lost everything: the company of which he was CEO has been victim of a hostile takeover, and his job dissolved. His identical twin brother, counterpart in all things in life, has been in a non-responsive coma for six months. His money is gone, because he's paying for George's medical bills. His girlfriend dumped him, and he's living at home with his parents. Not only does he not have faith in anything, he is in a pretty generally hopeless place.

Alex Shakar has jam-packed LUMINARIUM with arcane tidbits about global religions and concepts of spirituality. I had to force myself to read slowly to make sure I was absorbing all the interesting details, which coalesce into a powerful general theory about human needs and connections. I also really appreciated the dynamic amongst the brothers (Fred, his twin George, and their younger brother Sam). Although the plot begins in a dark valley of the hero's life, the story is rich with themes of family, moral rightness, hope, and transcendence.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Suzanne on January 3, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I was so taken by Fred Brounian, the unlikely hero of Alex Shakar's Luminarium, I was almost afraid to commit to Fred's ultra-inquiring, almost pathological puzzlement as he searched for answers in his urban, spiritual, video game-designing life. You see, I've been taken with POV characters like Fred before, mostly in other PoMo novels. They end up sucking the goodness out of anyone kind enough to bear them witness, and often the author gives no consoling irony or humor to make the reader understand it was a just a long, sort-of interesting exploration of unhappiness. But something told me Luminarium was different, that Fred was different; that he was actually taking unhappiness head on in his search for real joy, even if just a moment of it. And I was right.

The setting of Luminarium is weird and dark like many Sci-Fi, PoMo novels, but funny from the very first few pages, and that's where my love for the book began. The characters are treated with real respect and kindness, even in the midst of crisis and unending despair. There is soaring science and difficult parallel universes, but the world of Luminarium is forever shifting: sometimes it's bleak, sometimes hopeful, sometimes impossibly transforming, and sometimes downright ordinary, so much so that you might think you're reading a Russian novel. But you're not. Because Fred is both acutely aware of his alienation, and fiercely pursuant of its end, his suffering, the reader knows, is temporary. The salvation comes in its quirky way, way more like real life than fiction.

When post modernism ends, Luminarium will be the first sign of life.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A reader VINE VOICE on October 31, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Because I'm an Amazon Vine reviewer who was sent this book for free, I felt an obligation to finish it, and so I did. Otherwise I would have closed the cover within the first hundred pages. Despite the intellectual depth of the subject matter of this very ambitious work, I was left emotionally cold. It took almost to the very end of the book for me to care about the characters, and particularly the protagonist, Fred, through whose brain and eyes most of the action unfolds. The resolution of the mystery made sense, at least, but getting to it was arduous, and I only care about Fred a little bit more now than I did all the way through. The moment-by-moment focus on Fred's every memory, association, twitch and itch was more than tedious, particularly because the specifics of his life were not, in themselves, particularly interesting. Sad, really, because the plot per se was interesting, and could have provided the structure for a really fun and stimulating read.

Shakar is a skillful, poetic writer prone to humongous flights of fancy. In a matter of a few pages this poetry had descended into blather and by the end of the book it was the same few metaphors on top of each other in a predictable pile. Conservatively, about a third of this book could have been excised without damaging the plot in any way, and it would have made the trip a lot more pleasant (or at least briefer). Shakar addresses numerous large and provocative themes in this book: 9/11 and its aftermath, neurology and its relationship to consciousness and spirituality, our cultural obsession with virtual reality, and capitalism's co-optation of everything we invent. Whew, that's a lot!
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