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No Book but the World: A Novel Hardcover – April 3, 2014

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Ava and Fred, the adult siblings at the heart of Cohen’s (The Grief of Others, 2011) new novel, have been shaped by their unusual upbringing. The children of the founder of a now-defunct experimental school and his much younger wife, they have never quite fit in. Ava is withdrawn and reserved, while Fred, an odd, developmentally disabled child, grew into a man who lives on the fringes of society. When Fred is accused of murdering a 12-year-old boy, Ava tries to piece together what happened and ascertain whether Fred is innocent. Much of the story takes place in the past, peeling back the layers of Ava’s and Fred’s childhoods: their friendship with free spirit Kitty, whose older brother Dennis becomes Ava’s husband, and the fantasy world they created in the woods. Fred’s otherness never falls away, and as an adult, Ava distanced herself from him and her past in an attempt to live a so-called normal life. Cohen offers a complex, tragic examination of how difficult it can be to ever truly know and understand another person. --Kristine Huntley


"[A] perceptive, empathetic and often emotionally gripping new novel . . . [Cohen] is capable of writing prose that both convinces and sings."—The New York Times Book Review

"Cohen demonstrates a masterful talent, creating richly drawn characters and settings and supplying a satisfyingly shocking yet believable denouement."—People (4 stars)

"Piercing."—The New Yorker

"Cohen writes beautifully. Each word seems carefully chosen to paint this unsettling picture of a family with which many readers will identify."—Minneapolis Star-Tribune

"Gripping . . . [Cohen] excels at untangling emotional knots, especially those found in families. Her characters are almost always full-bodied, palpable. If you saw them on the street, you would recognize them."—San Francisco Chronicle


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books (April 3, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594486034
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594486036
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #817,917 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Leah Hager Cohen is the author of five works of nonfiction, including TRAIN GO SORRY and I DON'T KNOW: IN PRAISE OF ADMITTING IGNORANCE (EXCEPT WHEN YOU SHOULDN'T), and five novels, including THE GRIEF OF OTHERS, which was longlisted for the Orange Prize and the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and a finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and NO BOOK BUT THE WORLD.

She is Distinguished Writer in Residence at the College of the Holy Cross and teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Lesley University.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By K. Blaine VINE VOICE on January 22, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"No Book but the World" is a a very thoughtful, philosophical novel that is on its surface a family saga/crime story, but is in reality a meditation on the limits of human freedom and the existence of free will. The main characters, all adults, are brother and sister Ava and Fred, and their childhood friends Kitty and Dennis (who by the time of the novel is married to Ava). The principal narrator is Ava, who has always felt a combination of responsibility and resentment for Fred, who is impaired in some way that is never fully defined. Ava and Fred's parents were followers of the philosophy of Jean Jacques Rousseau, especially with respect to his views on education. They founded a free school based on Rousseau's principles, and Ava and Fred were brought up there in relative isolation from the real world. This is important because of the interplay of imagination, freedom, and reality that is a constant motif in the book. Kitty and Dennis are brought up much more conventionally, but they remain close friends.

As the book opens, Ava is trying to find out what is going on with her brother, who has been accused of a murder. There are long sequences of memory and description, and if the reader is looking for a fast-paced, plot-driven narrative, he or she will be very frustrated. There is little dialogue, and what dialogue exists is only a springboard to more memories and philosophical musings. The book is divided into five sections, with Fred, Kitty, and Dennis each narrating one, and Ava bookending them with the first and last. The reader learns about the unusual relationship between the parents and the children, and all the linkages between the past and present. The events of the present, with all their legal ramifications, are also explored.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By kas on March 28, 2014
Format: Paperback
No Book but the World is an excellent work of literary fiction, in my view, because it employs unusual and special skill to elucidate subtle ideas -- and especially to illustrate precise emotional states -- in order to achieve its ultimate artistic purposes. This is an excellent novel, which I recommend enthusiastically. I expect it will likely be one of my top 10 reads of 2014 (of 100+).

The novel is narrated entirely in the first-person, and by the end of the first page the reader is drawn directly into the whirlwind of the protagonist's stream-of-consciousness. Perhaps what strikes me most about this book is that it does not merely exemplify psychological fiction; it fully embodies this idea. Cohen guides the reader with uncanny fluidity through time, personally significant experiences & different perspectives on these experiences. It's not a pleasant novel at all times. It's unsettling as you can gather from reading the plot summary, but I wouldn't call it disturbing. There is nothing alienating about it -- especially when as a reader we are able to most directly inhabit Ava's perspective, IMHO.

This was a surprisingly quick, light read considering its sophistication and depth. Nothing about the form -- or the content -- caused me to stop at a given point and examine a portion of the text with great particularity. It seemed to work organically with my attention, which I guess is one of the ways this work gives the psychological novel added dimension as a form.

I am sorry that this review is pretty abstract and general; I find it hard to get into the specifics of the story without saying too much or somehow misrepresenting what it is. I'm obviously having enough trouble describing the general qualities of this work let alone the specific!
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Cathe VINE VOICE on January 27, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Ava discovers that her brother Fred, whom she has not seen in several years, has been accused of the murder of a young boy, Ava tries to do what she can to help him and wants to find out what really happened, but her brother is not easy to talk to -- he has never been diagnosed, but seems to be autistic or have Asperger's. The book delves into four points of view--Ava's, her husband Dennis's, a childhood friend Kitty, and lastly Fred's.

I found this book well-written and interesting . . . until the very frustrating, inconclusive ending. The narrator does warn the reader at the beginning that she is determined not to write a story so I guess she is being consistent, but still I felt cheated in the end. Read this book if you want a character study but not if you want a novel with a plot that leads to a conclusion.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Cheryl Z. on June 16, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I can't put my finger on exactly why I did not love or even enjoy this well written book. It is about a sister and brother who grew up in an environment where their parents ran an unstructured school, where students were encouraged to do whatever they felt like doing to learn. Most of their days were spent playing and exploring in the woods. The brother clearly has an undiagnosed and untreated disability, which seemed very similar to High Functioning Autism. The sister decides to attend a regular school when she is older and as an adult distances herself from her family, as she desires to live life as a "normal" person. She reconnects with her brother when he is arrested and charged with a horrible crime. The book goes back in time, looking at memories, family relationships, the bonds we make with others and the importance of the connections with the people we love.

It took me a long time to get into the book, the book seemed to drag on and I could not wait for the book to end. It is a depressing book and the ending really felt like a let down. However, I can see where others would really love this book, it is very well written, an excellent character study and ponders some important philosophical questions about life, family relationships and our connections with the people in our lives. It was just not my kind of book, sadly.
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