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The Speed of Light (Ballantine Reader's Circle) Paperback – April 1, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The adult children of a holocaust survivor learn about grief, forgiveness and the power of bearing witness from a Latina housekeeper who has also been victimized by government-sponsored genocide in a dark, subtle novel by poet Rosner. Julian and Paula Perel grew up with a somber, uncommunicative father still shell-shocked by his years in Auschwitz. Now with both parents dead, the siblings share a house in Berkeley, Calif. Julian, a recluse, lives an obsessive routine with 11 TVs in various states of disrepair to fend off the sadness that he calls his father's legacy. When Paula, an opera singer as adventurous as her brother is shy, heads to Europe to audition for opera houses and become a star, she asks her housekeeper, Sola Ordinaio, to care for her apartment and to keep an eye on Julian, whose elaborate rituals govern his life. A wary friendship blossoms between Sola and Julian, and deepens when Sola confesses that she is the only surviving witness of the Mexican government's massacre of her small village. Meanwhile, in Budapest, Paula traces the Perel family's roots and finds someone who tells her a horrible secret about Jacob Perel's time in Auschwitz. Paula feels her confidence faltering and cancels her last auditions to return to Berkeley. There, she finds Julian, with Sola's help, emerging from the emotional paralysis of his life and decides that she will not allow the tragedies of the past to silence him. The emotional impact of Rosner's material is considerable, but her schematic method of alternating the three voices of her protagonists makes the symmetries between their stories a little too neat. Still, the catharsis is moving, and the final affirmation of life, love and art to erase tragedy is uplifting. Agent, Joelle Delbourgo. 8-city author tour. (Sept.)
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Trapped by memories, bound by conscience, three characters burdened by their separate fears and individual longings intricately merge in Rosner's haunting tale of timeless secrets and timely salvation. Siblings Julian and Paula Perel are the children of a Holocaust survivor; Paula's housekeeper, Sola, is the lone survivor of a holocaust that obliterates her native village. For each, the past is as palpable as the present, crowded with images of tragedies they've witnessed and suffering they've endured. Beset by their responsibility to revere the dead, their lives are defined by survivor's guilt, and the stories they suppress are the stories they become compelled to share. As their narrations are interwoven, their roles are interchanged: the strong become weak; the weak grow strong; and the frightened become fearless. When each one speaks of unspeakable horrors, they discover the power of silence and the fragility of sound; and when they no longer despair of the survival that bestowed freedom, they find the freedom to survive. With a sumptuous voice resonating with wisdom, Rosner's lyrical debut novel is a spellbinding tribute to the revelations that redeem us and the emotions that ennoble us. Carol Haggas
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: Ballantine Reader's Circle
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; Reprint edition (April 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345442253
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345442253
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #427,738 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Elizabeth Rosner is a best-selling novelist, poet, and essayist living in Berkeley, California. Her newest novel, ELECTRIC CITY, was published by Counterpoint Press in October 2014. Her autobiographical poetry collection, GRAVITY, was published by Atelier26 Books in October 2014. Her first novel, THE SPEED OF LIGHT, was translated into nine languages, and won several literary prizes in both the US and Europe, including the Harold U. Ribalow Prize, the Prix France Bleu Gironde, and the Great Lakes Colleges Award in Fiction. It was short-listed for the prestigious Prix Femina in 2002, and picked as the "One City One Book" choice of Peoria, IL that same year. The book was optioned by actress Gillian Anderson, who will be making the film her directorial debut. BLUE NUDE, her second novel, was named among the best books of the year by the San Francisco Chronicle. Its paperback edition continues to be a popular selection for book groups across the country.

Rosner's essays have appeared in the NY Times Magazine, Elle, Hadassah Magazine, the Huffington Post, and numerous anthologies. She frequently writes book reviews for the San Francisco Chronicle and the Los Angeles Review of Books. Having taught writing for over 30 years, she travels widely to lead intensive writing workshops, to lecture on contemporary literature, and to visit with book groups.

Customer Reviews

The language is beautiful warm and beautiful and very poetic!
Marie Larsson
Our path to healing lies in reaching out from behind that wound and finding our common humanity with the love of others. .
Alex Forman
I am breathless, having just finished Speed of Light for the second time, and starting my third read.
Amazon Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Bruce J. Wasser on June 29, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Elizabeth Rosner has written an extraordinary debut novel in "The Speed of Light," an elegant, understated work which tackles such serious themes as the Holocaust's impact on the children of survivors, political massacre in Latin America and the significance of personal connection as a means of liberating the human possibiliites of hope, memory and love. "Speed" is that kind of lovely, slow-paced psychological novel where three decent people, scarred deeply by the anguish of either directly or derivately witnessing horrific suffering, learn that shared memory, tenderness and the need to risk everything for love assist them in overcoming the pain of a murderous past. This brilliant work ultimately is about possibilities: of living in a world drenched with blood, of overcoming enormous personal fears, of embracing one another's past to insure the chance of mutual survival.
Each of the three central characters has a unique voice (so much so that this latticed work includes three different type settings) and presents his or her own complicated confrontation with silence and memory. Each character gropes for meaning; each confronts the terror of the past, the anguish of living a solitary life and the desperate fear of abandonment, great sadness and existential isolation. Each character learns the nobility of bearing witness.
Julian Perel has absorbed the silence and imagined Holocaust memory of his father, Jacob. Living upstairs from his musically-gifted sister, Julian is an obsessive recluse, immersed in a life of suffocating detail, terrified of human touch, suspicious of language and voice. He theorizes that his father "gave up his language because it belonged to the killers; he could not live with the sounds of their voices inside his own.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By "dynamism" on November 29, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Rather than write a synopsis of the book, or suggest who may or may not enjoy it, I simply want to say that The Speed of Light is one of the most wonderfully poignant, emotional, thoughtful books I have ever read about love, loss and human relationships. The writing is so lovely and so poetic, that irrespective of your inclination toward prose or poetry, you cannot help but be moved by the language of the book. Also, the manner in which the writer presents the points of view of the three main characters is so perfectly executed that she makes a difficult style choice appear simple. Liz Rosner is a gifted writer. This book should be on everyone's shelf. I have bought it as a gift for many friends and cannot recommend it any more heartily. Read it read it read it.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By I Hate Amazon on August 29, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Elizabeth Rosner's debut novel is nothing short of a marvel, with language so rich it seems impossible to sustain. And yet sustain it she does, with no less than THREE separate voices that weave around one another in a kind of triple counterpoint. While that may sound like it would be difficult to follow it is actually very reader-friendly, particularly with the aid of different fonts to indicate the narrative speaker.
Julian, a socially maladaptive genius, keeps the world at bay through inflexible routine and the constant company of his thirteen televisions. He lives with his sister, Paula, a rising opera diva who by contrast throws herself into the world to drown herself in experience. When she embarks on a European tour, she leaves Julian and their apartment in the care of Sola, her housekeeper, a recent immigrant from an unnamed South American country. Each character carries with them an onus of grief and remembrance which they struggle to cope with in their own way. As their stories unfold and their relationships develop, each comes to terms with the nature of their own burden, and they must decide whether to risk the sanctity of their pain by sharing it with one another.
The novel is meticulously crafted and gently paced, lyrical without crossing the line into preciousness. Ms. Rosner is clearly a writer with a love and mastery for the music of words, and here she puts her gifts to use in delineating a quiet tale of the aftermaths of tragedies, where the survivors are compelled towards the comfort of revelation. This is a beautifully realized work that heralds the arrival of a major talent on the literary scene.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Alex Forman on December 28, 2003
Format: Paperback
The Speed of Light is a a novel with elements of epic poetry that can help each of us learn about our own wounds and how they might be healed. Elizabeth Rosner has written an important book that left me deeply moved on two levels. First, there is the story of three characters each struggling to live life under the shadow of their families being victims of the most horrible crimes against humanity. Secondly, there are the words Rosner finds to describe the internal landscapes of these people, and I found myself moved to tears at times by her descriptions. The poetic style reminded me of Ondaatje's writing in The English Patient.
Much of the story is told through the eyes of Julian, whose parents were Holocaust survivors. Here is description from his childhood:

"For a time there was a baby living next door to the house I grew up in. Late at night, when the baby woke up crying, I awoke too, feeling as if the sound of that baby came from inside of me. I lay there in the dark and waited for someone to bring the child the comfort it needed.
How could anyone bear it? I often wondered. How could anyone even attempt to bridge the gap between oneself and the world? All I knew how to do was live deep inside my body, far from the dangerous surface...
My father had no capacity for joy: it was squeezed out of him before I entered the world. Perhaps the years of being with my mother saved him for a little while, but even she realized it was impossible to resurrect someone standing so close to his own grave."
Julian's sister, Paula, carries this same trauma in an opposite way. She thrusts herself into the world as a potential opera singer.
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