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The Book of Dahlia: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; 1 edition (March 11, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743291298
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743291293
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,387,807 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. When Dahlia Finger—a 29-year-old, pot-smoking, chronically underachieving Jewish-American princess—learns that she has brain cancer, the results are hilarious and heartbreaking in Albert's superb first novel (following the story collection How This Night Is Different). Opening in the Venice, Calif., cottage to which Dahlia has retreated, at her father's expense, after unsuccessfully trying to forge a life in New York, chapter one begins with the omniscient narrator's scathingly Edith Wharton–worthy catalogue of Dahlia's symptoms and ends with her first grand mal seizure. As Dahlia endures blistering radiation, sits numbly through her support group, smokes medical marijuana (with her crisis-reunited divorced parents) and carries a condescending book called It's Up to You: Your Cancer To-Do List, Albert masterfully interweaves Dahlia's battle with flashbacks, most tellingly involving her complexly overbearing Israeli mother, Margalit (who unceremoniously imploded the family decades earlier), and contemptuous older brother, against whom Dahlia has never learned to defend herself. Throughout, Albert delivers Dahlia's laissez-faire attitude toward other people (men especially) and lack of ambition with such exactness as to strip them of cliché and make them grimly vivid. Her brilliant style makes the novel's central question—should we mourn a wasted life?—shockingly poignant as Dahlia hurtles toward death. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

Dahlia Finger, the heroine of this début novel, is a sarcastic, self-absorbed Jewish American Princess, twenty-nine years old and living in a desirable bungalow in Venice, California, bought for her by her lawyer father. She’s also, thanks to Albert’s control of tone and timing, one of the most likable characters in recent fiction, as self-aware about her bad habits (smoking pot, wallowing in hopelessness, refusing to engage with her broken family) as she is incapable of changing them, even when diagnosed with a "level four" tumor in the left temporal lobe of her brain. Basing her chapters on a self-help book that Dahlia buys ("It’s Up to You: The Cancer To-Do List"), Albert writes with the black humor of Lorrie Moore and a pathos that is uniquely her own, all the more blistering for being slyly invoked.
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Customer Reviews

Read the book and decide for yourself.
J. Orr
This is a very unique book... Albert has a very real voice, and I found myself nearly crying one minute, and laughing aloud the next.
J. Tellez
While there are plenty of hilarious moments throughout this book, at times it was painful to keep reading.
A. B. W.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Susan K. Schoonover VINE VOICE on May 10, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I almost gave up on this wise, funny, yet deathly sad book after the first short chapter because I simply could not stand Dahlia. Spoiled, wasting her days smoking pot and watching old movies in the house her daddy bought for her I found nothing in her personality to which I could relate. It's a tribute to Elisa Albert's storytelling ability and gift for character development that I stayed with the book and even developed a fondness to the title character by the novel's close.

The plot of the book is simple. Dahlia a young woman who has drifted through her twenties is now pushing thirty and is diagnosed with brain cancer. The book is framed by a self-help book for cancer patients written by a man named Gene that Dahlia buys shortly after her diagnosis and quotes from this positive thinking book preface each of the eighteen short chapters. But THE BOOK OF DAHLIA is no "better living through disease" novel and it's a bumpy ride through radiation, chemo, support groups and finally hospice as Dahlia ruminates on her life both past and present.

The book is both an angry and comical account thanks to Albert's writing style and we soon find sympathy with Dahlia especially after we meet her very dysfunctional family. Dahlia's dad Bruce is a very successful LA attorney who certainly means well but believes all problems can be solved by money. Her beautiful mother Margalit is a sharp tongued and totally self-absorbed woman who left Dahlia and her brother Dan to go find herself in her native Israel when they were quite young. Dahlia's brother Dan grows up to be a rabbi who specializes in working with teenagers but treats his own sister abominably and I at least had total understanding of Dahlia's hatred of him and his social worker wife Nadia. Albert brings these characters to life with such clarity in this short novel I could swear I know them. THE BOOK OF DAHLIA is simply one of the best books I have read in awhile.
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful By D. Levinson on March 29, 2008
Format: Hardcover
this is a novel that grabs hold and will not let go. i found myself deeply affected for days after putting it down. Dahlia is such an affecting, honest, original voice, and the book pulls no punches. kind of reminded me of the catcher in the rye that way -- this very real, very open voice. written with wit and soul, two things that can't be faked.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Reeder5 on May 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The protagonist is one of the angriest I've ever experienced, making for a painful reading experience. However, one can't deny how solid, powerful and brilliant the writing is. Sentences crackle off the page. While the subject matter and protag. are hard to take, this is a book worth reading.
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21 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Elena Santogade on March 27, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I am sorry to see that the first reviewer completely missed the raw beauty and genius of this novel.

The New Yorker (a much more reputable source for book reviews), however, did not. In their March 24, 2008 "Briefly Noted" section the reviewer notes that "Dahlia Finger, the heroine of this début novel, is a sarcastic, self-absorbed Jewish American Princess, twenty-nine years old and living in a desirable bungalow in Venice, California, bought for her by her lawyer father. She's also, thanks to Albert's control of tone and timing, one of the most likable characters in recent fiction, as self-aware about her bad habits (smoking pot, wallowing in hopelessness, refusing to engage with her broken family) as she is incapable of changing them, even when diagnosed with a "level four" tumor in the left temporal lobe of her brain.... Albert writes with the black humor of Lorrie Moore and a pathos that is uniquely her own, all the more blistering for being slyly invoked. '

The San Francisco Chronicle has also called THE BOOK OF DAHLIA a "darkly brilliant first novel... a book so original in its voice and vision that it's truly thrilling."
I feel that the conclusion of the Chronicle's review is perfectly addressed to readers who may not initially "get" this book. Here it is:
"The Book of Dahlia will probably find detractors just as passionate as its champions. As Albert writes, "A vile, self-absorbed, depressing, lazy, messy, spoiled, f-up, probably mentally ill loser dies. So what?" Albert answers her own "So what?" with a deeply sympathetic portrait, devoid of sentimentality. Readers looking for a depiction of illness as a crucible for the triumph of the human spirit will be disappointed. But this book keeps its steadfast focus on a more complicated truth, and that is its triumph."

It's one of the best books I've read in years.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Sparky on May 10, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I heard the author interviewed on NPR and bought the book in the middle of the interview. I thought it was about a sarcastic ambitionless loser who discovers she has a brain tumor. The book turned out to be about so much more. Throughout the book, Dahlia fights to have a life. Using flashbacks, we come to understand why Dahlia is the way she is. Dahlia's anger is understandable. Her relationships with her mother and especially with her brother are heart-breaking. It was interesting that, unlike so many other books, things are not resolved, which seemed so much more real.

I finished the book last night, with tears streaming down my life. I tear up thinking about it now.

I loved this special, special book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Susan Swan on January 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It is hard, very hard, to write sarcasm. But Albert is an amazing stylist, and her David Foster Walace-esque prose is a joy to read. How can you make a cancerous brain tumor funny? It's not easy, but she does it, and does it so well that at the end of the novel I was both crying and laughing. The book is touching, honest, in your face, and wonderful. I can't wait to read more by Albert, and am ordering her short stories as we speak.
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