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The Instructions Hardcover – November 1, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Only four days pass between the opening scene of boys waterboarding one another to the moment when 10-year-old Gurion Maccabee and his army attempt to take down their unfair school system, but in the dense, frenzied pages of Levin's outsized debut, those few days feel like forever. Gurion, who narrates and refers to the text as "a work of scripture," sees himself as the hero of a yet-to-be-recognized Jewish holiday that celebrates the birth of "perfect justice," and recruits an army of misfits and Torah scholars. But nothing happens quickly, and Levin is as content to tend to the screwy plot as he is to allow Gurion to go on extended digressions about Philip Roth and any number of other topics. Between the hubris it takes to expect readers to digest more than 1,000 pages about a tween who says "the likelihood that I was seemed to me to be increasing by the second" and the shoving in of e-mails, diagrams, and transcripts of television footage, the idea that this could be a great novel is overshadowed by the fact that this is a great big novel, shaggy and undisciplined, but with moments of brilliance.
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From Booklist

Levin’s enormous first novel is narrated by a hyper, megalomaniac prodigy, a 10-year-old boy named Gurion ben-Judah Maccabee who has skipped grades and been expelled for violent behavior from three Chicago schools. He is now in the CAGE program for problem students at Aptakisic Junior High, and even more determined to incite rebellion, if not an all-out holy war. Gurion is tough, wily, ferociously fluent in Jewish theology, an avid fan of Philip Roth and Jewish humor, verbally pyrotechnic, and bizarrely charismatic. His father is a civil rights lawyer who gets trampled by enraged Jews for defending a neo-Nazi; his mother is a former Israeli soldier, a mental health professional, and black. Spurred to assemble his children’s army by anti-Semitic hate crimes and the ongoing bloodshed in the Middle East, Gurion does not deny that he could be a potential messiah. Levin’s mammoth, riotous, Talmudic, impossibly excessive yet brilliant, mesmerizing, warmhearted, and hilarious work of chutzpah takes place over four feverish days but encompasses the whole of Israel’s battle for existence and the Jewish quest for home and peace. --Donna Seaman

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 1030 pages
  • Publisher: McSweeney's; First Edition edition (November 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1934781827
  • ISBN-13: 978-1934781821
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #793,495 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

56 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Dick Johnson VINE VOICE on October 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book will have special meaning for those of us of the Jewish faith. I wasn't Jewish, though, until I got about a hundred pages in. Regardless of faith, this is a book about faith - just in an entirely different manner than anyone is accustomed to. Parts are hilariously, read out loud funny. Parts are brutally violent. Other parts will be described by the entire range of emotions.

Please read Amazon's Product Description (click on Editorial Reviews above). Read it very carefully. Nothing more needs to be said about the plot. You will be spending many hours within that briefly but deceptively described universe.

Two words of advice: Hang on! While this has some debut novel glitches, you'll quickly forgive Levin. This is an amazingly imagined story. How can it not be when the main character is the messiah, or potential messiah, or neither? At ten, even potential is impressive. And our hero, Gurion, at that mere ten, is already a leader of men (or boys who will be men).

Of course, this will be compared with David Foster Wallace's 'Infinite Jest'; and rightly so. And, I loved 'Infinite Jest'. But, this is not 'Infinite Jest'. Though much of this rambles, it is the poster-child of organization compared to the other. With about nine-hundred fewer footnotes, and the few that are here are on the same page as the text, the reader is spared the constant interruptions.

Levin's juxtaposition of the scholarly boys and the delinquent students of the Cage allows divergent threads, and moralities, to run throughout the book. I found myself liking and disliking the same characters several times each. Gurion's parents will do more than just raise some eyebrows. His girlfriend, too, is a gem.
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22 of 29 people found the following review helpful By "switterbug" Betsey Van Horn TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Gurion ben-Judah Maccabee is a ten-year-old Jewish misfit in Deerpark Illinois, but a brilliant misfit and Talmudic scholar. He aims for "perfect justice" and claims to be a person of peace, but he keeps getting into fights at school. He invented the pennygun, a handmade weapon that is laid out in his tract, "The Instructions." This coming-of-age novel, which takes place over four days and 1000+ pages, is so packed with adventure and metaphysics that I felt like I lived through an odyssey. Oh, I did!

Gurion is in the behavior-disorder section called "The Cage" at his middle school, which is monitored by a cruel, one-handed Australian named Botha. Gurion falls in Olympian love with a Gentile named Eliza June Watermark, who is not in the Cage and is a little older, being twelve, and is a superb mirror to his soul. However, according to Talmudic edict, he cannot have a Gentile wife. He already knows he wants to marry June. So there's another rub, along with the quest for perfect justice. Gurions's mother is a retired Israeli commando of Ethiopian descent and his father is a frequently reviled civil rights lawyer who is ensconced in a case to defend the free speech of the most appalling human beings. They have endowed Gurion with a lot of chutzpah.

Gurion may be the Messiah, or he may not be the Messiah. In the meantime, he is translating his story in Hebrew and English--the four days leading up to and including "The Gurionic War," with the help of some unorthodox Orthodox classmates. Lovers of David Foster Wallace will feel an aphrodisiac-like pull to Infinite Jest, but this book reads faster and is more to the point, albeit with fantastic digressions.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Kenneth Vallario on February 6, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
'Holy F-word.' (i'm afraid of getting censured) but that was what I said seconds after I put this book down 'Holy F-word'...and I am smart enough to avoid vulgarity, but this book blew my mind...

I've been reading seriously since I was about 16, so I've been doing this for about 20 years, and I know how serious it is to say 'This is the greatest book I've ever read' but I am doing just that.

I was hooked from the first paragraph, and this man...he writes scripture...this thing is truly profound, not just 'about' the profound, it is profound.

i will tell you something too...there is a reason this is the greatest book I've ever read, because the author had the audacity, the balls, to try and write the greatest book ever written...not a lot of people actually do that, and of those that do, I only know one that has succeeded, Adam Levin.

wow, you might be saying, this sounds like a friend of the author, or perhaps his wife...nope...but if he ever wants another friend, he made one with many people do i know who have the guts to do what he did with this novel. when you write scripture, expect!

i'm going to go on, because that is what i am inspired to do, i am inspired to sing praises, and so i am going to sing...

as an aside, the comparisons to D.F.W. are annoying and made by people who understand neither. I've read some D.F.W., and i'm impressed, as anybody should be, by someone who is working so hard to do so...Adam Levin a horse of a different color (whatever that means)...Adam Levin stands alone here with this magnificent work. i've never read a 1000 pages with the constant feeling of wanting it NOT to end, of feeling so cared for.
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