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4.1 out of 5 stars
The Instructions
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55 of 63 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon October 23, 2010
Format: HardcoverVerified 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. The rest of the gang of kids is just way too believably unbelievable (or the other way around).

We are with Gurion for only four days, or all ten of his years, or even more. But, the four days worth of hours are filled with ages worth of issues. Don't be fooled by the age of the characters. This is very much an adult book. There is violence and there is language enough to peel paint from a school bus. If either bother you, don't read it.

This book is filled with Gurion's being an Israelite (in Chicago) and his relationship with his religion and the world. His place in his small part of the world is something to behold; his relationship with other students is unique; and his ability to get through the four days is remarkable. I truly hope that reviewers do not even hint at the ending - it is to be experienced at the end of more than a thousand pages, not given away in a few paragraphs.

Despite a few growing pains of Levin the writer, this is a five star book all the way. May the next one not be as long - but only so we can have it sooner. This is well worth the investment of time required. And, 'The Instructions' is one I won't forget. Grab it.
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22 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified 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.

I could lay out some flaws here, such as--these pre-adolescents act and think like thirty-five-year-olds! I considered closing the book at the beginning rather than take that leap of faith. But all the flaws are crushed beneath Levin's intrepid imagination and iconoclastic ambition. He commanded this story with an epic gracelessness--yes, gracelessness-- that was infectious and wholly original. What's a few bumbles and brambles in the midst of a spiritual apocalypse? I recommend this tome to readers who can cut some slack to a little obtuseness. The story is its own redeemer.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on February 6, 2012
Format: PaperbackVerified 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 me...how many people do i know who have the guts to do what he did with this novel. when you write scripture, expect followers...wow!

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. The comparisons are made simply because he has great skill, and great skill is wonderful, but here is the difference, Adam Levin has put all his chips on the table, he is way more risky than anybody i've ever encountered. It might be inappropriate, i'm not smart enough to know, but if Nietzsche were alive today, and a bit more cheerful, perhaps he would be able to write such a novel, but i can't think of anybody else...f-word all that...read this today, and if you don't like it, it's because you've never known what it is like to feel omnipotent, and that is important, that is valuable information.

this is written to liberate the spirit...is that too romantic? i don't think so, this is one of our 'lost values', as Martin Luther King said, the artist as liberator, rather than artist as smarty-pants...Levin takes on the role of literary savior, and manages to achieve...and let me be clear, all the criticisms of 'first-novel glitches', these are fallacious in the extreme...this is not a 'first novel', it is a NEW novel, it is a new form...what Adam Levin liberates is language itself, he has done damage against the seemingly inevitable enslavement to the machine, by finding, not just a crack in the nature of language, through which we might take one extra breath of fresh air, but has found a whole valley toward which we can move, but one surrounded on all sides by the paradoxical risk of leaving old arrangements behind...now i'm saying too much...

but oh lord, i am so happy, so grateful for this book...i've never sung praises like this, and its 2012, what a great year to read The Instructions.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 22, 2014
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
The physical weight of this novel is intimidating (if you purchased the paperback, like I did) but let that be encouragement and not a deterrent to begin reading The Instructions. The psychological weight with which I was left after finishing this book was even heavier than the mere 1000 pages.

The main character is a ten-year-old boy named Gurion who narrates the story and his personality was immediately captivating. The attentive maintenance of this character through the book is what kept me up late nights reading. I was able to love him immediately, through his happiness and sadness; through his growth and stagnation--and all over the amazing short period of four days (timespan of the novel). It is a microscope of human emotion, yet--especially toward the end and looking out over "two-hill field"--the author represents a larger scope of human existence.

Another thing that the author did to make the book great was use the epitome of the writer's dogma "show versus tell" countless times throughout the novel. Page 825, for example (although this may be personal) discusses the phrase "point of no return" but that is exactly what that point represented for me in the book--the point where I simply needed to keep reading in order to find out what was going to happen next, the point of no return where I must read to the end of the book.

Or take this quote, for another example (page 29-30), that shows so much about the character with little details:
"I liked it when things went together like that. Not just timing things like the chop /flick/ knock-stopping, but space things, too. Like all the man-made products that fit into other man-made products that were not made by the same men or for the same reasons. Like how the sucking wand of my parents’ vacuum held seven D batteries stacked nub to divot, and my Artgum eraser, before I’d worn it down, sat flush in any slot of the ice -cube tray, and the ice-cube tray sat flush on the rack in the toaster oven, the oven itself between the wall and the sink-edge. I liked how the rubber stopper in the laundry-room washtub was good for corking certain Erlenmeyer flasks and that 5 mg. Ritalins could be stored in the screw-hollows on the handles of umbrellas."

This book is a great representative of the times. It is made with careful collage-construction that shows intelligence and beauty and the way destruction and "damage" will both destroy that intelligence and beauty but also let it live on. The pages of the book represent that paradox, the final and most remarkable example of the author's ability to show the reader his ideas instead of telling us about them. And in an even broader sense, it represents a goal of literature (perhaps of the author himself)--to represent a truth and word to keep speaking after the writer has died.

This is one of those books that made me feel like I had learned so much about the world. A feeling that is not unheard of when I read fiction, but this feeling is so heavy I do not want to pick up another book because I want to stay with it for a little while. In fact, it is almost like the moment described on page 980. I will not describe it here, because I do not want to extend anything too far beyond my review into these words, but it is just another great example of how the text can transcend into an emotional state.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on February 20, 2011
Format: Hardcover
The Instructions is a story about a ten-year-old super-kid who might be the Messiah. At just over a thousand pages long, the book can look a little intimidating, but it's light. Yes literally lightweight; meaning it won't hurt your wrists like some other tomes you may have interacted with. And while it is true that the narrator's slant toward lengthy inner monologues can wear a bit, for the most part the story is playful and kinetic enough that those long winded explorations of motivation and theology serve to create suspense at the same time they illuminate character. If the style of narration starts to get you down in the first half of the book keep chugging--this is definitely a book worth reading through to the end. The plot is linear and straight forward, but it is not exactly simple. There are a lot of complicated characters, and when the book closes there are a lot of tangled and conflicting emotions the reader left to deal with on their own. Closure is definitely avoided by the narrator, which gives the story a lingering strength.

I'll point out that that the narrator suffers from merciless anti-Australian sentiment, some Pittsburgh jabbing, and maybe a light case of sexism. These characteristics are ones that probably wouldn't faze the average american, and stand out mostly because the book is supper PC in a lot of other ways. The narrator goes into a series of conversations about homophobia, racism, antisemitism, and anti-goy-ism (kind of) but Australia is just ripped into. Whether intentional or not the not-so-PC elements of the narration does complicate the protagonist, and allows the reader a little more uncertainty when the action amps up.

Another thing worth stating is that this book is NOT "Infinite Jest." I don't know why people seem to insist on comparing this novel to David Foster Wallace's epic. Yes they are both long and both have young and brilliant main characters, but in that line of thinking why not criticize "Infinite Jest" for trying to be the "Ender's Game Series" by Orson Scott Card? They are not the same books. Their stories and narrative styles are completely different. Comparisons only confuse and aren't fair to either of the books, so don't believe the hype.

If you're ready for drama, transformation, doubt, wonder, and deep dead sorrow give it a go. Don't be scared.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on October 19, 2012
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Be you in your thirties, even in your sixties, you will surely give yourself over to "The Instructions" once ten-year-old Gurion Maccabee has introduced himself and friends, all of whom live as sure as the young students bused to the school across the street from where you might be reading this huge book. The characters lives are brilliant and large, their living more tangible that the labrador at your feet. You won't be speed-reading through the thousand plus pages. You will go slowly--want to go slowly--so you might take in and be one with the youth of the 21st Century, each sentient being present here in all his or her potential, creativity, uncertainty, volatility, intellect, and agony. It may take three months of reading through breakfast and lunch and dinner at your kitchen table--the heavy tome supported by an reading easel--but you will be looking forward to each meal, relishing each page of Levin's superb first novel, and when you're finished you'll be wanting to begin all over again. An even-handed, insightful, and essential novel for our new century.

Okay, I'm not finished, and please know I'm not a Jewish mother. What I want to say is that if my son--aged 40, and who reads nothing--would but read only this novel, I would die in peace knowing I had offered him the whole of what little I know of this world.
sg
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 5, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
This novel is one of the best debuts I've ever read, and one of my favorite reads altogether. You can taste the influence of those who came before him, but Levin's voice is his own (and much more accessible (though no less exciting and intelligent) than the works of the most bandied about comparison, David Foster Wallace (my favorite author). where Wallace presents a brick wall in need of brick by brick deconstruction, Levin gives you the chalk to draw a doorknob, knock three times, and stand back as the door opens, welcoming you inside). Levin is a new voice - a successor and pioneer all in the same - who, with this debut, demands to be heard. I suggest you listen.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 4, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is a fantastic book that grabs your attention from the first page and becomes a fantastic page turner for the next 1000 pages of fantastic writing. This book will consume your life and when you finish it will be hard to find a book that can remotely compare.

READ IT
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on May 20, 2014
Format: Paperback
When I started this novel I had several misgivings and I didn't want to read it let alone like it but I was wrong: The Instructions was (insert superlative) awesome. My misgivings for the novel was due to it being compared to Infinite Jest (DFW is sacred for me), it had to do with religion (I'm atheist), the main character is a 10 year old boy and his adventures with his friends (too precious?). I didn't like the idea of reading another book that's considered to be the next big American novel that ends all other novels. I had just recently finished De la Pava's Naked Singularity and to say I found it disappointing is a huge understatement. I like my big novels to be about a variety of ideas and that it is focused on one religion was another lackluster point. Finally, I don't like children and the idea that a book is written from the perspective of little kids was dissuasive because I did not want to read a giant novel in the style of Lord of the Flies.
By the time I was 50 pages into the book I was sucked in. Sure the novel featured kids but it's not written for kids. Levin probably used kids because the last 200 pages of the novel would be too gruesome if they were adults. Moreover, qualities such as optimism, mutability of relationships, adaptability, etc are easier with kids. As for religion I found I gained a better understanding of the Jewish faith and while the novel may ostensibly about "Israelites" it deals with so many other issues regarding faith, relationship to god, goodness, friendship, authority etc.
The whole novel takes place in 4 days during that time we learn about Gurion, his friends, his psychiatrist mother who use to be a Mosad agent, his civil rights attorney father, abused best friend, red-headed gentile girlfriend who ends up converting, etc. etc. There are so many well fleshed out characters with interesting back stories that it's too much to talk about and it gives away too much as well. Different from other postmodern novels this book does have a plot and it ends satisfyingly. While Gurion's relationships with instructor's, school guards, rabbi's get documented we also see what leads up to the Gurionic war. He becomes a messiah like figure, he starts a war that is the "Arrangement" which is his school. He has tons of followers and by the end of the novel I find I'm one of his followers too. I'm effusive with praise for this novel and that is rare for me. I find that after finishing it I'm left with a slight heart palpitating feeling of wonderment and I continue to think about the characters, this is rare for me and a testament to Levin. Books that are considered literature are usually not "fun" to read in the traditional sense. Sure they provide insight into the human condition, delves into your range of emotions, and uncovers things about your own personality but it's rare that you enjoy reading them as you're doing so. Lethem is able to do these things and make it fun. I find myself skimming past the words because I wanted to read faster, comprehend more, and find out what happens faster. I read a lot of novels and it's rare that I enjoy one so much, I hope others give this book a chance even if they think it's outside their normal reading materials because I think you'll enjoy it too!

"WE DAMAGE WE"
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on September 17, 2011
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This book won me over completely on page 12 with the sentence: "Desormie, ahead of me, hummed out a melody with lipfart percussion and aggressively dance-walked and thought it was strutting." I've read the sentence now a couple dozen times, typed it out into Facebook statuses and emails, and every time it makes me just as happy.

It was more than happiness I felt. Moments of this book left me giddy, bouncing in my seat as I turned the page.

For a thousand-page book, it's an easy read. The language, though rhythmical and brilliant, each sentence tuned precisely, is clear in its logical flow. The voice of Gurion, the narrator (more properly, the author of this "scripture"), is unique, a mix of middle school slang and scholarly, but it is always consistent and it only takes a short while to become accustomed to its rhythms, and more than accustomed, fall in love with them.

It is a novel full of ideas, philosophies revealed through the little everyday interactions of middle schoolers, musings on the minutiae of the mundane. I marked with tabs probably fifty pages that I thought contained wisdom worth remembering (and several dozen more pages were marked for moments of linguistic inventiveness). For being a novel heavy on thought, though, reading it was never a burden. I've seldom had such pleasure in reading. When I did reread a passage, it wasn't because I didn't understand it the first time, but because I wanted to understand it better.

The novel is tightly wound, which surprised for a book its length. There is very little extraneous material, and I was constantly amazed at how things from page one would prove relevant again several hundred pages later, how each strand of the story braided itself into the rope that carried the action toward the end of the book.

I'll admit, I bought this book partly out of interest in reading it, but also because I thought it would look totally awesome on my shelf. After reading it, though, and not denying the awesomeness of its shelf-presence, I can't say enough about it as literature.

The Instructions has certainly vaulted to near the top of my list of favorite books, as much as such a list means anything. I recommend it to everyone. More than that, I command you to read it. Do it. Do it now.
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