Synopses & Reviews
What does it mean to suffer? What enables some people to emerge from tragedy while others are spiritually crushed by it? Why do so many Americans think of suffering as something that happens to other people-who usually deserve it? These are some of the questions at the heart of this powerful book.
Combining reportage, personal narrative, and moral philosophy, Peter Trachtenberg tells the stories of grass-roots genocide tribunals in Rwanda and tsunami survivors in Sri Lanka, an innocent man on death row, and a family bereaved on 9/11. He examines texts from the Book of Job to the Bodhicharyavatara and the writings of Simone Weil. THE BOOK OF CALAMITIES is a provocative and sweeping look at one of the biggest paradoxes of the human condition--and the surprising strength and resilience of those who are forced to confront it.
"Trachtenberg (Seven Tattoos) wryly observes: 'Everybody suffers, but Americans have the peculiar delusion that they're exempt from suffering.' He shared in this denial until a friend died of cancer, and then he began to ask questions. 'Most of these are unanswerable,' he admits. Why me? How do I endure? What is just? What does my suffering say about me? about God? And what do I owe those who suffer? This book is 'a layman's response' to unimaginable anguish, a collection of powerful stories rather than a philosophical treatise. Writing movingly about victims and survivors of natural disasters, war, genocide, domestic violence, addiction, illness, suicide and injustice, he deftly intermingles their stories with observations from religion, philosophy and literature. Not everyone will want to face this much misery, and Trachtenberg offers no easy solutions. His book, however, like Andrew Solomon's The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, succeeds because it asks the right questions, calls on the experience of articulate witnesses and through skillful narrative and trenchant observation beguiles the reader into facing heartbreaking reality." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
[Starred Review] "Writing movingly about victims and survivors of natural disasters, war, genocide, domestic violence, addiction, illness, suicide and injustice, Trachtenberg deftly intermingles their stories with observations from religion, philosophy and literature....The Book of Calamities, like Andrew Solomon's The Noonday Demon, succeeds because it asks the right questions, calls on the experience of articulate witnesses and--through skillful narrative and trenchant observation--beguiles the reader into facing heartbreaking reality."--Publishers Weekly
"Frank and urgent....Trachtenberg raises complex questions about justice, malice, compassion, blame, self-pity, personal responsibility, faith, and doubt....He harvests wisdom from the likes of Primo Levi, Siddhartha, and Simone Weil, from Aeschylus's Oresteia and the book of Job."--Cathleen Medwick, O, The Oprah Magazine
About the Author
Peter Trachtenberg's essays and short stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's, TriQuarterly, Bomb, the Jewish Forward, and Chicago, and have been broadcast on NPR's "All Things Considered." He received the Nelson Algren Award for Short Fiction and the Jerome Lowell DeJur Award for Fiction from the City College of New York. He has taught at Brown University, The New School, Johns Hopkins, NYU, the School of Visual Arts, and City College of New York. He lives in Rhinebeck, New York with his wife, Mary Gaitskill.