The words that get us into trouble

From the Cheltenham Literature Festival, the US novelist Jonathan Safran Foer reads from and discusses his new book with Gavin Esler.

“What is dysfunctional, and what is functional?” That’s one of the questions that Jonathan Safran Foer asks in his third novel, Here I Am.

His protagonists, Jacob and Julia Bloch, are a married couple living in Washington DC with their three children who have somehow forgotten how to communicate with one another.

It’s a topic that has left many of Safran Foer’s readers uncomfortable. “It generates a nervous laughter, and a nervous laughter of recognition”, he reveals.

Along with the rituals and dysfunctions of family life, the novel explores the power of language to offend. Many of the characters in Here I Am get into trouble over words, from extra-marital sexting to an incendiary blog about Israel.

Safran Foer explains that he wanted to create a situation in the book where people were forced to ask the question: “Where do words end and actions begin, and to what extent are the characters all talk?”

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