A Novel

eBook - 2018
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A TIME and NEW YORK TIMES TOP 10 BOOK of the YEAR * New York Times Notable Book and Times Critic's Top Book of 2018

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF 2018 BY * Elle * Bustle * Kirkus Reviews * Lit Hub * NPR * O, The Oprah Magazine * Shelf Awareness

The bestselling and critically acclaimed debut novel by Lisa Halliday, hailed as "extraordinary" by The New York Times , "a brilliant and complex examination of power dynamics in love and war" by The Wall Street Journal , and "a literary phenomenon" by The New Yorker.

Told in three distinct and uniquely compelling sections, Asymmetry explores the imbalances that spark and sustain many of our most dramatic human relations: inequities in age, power, talent, wealth, fame, geography, and justice. The first section, "Folly," tells the story of Alice, a young American editor, and her relationship with the famous and much older writer Ezra Blazer. A tender and exquisite account of an unexpected romance that takes place in New York during the early years of the Iraq War, "Folly" also suggests an aspiring novelist's coming-of-age. By contrast, "Madness" is narrated by Amar, an Iraqi-American man who, on his way to visit his brother in Kurdistan, is detained by immigration officers and spends the last weekend of 2008 in a holding room in Heathrow. These two seemingly disparate stories gain resonance as their perspectives interact and overlap, with yet new implications for their relationship revealed in an unexpected coda.

A stunning debut from a rising literary star, Asymmetry is "a transgressive roman a clef, a novel of ideas, and a politically engaged work of metafiction" ( The New York Times Book Review ), and a "masterpiece" in the original sense of the word" ( The Atlantic ). Lisa Halliday's novel will captivate any reader with while also posing arresting questions about the very nature of fiction itself.
Publisher: 2018.
ISBN: 9781501166778
Branch Call Number: eBook overdrive
Characteristics: 1 online resource
Additional Contributors: Overdrive, Inc

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Jul 01, 2020

This is an absolutely brilliant novel. It will be enjoyed most by discerning readers with a good literary and cultural background.
I enjoyed the richness of the narrative detail in all three sections of the book. And I was amazed by how the first part of the novel deferred obvious judgement about the personal relationship the narrator was describing.

CALS_Lee May 08, 2020

That now old generation of patronizingly sexist and overbearing celebrated male authors gets a mostly tender jabbing here from Halliday, who wryly draws upon her real life “Folly” of sharing Phillip Roth’s bed to sketch out a young blank page of a woman following wherever The Famous One decrepitly leads. She’s kind to herself, and to him, which helps create sympathy for a first-half protagonist who doesn’t demonstrate a great deal of personal agency.

Halliday’s second-half is a clever turn about, fully revealed in a brief ending coda, which now serves up The Famous One without the filter of an underdeveloped pair of rose colored glasses.

Jan 29, 2020

A novel of such high regard (on NYT best books of the year list as well as Obama's) comes with high expectations and I'm just echoing a professional reviewer's remarks when I say that I'd have enjoyed reading 200 more pages of the book's first story. That is: I'd have preferred the book stay only with that story and take me where it may. The author instead chose to break the story into 3 related parts but the second story? It didn't resonate with me and I cared little for it. The 3rd part brought things back a bit but not enough to resolve the whole thing in a way that worked for me. Obviously, the author is quite talented and wonderful at dialogue. Despite loving about 1/2 this book only, I look forward to what she might write in her next book.

Apr 26, 2019

Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday, Winner of the Whiting Award n 2017. Nothing short of a literary phenomenon, a book so well crafted and powerful that every word has to be weighed gently, like a tiny bird in the palm of your hand. It could easily be taken as a biographical memoir, as the author has easily admitted that the roots of the relationship depicted in the book are based on her own doomed affair with Philip Roth when she was a young editorial assistant in New York, But it is not enough to view the book simply as that. This is not a memoir, but rather the progression of a young author under a questionable mentorship in which she evolves to create her own literary voice, exceptional and completely asymmetrical to the relationship between herself and her lover. In short, she is the apprentice who has created her own masterpiece, and even though his intentions are to stifle that literary genius, she is able to move forward and become the creator, rather than the created. Her own story is asymmetrical to her own existence, a thwarted "looking glass" in which she tries, with triumph in many aspects, to reflect an existence that is completly foreign to her own, but she is able to sustain it. The second portion of the book is her own story that she, the protagonist of the first section writes. She tries to picture a life of an Iraqi American who has been detained at UK airport, and assimilates herself into a diversely different world. The dichotomy then becomes asymmetrical to her doomed mentorship, and that of the violence and despair of the East vs West in our troubled world. A powerful, troubling but glorious book which reflects us, in so many Carollian ways, and keeps the characters reticient, but potent enough that we understand who they are and where they are going. In doing so, we begin to understand a little more about ourselves and our own asymmetrical lives.

Apr 06, 2019

Halliday is a wise creative writer. I found following this story a bit challenging. When able to engage w/ the diverse characters, the book became more meaningful. For me it was a stretch and took more effort to read/connect the dots than I had to give for full appreciation.

Mar 11, 2019

Well, damn! I guess midway through my ninth decade I've learned I have no feel for innovative fiction (if I had any prior).
I would love to say I see the connection between 'Folly' & 'Madness' but I don't.
I loved the Alice/Ezra story. The Amar tale seemed jerky band out of sorts to me.
Ah well...

Mar 11, 2019

Loved it

Jan 30, 2019

A beautifully written book. Amazing to think that this is Lisa Halliday's first novel. It's not a typical novel in its form. There are two very different sections focusing on two different stories. They seem unrelated, but of course, they are not. I'm thinking that the message is that our actions have consequences. Planes flying into towers affect the future lives of people in New York and Baghdad and many other parts of the world for decades. We are all connected, although we pretend that we aren't. I don't know.

JCLS_Ashland_Kristin Jan 17, 2019

Uniquely structured, these 3 loosely connected stories won’t be for everyone. This one will stick with me for a while as the resonances between the stories continue to sink in. Interesting.

Jan 05, 2019

Obama's List

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Dec 30, 2019

The first section of the novel, “Folly,” begins with a meeting in a New York City park between Alice, a 25-year-old editorial assistant, and Ezra Blazer, a famous and critically acclaimed novelist in his seventies. Ezra asked Alice, “Are you game?” (5), and the two swiftly began an unconventional and tender romantic relationship whose duration spans the section. Alice came to Ezra’s apartment, where they spent much of their time together, but she rarely spent the night. Ezra gave her books to read, among other odd gifts, and they watched baseball together and talked about literature. Ezra regularly went out to an island in the country to write and eventually invited Alice to visit him there. One day, on a walk, Alice confessed to him that she was doing some writing of her own. When he asked whether she wrote about their relationship, she said she did not, and that she would rather write about people “more interesting” (70) than she was.
As their relationship grew closer Alice began to wonder about how it fit into the course and direction of her life. Ezra was in declining health, in need of regular medical attention, and frequently physically dependent on Alice. When Alice visited Ezra on the island one weekend, Ezra’s former longtime partner, Eileen, also visited, with her husband and two young children. Alice returned to the city and was called for jury duty. One evening shortly afterward Ezra called her and told him he was having chest pains, and she accompanied him to the emergency room. After going back to his apartment to fetch his pills, she told him that she did not think she could continue their relationship, and he asked her not to leave him. Although the conversation (and section) ends there, Halliday implies later in the novel that Alice does leave Ezra.
The novel’s second section, “Madness,” begins with the detention by immigration authorities of an Iraqi-American practical economist named Amar Jaafali at London’s Heathrow Airport in 2008. Amar was on his way to visit his brother, Sami, in Kurdistan, and had planned to stop in London to visit friends there for a couple of days, including a foreign war correspondent named Alastair Blunt. He has just finished his dissertation at UCLA.

The action of Amar’s detention is interchanged with his recollections of his childhood and early adulthood. Amar was born on a plane on its way from Baghdad to New York City, where his family was immigrating so his father could work as a doctor there. The family lived in Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge neighborhood, but Amar’s brother eventually returned to Iraq, where he married a woman named Zahra and moved to the Kurdistan region. Amar attended college planning to go to medical school. His college girlfriend, Maddie, started as an actress but ultimately decided to attend medical school as well and was accepted to one in New York City. Amar and Maddie lived together in Manhattan for a summer after they graduated before Amar moved to London, where he worked an internship at a bioethics firm and volunteered at a local children’s hospital. He and Maddie eventually ended their relationship.

Amar visited Iraq frequently with his family members over the years and noticed significant changes in the country after the 2003 U.S. invasion. His uncle, Zaid, was kidnapped and murdered, and as the section concludes we learn that Amar’s brother, Sami, had also been kidnapped, which was the reason for Amar’s trip to Iraq.

The third section of the novel – “Ezra Blazer’s Desert Island Discs” – consists entirely of a transcript of a recording of a BBC interview with Ezra Blazer for its “Desert Island Discs” series, in which guests choose their favorite musical recordings, which are played between their responses to interview questions. In the interview Ezra reflects on his life and work, and the transcript ends with him asking the female interviewer on a date, posing the same question to her that he did to Alice in the first story, “Are You Game?”

Jun 04, 2018

Two stories only connected at the abstract level. Beautiful language.


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