Author Simon Van Booy joins Diane to discuss his latest novel, “The Illusion of Separateness.” Inspired by true events, it tells the stories of different people in various places and times, linked together in unexpected ways.


  • Simon Van Booy Author of two novels and two collections of short stories, including "The Secret Lives of People in Love" and "Love Begins in Winter," which won the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award.

Read An Excerpt

Excerpted from “The Illusion Of Separateness” by Simon Van Booy. Copyright © 2013. Excerpted by permission of Harper. All rights reserved.


  • 11:06:56

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Award-winning writing Simon Van Booy draws on a Buddhist principle in his latest novel. The idea that we are connected in life's web in ways we cannot understand. The title is "The Illusion of Separateness." It features six characters in different times and places. The failed to perceive their connections until a veil is lifted to reveal the vital roles they played in each other's lives.

  • 11:07:34

    MS. DIANE REHMSimon Van Booy joins me in the studio. I invite you to be part of the program. Call us on 800-433-8850, send us your email to, follow us on Facebook, or send us a tweet. Good morning, sir. It's good to have you here.

  • 11:07:57

    MR. SIMON VAN BOOYGood morning. It's wonderful to be here.

  • 11:07:59

    REHMThank you. I know this book was at least partly inspired by a true story.

  • 11:08:06

    BOOYThat's true.

  • 11:08:07

    REHMTell us about that.

  • 11:08:09

    BOOYWell, I was dating somebody and, you know, I think a French writer once said that you can judge the beginning and the end of a relationship by how you feel when you're alone with that person. And so I was very excited, and I asked if, you know, she was free next weekend or any weekend, you know, for the next 10,000 years, and she said -- she said she wasn't free because she had to visit her grandmother. And before she could tell me where her grandmother was, I said, I'll drive you.

  • 11:08:35

    BOOYBecause I'm one of those people who's mad enough to own a car in New York City. So her grandmother is currently at a retirement center in Connecticut, and it's a lovely place. Sadly, I'm too young to move in, but in 17 years my bags are going to be packed and I'll be on the Greyhound. So we drove up, and in the car we started talking about her grandmother's life and, you know, we thought to ourselves what would we be like if we lived that long?

  • 11:09:06

    BOOYAnd she said her grandfather passed away in 1994, and he was quite a famous radio broadcaster, a sportscaster, I believe. And she told me the story of how during World War II he was flying secret missions out of RAF Harrington, which was a secret air base, and -- so secret actually that my father and I couldn't even find the museum which is now in its place when we tried to locate it this summer.

  • 11:09:34

    BOOYAnd so she said that after he was shot down, her grandmother received one of those, you know, notes that say missing in action, and, of course, that's one of the most horrible things that could ever happen to a person. And, you know, people on her block were losing brothers and fathers and sons every day. And so she -- of course, you never really get used to loss of someone, you just sort of get used to the space in your life.

  • 11:10:04

    BOOYAnd, you know, after a while I suppose men asked her out and, you know, she -- you know, she tried to distract herself, and then about, I believe it was about six months later, but in the novel it's a little bit longer, she receives another telegram, and it says, you know, Dear Annette, just back from the most fabulous vacation on the continent, love Bert. Of course, you know, you can imagine what sort of sense of humor he had.

  • 11:10:42

    BOOYAnd so he was home soon after, and they continued their life together. And of course, the girl who I was only dating at that time later went on to become my wife.

  • 11:10:57

    REHMIndeed, yesterday's New York Times style section in its vows page features you and your brand new wife.

  • 11:11:10

    BOOYAnd I can't believe it.

  • 11:11:12

    REHMAnd you were married on June 23. Congratulations.

  • 11:11:18

    BOOYThank you very much.

  • 11:11:19

    REHMI'm so glad that that happened for you in that way. You were actually married at the Whitney Center in Hamden, Connecticut, and that is her grandmother's retirement home?

  • 11:11:40

    BOOYThat's correct. And the ceremony took place on the putting green which was actually her grandmother's idea. And so I think she formed the committee which led to the installation.

  • 11:11:53


  • 11:11:54

    BOOYBut we don't do any -- play any golf, sadly.

  • 11:11:59

    REHMNow, tell me about the title of this book, "The Illusion of Separateness."

  • 11:12:08

    BOOYWell, there's a rather good magazine called Shambhala Sun, and somebody left a copy at my house, I think accidentally on purpose because they thought I'd like it. And so I started reading it and, you know, amongst all the really quite interesting articles, I found a piece by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Monk, whom I really admire deeply. And a quote from the piece, is -- let me just read the quote to you.

  • 11:12:42

    BOOYWe are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness. And I thought that was quite interesting. You know, of all the things one hears in a day, isn't it quite wonderful that some things stick, they resonate. It's almost like a bell, you know, you hear the chiming long after, you know, the actual note has been struck. And so for days and weeks after I considered that I was connected to everybody, even when I was stuck in traffic and not particularly happy, I thought, well, you're connected to that person next to you, you know, the person cutting in front of you.

  • 11:13:17

    BOOYAnd so what's interesting about that quote is it inspires compassion, and I think to create any kind of character in a fictional setting, one has to have compassion for them, and that's to avoid making judgments when writing the characters.

  • 11:13:34

    REHMSo you began with that telegram, which is actually in the book, and then you go on to tell the story, not only of that pilot, but his interconnectedness with so many people both very young and quite old.

  • 11:14:03

    BOOYThat's true. And so the single act of mercy which takes place on a battle field in Northern France, from that moment everything sort of reverberates, so every, you know, over time, through generations. And so people aren't even aware of the source of, you know, their happiness being a far distant place.

  • 11:14:31

    REHMWhat is your own background?

  • 11:14:36

    BOOYIt's quite varied. I grew up in a mountain village in Wales where we were outnumbered by sheep, and, you know, I walked across fields to get to school, and it was a battle against mud for mothers. And we later on moved to the suburbs of London. And after growing up and leaving home, I traveled around and lived in different places, and Mark Twain, I think said that travel is fatal to racism, which I've always like that quote.

  • 11:15:09


  • 11:15:10

    BOOYAnd so -- and then I moved to the U.S. to play American football actually. I know, I've atrophied. Diane, you're looking at me strangely.

  • 11:15:20

    REHMNo. You've not atrophied. You have become a person who appreciates the variety and mixture and yet the togetherness of people of the world. You were married…

  • 11:15:43

    BOOYThat's correct.

  • 11:15:44

    REHM...before this June 23. Tell me about that first marriage.

  • 11:15:50

    BOOYWell, she passed away in 2008 from an inherited connective tissue disorder that she was not aware of, and since then I've been raising our child. But, of course, now that I'm -- I have another chance, how lucky am I? It's interesting because when my daughter and my wife now first met, you know, they would have to forge what for other people had just been given. And the thing for me to do, of course, was to just not interfere and just to step back.

  • 11:16:29

    REHMAnd that must have been difficult.

  • 11:16:32

    BOOYIt was difficult because I'd become -- how can I put this? Totalitarian. I think because any single parent will attest to the reality that you have to really have tight control of everything. You know, if the Thermos isn't working, or there's no clean laundry, or there's -- God forbid, there's no toilet paper, you know, the house can quickly descend, you know, into a chapter from Dante's "Inferno." And, you know, if you know the answer -- when a new person comes in, setting that extra place is quite poignant.

  • 11:17:06

    REHMAnd allowing that new person to take your daughter onto the subway.

  • 11:17:15

    BOOYWell, the first time she suggested it, I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown. I was traveling to France for business, and it was the first time they'd be alone. And so I stayed up all night with Google, you know, seeing how many people had been maimed, electrocuted, you know, in the New York City subway system over the past, you know, 12 months, and no one has. A few people slip, and occasionally someone's pushed, but New York is actually a very safe city.

  • 11:17:44

    REHMAnd so you became bold enough to allow both your fiancée and your daughter freedom from your shelter.

  • 11:17:58

    BOOYThat's exactly right. And when I got back, I asked Madeline, how did things go? And she said, oh, it was great. It was good. And I said, that's wonderful, I'm happy to hear that. And then she perked up, and said, actually, dad, it's just much more fun without out.

  • 11:18:14

    REHMSimon Van Booy. His new novel is titled "The Illusion of Separateness." We're going to take a short break here, but when we come back, I do invite you to join us. He is also the author of "The Secret Lives of People in Love," "Love Begins in Winter," and winner of the Frank O'Conner International Short Story Award.

  • 11:20:05

    REHMAnd if you just joined us, Simon Van Booy is with me. He's the award-winning author of "Love Begins in Winter." His newest is titled, "The Illusion of Separateness." And on the cover features a young boy in the water, enjoying himself on the edge of the shore. Simon, talk about how you've constructed this novel. And first, about Amelia, what inspired you to make her a blind child?

  • 11:20:55

    BOOYThat's a very good question. I was always interested in what it meant to be blind, not to have sort of a visual sensation of the world. And of course, inspired by the ancient Greeks that -- who believed that blindness was a spiritual gift and that inner vision was inhibited by what we actually physically saw. And of course what's very interesting is we see with our brains, we don't see with our eyes.

  • 11:21:23

    BOOYAnd I -- Walk Whitman who in many of his poems tackles the same issue of the illusion of our separateness. Walt Whitman so beautifully and lyrically and lovingly pronounced to us is quite similar the idea that, you know, things that we don't see bind us to one another. And so her blindness is part of the metaphor that makes the book not only bound together by emotion but also bound together stylistically.

  • 11:22:04

    REHMSo how have you constructed this book?

  • 11:22:11

    BOOYWell, there's no main character. The book only came out recently, so that may actually be a very bad -- you'll find out soon. And because I was inspired by a documentary about the Flemish painter Bruegel. I really enjoy his work. His famous is probably The Harvesters. But there's another painting which I do love called, Massacre of the Innocents. And it shows a town, a 16th century town, a Flemish town, where soldiers are killing any male children under 5, I believe.

  • 11:22:43

    BOOYAnd it's based on King Herod, the story of King Herod who sends the soldiers out to murder children. And by setting it in his own time, his own epoch, I believe that Bruegel was suggesting that the seeds of this sort of behavior is in everybody at anytime and we need to be careful. These paintings that hang in museums, I've often thought like Post-It notes from great geniuses telling us, warning us, you know, supporting us, encouraging us in our lives.

  • 11:23:20

    BOOYThey knew that we would take so much from their works. And certainly what I thought, well, I'll try and have a book without a main character. And then that was -- then, you know, as so often happens, life coincided with what was my intention. And I read, there was a book about sex and death that I was reading. Of course, not interested in sex at all, especially in the illustrations.

  • 11:23:47

    BOOYBut the death part, there was an interesting quote from a Japanese master from the 15th or 16th century. And he said that if you want to explore happiness, you have to explore the idea of death. And he said you do this by, imagine that you've died and you're a ghost and you're wondering around your town or city as a ghost observing things. After a while, he said, ask yourself this question, where has the main character of life gone?

  • 11:24:18

    BOOYAnd then he said, you'll have the most wonderful sense of happiness. And so I realized that there's really no main character in life, so why should I have one in my book. So I attempted to write different people's stories. And so at the beginning, of course, my readers might thing that all the stories aren't connected. So "The Illusion of Separateness" also is a -- sort of a physical, it manifests itself physically into the actual mechanics of the text.

  • 11:24:53

    REHMSo that, for example, you begin with Martin...

  • 11:24:59


  • 11:25:00

    REHM...who knows that he has somehow been given a gift of parents.

  • 11:25:09


  • 11:25:11

    REHMHe doesn't quite know how.

  • 11:25:16

    BOOYNo. And when he finds out in college that he was -- you know, well they tell him quite early on. But of course when they found him, they became attached to him. They looked after him during the war. So his parents feel quite guilty that they didn't do more earlier on to try to find his real family. So it really raises the idea of, you know, love and duty. And who can blame them? I mean, his real parents, of course, it will be a dream for them to know that there are people looking after their child who love him so much.

  • 11:25:55

    BOOYThey're reluctant to find his real parents. So there's sort of an interesting dichotomy.

  • 11:26:00

    REHMWhy don't you read for us from the book?

  • 11:26:04

    BOOYOkay. So I'm going to read a part, which is narrated by Amelia who's blind. To develop her character, Diane, I actually ended up buying women's clothes, which I've always wanted to do and people out there listening will think, I want to do it too. And then I got some samples of perfumes and I sprayed them on, and I recreated her character.

  • 11:26:26

    REHMBecause her sense of smell is so acute.

  • 11:26:32

    BOOYCorrect, yeah.

  • 11:26:32

    REHMAnd she can tell when someone has left the room that that fragrance lingers on.

  • 11:26:40

    BOOYThat's correct. So if next time I see you I'm in a dress, don't be surprised. "For a long time nobody knew where Grandpa John was. His B24 Liberator disappeared in the skies above France. It was 1944. My grandmother Harriett got a telegram and then drove to the diner that his parents owned. They all sipped gin at a table in the back. After months without any news, men began asking my grandmother out.

  • 11:27:11

    BOOYThey pulled up outside her house in shiny cars. They wore sweater vests and kept their hair short. Harriett went dancing but was always glad to come home and go to bed with one of John's handkerchiefs. She read his letters over and over. She looked at his drawings of plants and looked up their Latin names. The fighting intensified after landings on the Normandy beaches.

  • 11:27:35

    BOOYAt night, the skies over Europe blazed with fire and metal. People sat up in bed as curtains flashed. The allies were advancing. There were heavy casualties. Every day, someone on Harriett's block lost a son or a husband or a brother. She remembers kissing John outside Lord and Taylor, the way he held her when they danced at cousin Mabel's wedding. It was like being held for the first time.

  • 11:28:03

    BOOYDriving to Montauk on Sunrise Highway, the rocks beneath their feet and the sweeping tide. The promise of so much ahead, she knew in her heart that being together will always be enough. She planned to go to Europe when the war is over and search for his remains. She was confident she could find them. Then one morning, someone came to the door with a telegram. It was stamped Harrington, England.

  • 11:28:32

    BOOYShe opened it then ran out of the house in her slippers. She was in such a state, it was hard to drive. People thought she was drunk and shook their heads. When she got to John's parents' diner, she didn't even turn the engine off or close the door. When she read the letter aloud to a packed restaurant, John's father collapsed."

  • 11:28:55

    REHMWhat did John mean by, you know, I've just returned from the most splendid vacation of my life?

  • 11:29:09

    BOOYThat's a superb question. You know, Charlie Chaplin said that human life close-up is tragic. But from a distance it's funny. And it was Charlie Chaplin and Samuel Beckett who taught me that humor really does belong in the most tragic places. It's an integral part of sadness. And so I think that John here is tapping into that ancient way of human expression, which is to cope with trauma through humor.

  • 11:29:48

    BOOYOf course, Freud has his theory too in his book, "Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious" that jokes and comedy have a way of displacing, you know, a reality that's too difficult to bear. And so I think, here, there's so much to say. It's impossible to put it all into language.

  • 11:30:12

    REHMSo he puts it in those brief telegraphed words.

  • 11:30:19


  • 11:30:21

    REHMBut the endurance that he had to get through the crash landing of that B54 and to somehow make it through, we learn later, exactly how he does that. But there's something of a miracle going on there. There's something of a miracle almost in each chapter in and of itself that finally brings it all together. Do you believe in miracles?

  • 11:31:14

    BOOYOh, absolutely. I'm always inspired by that quote from Hamlet where Hamlet says to his best friend and confidant Horacio, he says, there are more things in heaven and earth, Horacio, than can be dreamt of in your philosophy.

  • 11:31:28

    REHMSo you clearly believe that what's happened here in this book is simply a demonstration of what you believe does happen?

  • 11:31:46

    BOOYAbsolutely, absolutely. And, you know, a writer -- I was once talking to another writer about this. And he said, oh, my grandfather used to keep a coincidence book and in it he write all the coincidences that had happened to him.

  • 11:32:03

    REHMWhat are the coincidences that have happened to you?

  • 11:32:10

    BOOYWell, that's a very good question as well. I think how everything just sort of comes together when it's supposed to. What's interesting is the idea of faith. I was talking to a friend of mine who's religious. And like many Americans now, I'd consider myself to be spiritual but not particularly religious. And I was asking him about how he felt and he said -- I said, you know, some of it doesn't make sense. And he said, well, that's where faith comes in. He said, you just believe, you just have a belief.

  • 11:32:47

    BOOYYou have a belief, but sometimes that belief lets you down. For example, losing your wife.

  • 11:33:04

    BOOYWell, yeah, and of course there's a difference between faith and expectation. I once went to lunch with a very kind, generous, and brilliant professor of philosophy and he gave me the address in Manhattan where we're going to meet. And I want to go, I couldn't believe it, because it was a Taco Bell and he was quite a distinguished gentleman. And so anyway, he arrived with a smirk on his face.

  • 11:33:28

    BOOYAnd we went inside and we got our trays and we moved them along the, you know, the metal grid and we picked things. And then we went and sat down and unwrapped them. And he looked at me and said, Simon, if you're going to be happy in life, lower your expectations.

  • 11:33:46

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." When you and your first wife had your child, Madeleine, was your wife indeed healthy at that time?

  • 11:34:05

    BOOYShe was. She was really an excellent mother and she was enjoying life. And it really makes you realize that life is so incredibly short. And I believe it was Seneca who wrote a book on the shortness of life and that he believed that actually life is quite long but that we waste our lives by becoming distracted by very small things that irritate us and also, you know, with chronic bad habits and things like that. You know, being a parent is the most wonderful gift.

  • 11:34:50

    REHMOf course.

  • 11:34:52

    BOOYAnd, you know, it's interesting is when she goes to stay with her aunt and she always says, okay, dad, you can go now. You know, you really -- an I say, I'll call you every day. And she'll say, well, every other day would be fine too. And I, for the first time in my life, I realized I'd become clingy.

  • 11:35:13

    REHMHow did Madeleine react when her mother died? How old was she?

  • 11:35:20

    BOOYShe was very young. She was about three.

  • 11:35:23

    REHMAnd had your wife been sick for a long time?

  • 11:35:27

    BOOYNo. She wasn't sick at all. She was seemingly well. So Madeleine, of course, is surrounded by many people who love her and support her. And I immediately sought help from quite a brilliant psychologist who gave me some good advice, much good advice. She said that when something like this happens to a child, they will reinterpret it from every age in their life. So Madeleine will reinterpret when she enters middle childhood and then late childhood.

  • 11:36:07

    BOOYAnd then she'll reinterpret it as an adolescent. And the best thing you can do is just always be willing to listen.

  • 11:36:15

    REHMAnd how did you interpret your wife's death?

  • 11:36:24

    BOOYWith shock, of course. And…

  • 11:36:29

    REHMBecause it came quickly?

  • 11:36:32

    BOOYExtremely, yeah. So shock and, of course, grief and a sense of duty and dignity to make the world beautiful for my daughter.

  • 11:36:44

    REHMIt's interesting that you can talk about your daughter and how she reacted, you have difficulty talking about yourself and your own feelings.

  • 11:37:01

    BOOYWell, you know, one of my favorite poets, (word?), said that we can use language only to point. And so I think that, you know, at very intense moments of life, language fails us and may that always be the case, may human emotion would be greater than technology.

  • 11:37:26

    REHM"The Illusion of Separateness" is the latest novel by Simon Van Booy. Do join us after a short break. I look forward to hearing from you.

  • 11:40:05

    REHMAnd if you've just joined us, Simon Van Booy, an award-winning author is with me. His latest novel is titled "The Illusion of Separateness." Let's take a call from Akron, Ohio. Devon, you're on the air.

  • 11:40:29

    DEVONHello, Diane.

  • 11:40:30


  • 11:40:31

    DEVONI love your show.

  • 11:40:32

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:40:33

    DEVONOh, you're welcome. As far as dealing in death when -- because I was a young -- I was adopted by my grandparents when I was younger, and my aunt helped raise me too because they were so elderly, and I dealt with my grandfather's death when I was six years old. And then six years later my grandmother passed away. And like, as you guys mentioned earlier, you know, the older I get I look back on it differently.

  • 11:41:01

    DEVONAnd also I went -- after that I went with my aunt who tried to hurt herself. And I went into the foster care system. And I eventually went back with her and I got an internship with an older gentleman from my high school who was closing down his business. And then my aunt actually just was successful in killing herself and he was there for me. And I look back on it and it seems like it was destiny because it was just out of random that he decided to look for an intern at my high school. And no one thought I would get it but I got it and they're like family to me now.

  • 11:41:42

    DEVONSo I definitely think that, like, we're all connected, you know, somehow and that, you know, there are miracles.

  • 11:41:51

    REHMAnd that people you need turn up somehow at the right moment...

  • 11:41:58

    DEVONYeah. Um-hum.

  • 11:42:01 in your case. What do you think, Simon?

  • 11:42:05

    BOOYI think it's -- I like hearing this story despite the tragedy because her we are talking to each other and, you know, meeting over the airwaves. And I get a sense of, you know, what you felt and what you've been through. And isn't it just incredible how people step in at key times and rescue us. And the foster system in this country is just amazing. My wife works with the Family Resource Center in Florida and I'm just amazed at the stories and the kindness and generosity.

  • 11:42:41

    BOOYI really don't think we're doomed or that everything's going wrong. I think the human race is doing well and I think these are all growing pains and that we're getting better and better.

  • 11:42:50

    REHMI'm glad you feel that way. I think that that provides a certain optimism, not only for you but for those who hear you say it. We have a Facebook posting asking for you to repeat the quote about racism and travel and to whom it was attributed.

  • 11:43:19

    BOOYWell, that sounds like the sort of thing that I would want to happen. I believe it was Mark Twain and I believe he said that travel is fatal to racism.

  • 11:43:28

    REHMI love that quote. Let's go to Cincinnati, Ohio. Hi there, Dave.

  • 11:43:37

    DAVEYes, hi Diane.

  • 11:43:38


  • 11:43:39

    DAVEI spent some time in India at an ashram and studied the concept of illusion and all that...

  • 11:43:48


  • 11:43:49 and what is it all about here, the idea of the separatist -- illusion of separateness. It also implies that all of creation is an illusion. That if what we're seeing is, you know, an illusion of feeling, experience ourselves as separate, that's the ego that experiences that. That creation itself is an illusion. And, you know, so where does this illusion end? It ends in self realization of knowing and experiencing ourselves as one, as the whole creation itself as god.

  • 11:44:36

    BOOYThat's a really lovely way of putting it. An equally wonderful way of expressing the sentiment is in a book called "Fugitive Pieces," by Anne Michaels that many listeners will know. And when the character's mentor and father dies, he dies at his desk in the night while he's reading. And she said, Athos' death was quiet rain on the sea.

  • 11:45:02

    REHMTell us about Mr. Hugo.

  • 11:45:07

    BOOYMr. Hugo takes his name from Victor Hugo. And when his body was found he was mostly dead -- he was almost dead. And they found a copy of Le Miserables in his pocket. And of course the main character of that book is Jean Valjean who rescues a child. And of course is a parallel in this book too. So there are parallels between the role of language and art in our lives and how language and art can sometimes chart our redemption.

  • 11:45:42

    BOOYSo Mr. Hugo's character is based on a man I saw in Paris a couple of years ago sleeping under a bridge with a severely disfigured head. I wondered, what happened to him from the moment he was born to this moment now . What's his story? And so like what always happens is that characters will find me and they will pester me until I tell their story.

  • 11:46:05

    REHMTell me about that disfigured head.

  • 11:46:10

    BOOYIt looks as if -- from one side it looks seemingly normal, but from another point of view it looks as though half his head was missing. And I was quite -- I was shocked and I wondered what his life was like.

  • 11:46:26

    REHMDid you speak with the man?

  • 11:46:29

    BOOYI didn't. He was sleeping and he was sleeping beautifully with his mouth open. Some people do that. It's quite nice to look at.

  • 11:46:36

    REHMAll right. To Tampa, Fla. Good morning, Patrick.

  • 11:46:42

    PATRICKGood morning, Diane. And thank you for your show as always.

  • 11:46:45

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:46:46

    PATRICKAnd my question -- or I guess it's just more of an introduction to the conversation is the idea of our interconnectedness and how people in our lives that enter into our lives or maybe given to us, as is the case in family, and they cause frictions as to point our lives in directions that maybe we once -- at once don't see it going or would like to see it go. And just what your thoughts are on that, Simon.

  • 11:47:17

    BOOYIt's an excellent observation, Patrick. There's a wonderful book by George Eliot called "Silas Marner" about a child who comes into the life of an old weaver just at the right time, just as he's about to sink into chronic loneliness. And he raises this little girl by himself. And it's really a masterpiece even though it's very short.

  • 11:47:43

    BOOYBut I always feel like people enter our lives just at the right times, don't they? And often what's interesting is, you know, somebody now listening might be devastated in ten years by the loss of someone they haven't even met yet.

  • 11:48:02

    REHMThat's quite a thought. That's quite a though. All right. To Atlanta, Ga. Shannon, you're on the air.

  • 11:48:14

    SHANNONDiane, I'm thrilled to be on your show and...

  • 11:48:18

    REHMI'm glad to have you.

  • 11:48:21

    SHANNON...and I feel moved almost to tears listening to this interview. And I'm not exactly sure why but I think I'm meant to read the book. I have a daughter named Madeleine...

  • 11:48:30


  • 11:48:31

    SHANNON...and I have another daughter named Amelia...

  • 11:48:34


  • 11:48:35

    SHANNON...who was adopted from Vietnam. And I was thinking about (unintelligible) loss where adoption begins in redemption. And also my question is about the illusion of separateness in the book "Let the Great World Spin." I immediately thought about those characters as I listen to the interview and I was wondering if you had read that book.

  • 11:49:01

    BOOYI haven't but I'm a great fan of Colum McCann.

  • 11:49:05

    REHMIt's a wonderful book.

  • 11:49:05

    BOOYHe's wonderful.

  • 11:49:07


  • 11:49:08

    BOOYIn some of the author photos I've seen of him he has a scarf on. And I think I'm going to get a scarf like that.

  • 11:49:15

    REHMHe was on this program as we talked about that very book. Shannon, you can go back in our archives and actually hear that interview. Thanks for your call. You know, as we talked about Mr. Hugo, he helps a dyslexic boy learn how to read. How is that part of what you've developed here?

  • 11:49:55

    BOOYHe does teach him how to read. And only later in life does the boy, grown up and a famous film director living in Los Angeles does he realize -- after seeing infomercials on television for kits to help dyslexic children, he realizes that he was dyslexic. And so of course Mr. Hugo is helping him read so that he can read and reinterpret history. And the very -- there's a subtle gesture at the end of the book where the film director Danny is working on a film about an agent -- a female agent from the resistance. And of course she's actually in the book.

  • 11:50:35

    REHMSo many connections. Would you read another passage for us?

  • 11:50:42

    BOOYOh absolutely. Shannon's question was actually very interesting. You know, she has two daughters, Madeleine and Amelia...

  • 11:50:49

    REHMIsn't that extraordinary?

  • 11:50:50

    BOOYWell, it's -- you know, these words I'm reading are really not -- this isn't literature or a story. It's really -- this language is just sort of scaffolding I've always felt. And after you've read it the feeling you have, that's literature. And so I was also thinking, our bodies are sort of like words. They're almost like metaphors. You know, what are our bodies metaphors for though? That's the big question.

  • 11:51:18

    BOOYSo I'm going to read a section now from the beginning of the book. "The mere thought of him brought comfort. They believed he could do anything and that he protected them. He listened to their troubles without speaking. He performed his duties when they were asleep when he could think about his life the way a child stands in front of the sea. Always rising at first light he filled his bucket and swished along the corridors with pine soap and hot water. There were calluses where he gripped the handle.

  • 11:51:52

    BOOYThe bucket was blue and difficult to carry when full. The water got dirty quickly but it didn't annoy him. When it was done he leaned his mop against the wall and went into the garden. He sometimes drove to the pier at Santa Monica. It was something he did alone. A long time ago he proposed to a woman there. There was mist because it was early and their lives were being forged around them. They could hear waves chopping but saw nothing.

  • 11:52:22

    BOOYIn those days Martin was a baker at the Café Pruzien (sp?) . He had a mustache and woke up very early. She was an actress who came in for coffee one morning and never quite managed to leave. She would've liked the Starlight retirement home. Many of the residents were in films. They come to breakfast in robes with their initials on the pocket. They call him Mousier Marta (sp?) on account of his French accent.

  • 11:52:49

    BOOYAfter dinner they sit around a piano and remember their lives. They knew the same people, but have different stories. The frequency with which a resident receives guests is a measure of status. Martin is often mistaken for a resident himself. It would be easier if people knew exactly how old he was but the conditions of his birth are a mystery. He grew up in Paris. His parents ran a bakery and they lived upstairs in three rooms.

  • 11:53:19

    BOOYWhen Martin was old enough to begin school, his parents seated him at the kitchen table with a glass of milk and told him the story of when someone gave them a baby."

  • 11:53:30

    REHMSimon Van Booy reading from his new novel titled "The Illusion of Separateness." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go now to Neptune Beach, Fla. Hi there, Caroline.

  • 11:53:52

    CAROLINEHello. I am calling -- even this phone call is a creation of non-separateness. I've called many times and never got through and I just -- that if I was meant to be on the air, that I would be calling you.

  • 11:54:08

    REHMHow wonderful.

  • 11:54:10

    CAROLINEAnd I oftentimes -- I'm a taxicab driver and I make (word?) treats for the farmer's market. And constantly I am taking random, random, random bits of either ingredients or money or whatever. And whatever it is, it always seems to turn out the exact same. Like, the same sheets of paper equal the same folders that I'm putting the sheets into. I mean, it's constant and constant and constant.

  • 11:54:41

    CAROLINEAnd I love the idea -- I even have a bumper sticker on the back of my car that says we are learning about our illusion of separateness. I mean, it's 100 percent true. And I just adore that this is happening.

  • 11:54:53

    REHMI'm so glad you did get through, Caroline. It was clearly meant to be.

  • 11:54:57

    BOOYSo am I.

  • 11:55:00

    REHMThank you for calling. And I think we have time for one last call from Gerald in Fort Myers, Fla. Go right ahead, Gerald.

  • 11:55:13

    GERALDWell, I just wanted to say, first of all, Diane, you are a gift to all of us.

  • 11:55:16

    REHMOh, thank you.

  • 11:55:17

    GERALDYou don't have any idea the impact you have. I don't know that you do but thank you. I just wanted to also say that our impact with each other is sometimes so interesting because when I was in high school I was an editor of the high school newspaper. And one of the students who is two years younger had to take this class and wrote for this paper that I was the editor of. And when I graduated high school, his mother wrote me a note upon graduation stating that my son has no father. And you will never know the impact that you have had on my son.

  • 11:55:55

    GERALDHe has since gone to MIT and graduated. Has a successful career in life but I had no clue that this young person ever looked at me in that light. And so therefore, our relationships with people are so profound and so deep that we have no knowledge sometimes of even what that impact is.

  • 11:56:15

    BOOYThat's a wonderful point. There're so many opportunities around us to be happy, aren't there? You know, and isn't it fascinating how you were just a good teacher and a great editor, but to this boy you were so much more. You were his guiding light.

  • 11:56:33

    REHMIt begins with a generous spirit that clearly Gerald has and goes on to infect other people with the idea of generosity and kindness. I love the way you began this interview by talking about driving long and looking at others and smiling. It's a wonderful thought...

  • 11:57:07

    BOOYThank you so much.

  • 11:57:08

    REHM...on which to end this interview. The book we've been talking about "The Illusion of Separateness" by Simon Van Booy. And, by the way, his last name is spelled V-A-N but then "B," like "boy" double O-Y. Thank you, Simon.

  • 11:57:32

    BOOYThank you so, so much.

  • 11:57:34

    REHMAnd thanks for listening all. I feel very connected to you. I'm Diane Rehm.

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