The Illusion of Separateness – Discussion Questions Part II

seperationIn the novel we encounter a cast of characters that by all rights should never intersected.  Born in different countries, and on different continents Van Booy still manages to have them touch one another’s lives.


Which character resonated with you? What was it about him/her that drew you to them?

Did the story make you stop and consider how you might have changed someones life without knowing it at the time?  Can you reflect on an event in which your actions may have altered someones life for the better?

None of the characters in the novel realized the connections that they made or the effects that they had on one another’s existence.  How long did it take for you to realize the disconnectedness of the story lines?

Van Booy is a novelist and philosopher.  As I was reading The Illusion of Separateness for the first time I felt as though he managed to meld both disciplines in an effortless manner.  Share your thoughts with the group.

The Illusion of Separateness – Discussion

connectedIn a 2011 article Simon Van Booy stated,

“For me, I think words allow us to hold hands with strangers. They remind us that one person’s experience is everyone’s. With that in mind, to love another is to love one’s self. To insult or injure another is to insult or injure one’s self. I read somewhere that we live solely to overcome the illusion of our separateness. Stories and language allow us to live without living, and to die without dying, which is why I think the modern Holy books are rooted in language and not pictures.”

How does Van Booy convey this feeling in the novel?  Do you agree?

Van Booy is both a philosopher and a poet, and both permeate the novel.  Did the shorter, almost staccato, sentences and phrasing add to or detract from your reading experiences?

In another article Van Booy discusses the quote from Thich Nhat Hanah, his inspiration for the novel:

“We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness. And I thought that was compassionquite 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.”

Do you agree that we are all connected? Do you believe that our “contentedness” will encourage compassion?  Does it work for the characters in the novel?

Simon Van Booy

simon-van-booy-partySimon Van Booy was born in Great Britain and grew up in rural Wales.  He is the author ofThe Secret Lives of People in Love, Love Begins in Winter (winner of the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award) and the novel, Everything Beautiful Began After.  His latest novel is The Illusion of Separateness.

He is the editor of three philosophy books, titled Why We Fight, Why We Need Love, and Why Our Decisions Don’t Matter.  His essays have appeared in the New York TimesThe Daily TelegraphThe Times, The Guardian, and ELLE Men, (China), where he has a monthly column. He has also written for the stage, National Public Radio, and the BBC.

Simon teaches part-time at SVA in Manhattan, and is involved in the Rutgers Early College Humanities Program for young adults living in under-served communities.  In 2013, he founded Writers for Children, an organization which helps young people build confidence in their talent, through annual writing awards.

He was a finalist for the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise, and his work has been translated into more than fifteen languages.

He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and daughter.

Our Next Selection

illusionThe Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy.

From the cover:

The characters discover at their darkest moments of fear and isolation that they are not alone, that they were never alone, that every human being is a link in a chain we cannot see. .  This gripping novel – inspired by true events-tells the interwoven stories  of a deformed German infantryman; a lonely British film director; a young, blind museum curator;two Jewish American newlyweds separated by war; and a caretaker at a retirement home for actors in Santa Monica.  They move through the same world but fail to perceive their connections until, through swimmingly random acts of selflessness, a veil is lifted to reveal parts they have played in one anther’s lives, and the illusion of their separateness.

Copies are available at the library.

Please come back and join the discussion.