Read The Size of the World by Joan Silber Online


A richly imagined novel—set in wartime Vietnam, Thailand, Mexico, Sicily, and contemporary America—about men and women whose jolting encounters with the unfamiliar force them to realize how many “riffs there are to being human.” Travelers, colonials, immigrants, and returned ex-pats meet or pass one another in narratives spanning lifetimes.Plots wind and twist around eachA richly imagined novel—set in wartime Vietnam, Thailand, Mexico, Sicily, and contemporary America—about men and women whose jolting encounters with the unfamiliar force them to realize how many “riffs there are to being human.” Travelers, colonials, immigrants, and returned ex-pats meet or pass one another in narratives spanning lifetimes.Plots wind and twist around each other, making surprising links across a wide field. In the book’s opening, an American engineer is sent to Vietnam in 1968 to find out why his company’s planes keep drifting off course. The solution shakes him and settles him forever in Thailand, married to a new culture. Another marriage between a Thai Muslim and an American woman leads to a rift with her Sicilian family, and years later, her sad, sweet return home is marked by our government’s suspicion of her Asian allegiances. The character most in the spotlight is an American tin prospector in Siam of the 1920s, casual in his colonial stance toward his mistress and his proud Muslim manager. At the end, the prospector is back in the States, ever in love with Asian women and burdened with knowing too much of what happened to the faulty planes.Love, loss, yearning, self-delusion, and forgiveness are here in ways that are fresh and morally probing. Joan Silber’s use of historical material is brilliantly unsentimental and uncondescending. And in the tradition of E. M. Forster, seeing the size of the world changes the meaning of homesickness for all of these unforgettable men and women....

Title : The Size of the World
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780393059090
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 336 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

The Size of the World Reviews

  • Sarah
    2019-02-18 01:47

    I liked how the author took stories that seemed completely unrelated at first glance and linked them to one another. The fact that the last story led up to the beginning of the first story made the whole novel seem more complete. Her style of writing is very simplistic, but it seems to work in this case. She sets up the stories so that they lead you down a certain stream of thought without her having to write it all out. Despite the distance between different countries and varying cultures, the world is connected in ways that are hard to grasp without personal experience. This is one of the main reasons I enjoy traveling so much. I love to travel to places that seem exotic or far flung. Each place is always distinctive in its own way, yet there is thread of commonality that runs through them all that I can only explain as humanity.

  • pb
    2019-02-22 23:44

    Cool book, well written. The book is really 6 separate stories, some taking place at different times and in different parts of the world, and yet are all connected. It's really a unique puzzle. I liked discovering the connections in each story. I found myself having to flip back some times just to remember how a character was referred to in an earlier story. I don't want to give away too much because part of the fun was figuring out how the person in the story was connected to one of the previous stories. The stories travel to Vietnam, Mexico, Florida, Thailand, Sicily, Arizona and New York. It also goes back and forth in time. Starting in the 60's, going back to the 20's, then up to recent times, then back again. It sounds confusing, and yet it all makes perfect sense and has a nice flow. In the end, with a nice touch, the beginning and the end is brought together with a screw.

  • Nancy
    2019-02-23 04:33

    Loved the format - each chapter is an individual story about how someone feels they fit into the world, and how small/large their world is. Each story also relates in some way to the other stories - characters, locations, sort of like "7 degrees of separation".

  • Stefanie
    2019-03-13 01:31

    First page-turner I've read in a long time...highly recommend!

  • Jane
    2019-03-10 05:32

    Maybe this was an "amazing" book. I just feel as though I am so enthusiastic about the books I'm reading that I don't know how to compare or "rank" them with Goodread's rating system. So here's what I loved about Silber's book: first of all, I really like linked stories, and that is what this book is composed of: characters and era's intersect, although at first I wasn't certain how, or even if, this was going to happen. Silber demands an attention most novelists don't. We have to listen to what the book's title is calling us to notice. What IS the size of the world? How do we measure it? How do we engage with that question? Is it a physical size? A cultural size? An emotional size? I was stunned by how ambitious this novel is...and by how well she succeeded in making me question my own small world, in spite of how much I've tried to engage it.

  • Mimi
    2019-02-21 23:55

    compelling slightly connected series of short stories, almost novellas, about people's experiences in new countries. Some of the characters are a little thin.

  • Leigh Haber
    2019-03-17 23:36

    I picked up this book at a fantastic bookstore in Berkeley, Mrs. Dalloway's. I was in the Bay Area on business, but staying with a friend. She lives on a very peaceful street in Berkeley, a good place for reading. I had brought with me to California the new Lorrie Moore novel, A Gate at the Stairs, which I had been waiting for for a long time. I love Lorrie Moore's short stories, and I couldn't wait to start the novel. What a bummer it is, thusfar! It's really clunky, with a storyline that feels very forced and artificial. It's told from the pov of an undergraduate at a college in the Midwest, who forms a close friendship with a local woman who is in the process of adopting a child. I found myself disapproving of every other phrase and sentence choice, which was not the transporting reading experience I had been looking for.Mrs. Dalloway's has extremely thoughtful, idiosyncratic staff recommendations, I found, and one of the most enthusiastic was one for a novel by Joan Silber entitled The Size of the World. I'd never read this writer before, but the description of it was alluring, especially because, I read, it was set in Vietnam, Thailand, Mexico, Sicily and Florida-- a pretty unlikely quintet. The novel is really an interlinked set of short novellas or longish short stories, and the connection among them all is tenuous, but the voice just keeps growing on you. Each of the stories is quite different from the other in setting (though Thailand is a common thread), period, and character, and yet there is a brooding, haunting stillness that is a throughline, as well as a contemplation of death and disappointment that seems always to creep in. I love to travel, and Silber's descriptive powers are masterful when it comes to the evocation of place. I ended up reading the entire book in about three sittings. I have found a new fiction writer to love, though I remain disappointed about the new Lorrie Moore!!

  • Alicia
    2019-02-26 22:40


  • Nelson
    2019-03-14 04:38

    A mild twist on the novel in stories genre. Here, all of the stories are tangentially connected through peripheral characters, distant relations, historical events, places. If there is a theme, it seems to be that the world is not that big, that plucking a plot thread in San Diego causes a string to vibrate in Vietnam. Well, okay. The writing is serviceable, not particularly evocative or poetic--so the interest needed to carry one through seems to be picking up on and remembering how a character in one story is the grandson or ex-lover or whatever of a main character in another story. But once one picks up on these links, there doesn't seem to be much more to do or appreciate. At least one of the stories seemed a little stronger than the others ("Paradise") and might have been more interesting as a fully developed novel. The book as a whole feels like a not wholly successful attempt to clear out some longer stories and research from the back drawer and tie them all together loosely as a novel grouped around a fairly obvious theme. The writing just doesn't carry the sentence-by-sentence firepower or poetry (allegedly present in Silber's far-better regarded Ideas of Heaven--indeed, only picked this up on the strength of the earlier book's reputation) to mask the thinness of connection and conception of the entire enterprise.

  • Linda
    2019-02-25 06:42

    Very beautifully wriiten. The stories take place in Sicily, Thailand, Mexico and the United States, over the course of the 20th century. I learned a lot about other countries, and other times in history. The book, by the way, is not really a novel. It's a series of connected stories. I found myself stopping to reread passages many times. For example, this one: "In March we had the Feast of San Giuseppe, my first brother’s name day, and when I watched the bonfires at night, I talked to Piddu in my head about how smoky it was. We didn’t have bread to bake into the shapes of angels and flowers, but all the women in our part of town had made an altar with a bower of myrtle branches hung with lemons and oranges. Look how nice, I said to Piddu. No one knows what to do with the dead and I didn’t know either. I kept wanting to give Piddu something, and maybe the shadow of the dead produces in us a shadow kindness. I was a little in love with the beauty of this, but I saw already how it would stay inside my head, all that unused kindness, curling in on itself." The narrator is a young girl in Silicy during WW II. Her brother, Piddu, was killed in the war. When I finished this book, I almost wanted to start over from the beginning. The writing moves slowly, which I love. I was compeeled to keep reading, but not to read as fast as I could!

  • Carol
    2019-03-13 00:29

    Set in Vietnam (Toby), Thailand (Toon-Toby's wife), Mexico (Kit-Toby's ex-girlfriend), Siam (later Thailand-Owen and Zain), America (Mike who is married to Vianna whose friend in Thailand was Toon), Sicily (Annunziata who married and moved to America, dtr is Vianna who married a Muslim and moved to Thailand), Corinna, sister of Owen, whose father lost everything in a Florida real estate crash in the 1920s, went to Thailand and suffered an unrequited love for Zain, married a Brit and moved back to American during WWII. and, finally, Owen again who worked for the company that manufactured screws that caused faulty navigation in military planes used in Vietnam. Toby was sent to Vietnam by the company that purchased the screws to figure out why the planes failed causing pilots and crew to be lost. It sounds like a soap opera as the stories intertwine and cross over one another from the 1920s to the 1960s. Each character is a separate chapter. I kept reading to see how the character and his/her relationship to others developed.

  • Kori
    2019-03-04 03:53

    Not as good as Ideas of Heaven. Joan Silber is an exquisite writer and I enjoyed this book a great deal because of the language alone. The first story in particular knocked me out. The problem, for me, lies with the question of how we define novels vs. novels in stories. These stories are nicely tied together, but the link is not as close as Ideas of Heaven, which is billed as "A Ring of Stories." So what do we do? Is it a novel and seen as a complete story, or a series of longer stories? It reminded me a lot of Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth, which is thematically linked, though the last three stories directly tie together. Perhaps this is me imposing my own aesthetic again, but I feel like the movement throughout time periods was a distraction - it works in Ideas of Heaven because the stories are shorter, but something about 70-80 page stories in this format made it harder to keep the pieces together. Love her writing.

  • Susy
    2019-03-16 06:49

    Thank goodness for book groups that include readers who know writers! Joan Silber is a new find as an author; she's also a professor at Sarah Lawrence College & teaches with the sister-in-law of my good friend. So that's how we met in a vicarious sort of way. But the book is the real gift; it's described as linked short stories with the common thread being place -Siam pre Thailand and after Thailand and a connection to the narrator of the first pice, an engineer sent to Vietnam early in the conflict to figure out why the US planes are crashing. Clearly not a great assignment. And Toby begins the journey to determine the size of the world. Silber's talent is her excellent research about the place settings of each novella as well as an ability to capture the minute details that give unique life to each of her characters. Together these elements create a vivid sense of place with character. This is a wonderful book and I look forward to reading more of her work.

  • Kasey Jueds
    2019-02-23 00:45

    I know I'm always comparing books to others by the same author... which might not be a great policy... but I can't seem to help it. So: more of the same. Because I loved Ideas of Heaven so deeply; in fact it's one of my all-time favorite fiction books. I did love The Size of the World, and though it seems kind of mean to compare it to a book that seems practically perfect to me (which IOH really does), I did compare, and TSOTW fell a bit short. Which is to say, reading it wasn't the same transcendent experience that reading IOH was, at least for me. But still, this book is smart and lovely. One of the blurbs on the back says Silber is wonderful at writing about passionate love and spiritual seeking, and points out how unusual it is to find those concerns in the same book... which seems very true to me. I so appreciate that about her work, along with her language, her honesty, her large view of the world.

  • Terry Tsurigi
    2019-03-01 05:29

    Well-crafted, engrossing, and quietly moving. The format of loosely connected short stories that vary by geography and time period is similar to that of her earlier book, Ideas of Heaven. The settings seemed to be very well-researched and believable, although I thought there was one minor inaccuracy in the description of G-forces inside an airplane. Even though the narrative voice shifts with each story, a consistent style runs through the entire book, and repeated themes and situations provide a nice organic cohesion beyond that provided by the peripheral connections among the characters (a device that can easily become a gimmick in the wrong hands but works well here).

  • Carole
    2019-03-13 22:54

    I liked this book because of its themes of people (Americans) getting outside their comfort zones and experiencing life in other cultures. The book is comprised of six mini-novels, each with a different protagonist, which are only loosly connected by the last page. I felt that I had missed some of the connections, necessitating my re-reading parts of earlier chapters.I've been in the mood lately for some solid, happy endings to life, but this novel left most the stories unresolved. It described one woman's life as "a hard one, but not a bad one" because of choices she had made.Favorite quote: "If you live long enough, everything happens to you."

  • Barbara Matros
    2019-03-01 05:51

    This book reads more like a short story anthology than it does like a novel. All stories share the theme announced by the title. The world is at once large and small. Visitors to foreign places suffer the indignities of the uninitiated, but humanity is much the same around the globe. Silber has characters from one story make cameo appearances in the others, perhaps to further her theme, but these inclusions are gratuitous at best, silly at worst. Nevertheless, the prose is good and the book was enjoyable.

  • Kathy Sandlin
    2019-03-17 04:46

    I really enjoyed this book. It took me a little while to get into her style of writing. The first few stories I felt like I wanted to know so much more about that person's story and what happened then about 1/2 way through I realized you will learn more about everyone as the book goes on even if you think they are not connected. The cool thing was that a short little blurb in one story can mean a lot more once you get to that person's story later on in the book. I also liked how it jumped back and for in time. It wasn't chronological.

  • Jennifer
    2019-03-04 23:26

    I really liked this book, I have to say. It is billed as a novel and does get to feel like one, though it is made up 6 or so long short stories with sometimes tenuous ties to one another. At first, the style didn't encourage me-- a bit modern-- but then it sucked me in, and each section had me within the first page. How does she do it? I'll have to study it for clues about how to fix my own writing. The stories seem so simple, at first, and the characters shrug at you, but then it all becomes meaningful and touching in a very real way.

  • Heather
    2019-02-18 06:46

    I really like this author's storytelling style. Earlier this summer I read her book Fools, and now I can't remember if I had even made that connection when I picked this book up at the library?? In this book Joan Silber weaves together the stories of several characters connected over decades. It's fascinating to watch the connections unfold in subtle and unexpected ways. I really enjoyed this book. As is my preference it is largely character driven rather than plot driven. The stories of each character are interesting and subtle.

  • Gwen
    2019-02-16 03:25

    Very different from what I normally read because it is almost a collection of short stories, and I am not a fan of short stories as a rule. However, all these "chapters" have characters telling their stories in the first person and they are all in someway connected although the book spans from post World War I to just after 9/11 and geographically covers Florida, California, Vietnam, Italy and Thailand. Silber's writing is so spare, so crisp and unpretentious - she reminded me somewhat of Raymond Carver (the exception to my short story rule). I look forward to reading more of her work.

  • Lyn
    2019-03-17 23:35

    This was a relaxing read- as in there weren't many extremes. I was pleasantly surprised at the buddhist theme (or have I trained myself to seek these out when perusing the 'New Books' shelf?). And in that sense it was about the middle way and cleverly ends with a circle. I will surely read her other books. A reviewer's blurb on the back mentioned how silber writes "well in all voices- men, woman, children." My take was that it was distinctly female. Amazingly well thought out The stories had an undercurrent of calming emotion. Ummm, a 'Babushka wisdom' i guess.

  • Lenoir
    2019-03-13 01:55

    I picked this for book club and I wanted to go ahead and read it and it was wonderful. I cannot wait to discuss it. I just hope I still remember it in December. :D The book is made up of 6 stories each about a different person but they are all tied together. I loved the way the stories wrap around each other. At times it reminded me of the scenes in Lost where you see two characters pass each other without knowing how connected they are. It's facinating to think of the ways we may be linked to someone else's life's story without even knowing it.

  • Laura
    2019-03-10 22:33

    Although I was worried that this book, set in numerous countries around the world, would be hard to follow, I actually really enjoyed it (even when I struggled to piece together plots and characters.) Silber is correct that the size of the world is small and that our actions, no matter how insignificant they seem, cause a ripple effect in ways and places we can't even imagine. A good and humbling fact to keep in mind as we live our daily lives...

  • Rachel Drew
    2019-03-16 06:27

    Really enjoyed this one. I'm inclined to compare it to The Boat, since I read both books recently and both tackle the human experience through characters from all over the world and from various times in their lives. This one is more mature (not surprising, since the author is older), but to my eye, less gut-wrenchingly beautiful. Still, this is a very good novel, and I'll be reading more of this writer.

  • S
    2019-03-18 02:46

    Wonderful read written in six different chapters all by different narrators in Mexico, Vietnam, Thailand, East coast of United States and Florida in different decades. The issues of what home is, how traveling and living abroad can forever alter ones definition and feelings of one original homeland.

  • Chuck Heikkinen
    2019-02-25 00:40

    Set mainly in the US and Thailand, this book is interesting in the way it interlocks the main characters with each other. The connections between the characters, however, rely heavily on the memory of the reader, and I had difficulty with that. This is not a thriller, but it does offer insight into the human condition of everyday.

  • Robyn Yeary
    2019-02-28 01:33

    This was a well written book, I will look forward to reading more of this author. Each chapter a complete story in itself, intimate and thought provoking. Silber beautifully tied the individual stories and era's together to a common theme, I admire authors who can say so much in so little words.

  • ChiTownLizard
    2019-02-25 02:42

    I was really enjoying the writing, the characters, the places they inhabited, but I was on the fence about how the story was moving along...until...I got very close to the end and encountered a brilliant and distinct "aha" moment about how everything fits together. Wonderfully done! Definitely a book I will share with friends.

  • Iva
    2019-02-22 22:44

    these closely linked short shorties set in varying places and times -- Vietnam, Thailand, Mexico, Sicily and contemporary America -- perfectly represent culture shock and the conflict between home and exile. Silber is a fabulous observer and should be better known. This would make for a great book discussion, as would her earlier books.