Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer (London: Visual Editions, 2010. 285 pp)
Born in Washington, D.C., Jonathan Safran Foer attended Princeton University earning a degree in philosophy. While at Princeton, Foer developed a senior thesis around the life of his Holocaust surviving grandfather. Eventually, this thesis became Foer’s first published book titled, Everything Is Illuminated. The book received critical acclaim winning the National Jewish Book Award and a Guardian First Book Award. Eventually, the novel was adapted into a film starring Elijah Wood. Foer’s second novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: A Novel garnered both praise and derision for its use of 9/11 as a narrative tool and its use of visual writing. Foer currently teaches in the Graduate Creative Writing Program at New York University. He is married to Nicole Krauss and they live with their two children in Brooklyn.

Mashup: A Musical Joke

Alone in my room on a winter evening a half decade ago or so, I first heard the music genre titled “mashup.” The band, Girl Talk, sampled multiple songs and layered them into a complex and new composition. While enjoyable, mashup never entered the realm of my favorite music. In my opinion, the genre feels too gimmicky. I am certain if I were to go “clubbing,” I would prefer the stylings of mashup to provide the rhythm to my dancing.
But I don’t dance; I don’t “club.” On the whole, then, mashup feels like a musical joke. It entertains me but it does not change me at a deeper level.

Tree of Codes: Art or Gimmick?

Similarly, Jonathan Safran Foer’s latest book, Tree of Codes, feels like a gimmick. With every word taken from The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz, Tree of Codes function more as a work of visual art than as a work of literature. More specifically, Foer takes Schulz’s work and creates a new story by deleting words and phrases in order to create new sentences.

While aesthetically stunning, the story takes a back seat to the way the story looks. Tree of Codes is a quick read because each page contains merely a sentence or two.
The newly rendered story meanders under a stream-of-consciousness style. Without character development or a defined plot, Tree of Codes feels more like poetry than a novel.

Gaze Upon Its Beauty

Ultimately, Foer’s visual writing is beautiful and well worth consuming. Yet, Tree of Codes feels gimmicky. Just like the mashup genre of music provides entertainment only to a certain level, Tree of Codes suffers from the same fate. The beauty of the book offers enough value that I recommend reading Tree of Codes, but don’t expect much from the content.

Verdict: 3.5 out of 5Affiliate Links:

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