The world without you. Is it really any different now that you’ve gone? In Joshua Henkin’s latest novel, The World Without You, the Frankel family gathers in their summer Berkshire home for a memorial to their lost son, brother, uncle and father. Leo was the youngest, the only boy in the family, and a journalist covering the Iraq War. He was killed on July the 4th. It’s been one year since this tragedy and his wife, sisters, nephews and parents have not seen each other much over the past year following the funeral. Over the holiday weekend, they will travel from all over to come together and hold a memorial service marking the one year passing.
Inside the pages of The World Without You, Mr. Henkin unveils some of the most authentic and fascinating characters in Gretchen, Lily, Noelle, Clarissa, David, Thisbe, Amram and Marilyn (there are others too, but these are definitely the most notable!). And through Leo’s spouse, siblings, and parents the question of, is the world really any different without you, is sought. Does it take bringing the family together again as a way to recognize and realize the tragedy of their individual lives and to base their despair solely on the loss of Leo? Or was it just a matter of time and would they have fallen to pieces with or without him alive in their world?
The World Without You also features some of the best and well-written sibling rivalry between sisters and interaction between the daughters, their spouses and parents I have read in a long, long time. Again, extremely authentic. So authentic to me I actually thought I was standing in the doorway watching my own family come together during a holiday dinner!
All I know, Gretchen says, “is that I’m surrounded by blood relatives, but it’s the people who have married into this family who have shown the most character.”
The Opinionless Virtual Book Club held our own Q&A with Joshua on the evening of July 30 where we had the great pleasure in asking him questions about the novel, his inspiration, and his upbringing, to name just a few. We asked him questions about growing up with sisters as he writes with exceptional insight and predominantly from the female point of view? (he simply nailed that dynamic!) and shockingly, no, he grew up with all brothers!
We also touched upon the subject and any connection to Daniel Pearl by creating the character of Leo as a journalist instead of a soldier, during the Iraq war. Joshua notes he was quite aware of the connection yet there was no concious decision concerning Daniel Pearl, he was not writing about him specifically. He simply didn’t want Leo’s death to be about cancer, or a car crash. The Frankels are a politically astute family and therefore this scenario was a much better fit. He also touched upon the point about Leo dying on July 4th, a date when most Americans are celebrating, not mourning like the Frankel family.
Thank you Mr. Henkin for a wonderful hour spent chatting with you! Your insight and charm were a delight! Random House also held a Q&A session with Joshua and you can read this here, for further insight.
I’m now quite interested in reading his previous novel, Swimming Across the Hudson!