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The Flame Alphabet - Ben Marcus So, I'm not sure how to digest this book. In some ways it was great: I loved the concept, I thought the overall way it played out was interesting (language as poison and children as immune, the development of quarantine sites and experimental labs, even the way that ultimately people could live in isolation and silence), but the way it played out was way too slow and (ha ha) the language was over done and repetitive. I was just so bored. I'm still trying to figure out how it took me three days to read this under 300 page novel; this should have been a less than 48 hour read, but I couldn't work my way through it quickly. I must guess that Marcus was purposeful in his repetition (language as meaning-less and unnecessary), but certainly his writing is not thoughtful towards the reader.

I was not sure about the Judaism. Certainly there are parallels here with the persecution of Jews (throughout time) and the idea that they are the chosen people (and so LeBov wants/needs to understand their sermons through the Jew-holes), but I felt like I just didn't get all of it. It might be that I don't know enough of Judaism to understand the references, or it might be that I'm expecting there to be more than there was, but I really felt like either Marcus was way over-playing it (after all this is a very fictitious world with few relations to modern life, we could have had a new different non-existent religion on which to play) unnecessarily or he was just pre-occupied with Judaism. Either way, it was distracting.

I also was not pleased with the ending. Yeah, yeah, I am one of those reviewers who frequently complains when things are all nicely sown up, but in this book I sort of felt like there was no plot. We know from the beginning that language becomes toxic; we quickly learn that it originates with children, but that eventually all language is toxic to adults and only children are immune and then the reader just sort of follows Sam around until Marcus gets bored. There is no real climax, there is no real punchline.

The whole thing would have/could have worked as a really cool short story or novella. Instead, we have an extra 150-200 pages of repetitive nonsense in which nothing really changes, nothing really happens, and we just continue to read passages such as: "The true Jewish teaching is not for wide consumption, is not for groups, is not to be polluted by even a single gesture of communication. Spreading messages dilutes them. Even understanding them is a compromise. The language kills itself, expires inside its host. Language acts as an acid over its message." Seriously, that is the whole point of the book, summarized for the first time on page 44 and then repeated ad nauseum (maybe I shouldn't use that phrase since the book did not literally make me puke and it would have make its characters puke) for the rest of the novel.

I was not sure about the significance of salt. It is interesting that the poisonous language would solidify into salt and I couldn't help but think about the poor biblical woman (was it Sarah?) who was turned into a pillar of salt, but other than that I found myself wondering throughout if the salt was also supposed to be a metaphor or emblematic of something in Judaism...maybe it is just a pretty image and Marcus enjoyed thinking of the salt piles everywhere.

I did like LeBov's lecture on control: "Is there anything more basic than having people believe things? It's an elementary strategy of control, to get people to believe things. There's not even that much artistry required." It made me think of Marx's "opiate of the masses", but again I was not sure how to interpret this in the context of the whole Judaism motif; especially given that LeBov is so concerned with interpreting and collecting the missing sermons. If he is such a skeptic, then why does he care about the knowledge that has been lost in the Jew-holes?

I feel like there is more here than I was able to get and that makes me want to give it a higher rating, but I also was bored out of my mind and found the whole thing to be repetitive. Ultimately it gets 3 stars because part of me wanted to give it 2 stars and part of me wanted to give it 4.

Overall it was worth reading and had some good points, but was definitely hard to get through and less than entertaining. It was a book that one should read and it was thought provoking, but not necessarily a good book.