The Book of Sadnesses

From time to time I think about Brod’s 613 Sadnesses from the magical first book of Jonathan Safran Foer called “Everything is Illuminated”. It was magical because of the magic he let loose in my head with his writing. The story is about an American Jew’s odyssey to the shtetl Trachimbrod (Trochenbrod in the Ukraine), razed to the ground by the Nazis leaving no trace at all. Brod lived and died in Trachimbrod five generations before the author reached the empty nameless fields that had been the shtetl. In the story Brod kept a diary in which she recorded the 613 Sadnesses, corresponding to the 613 Jewish dietary laws (but having nothing really to do with them besides the number). The sadnesses were lost along with her diary, except for 55 of them which were somehow transferred to her body when the wet pages of the diary stuck to her skin. The surviving sadnesses (in the story) are wonderful, beautiful, full of pathos, like a cello solo in an empty chapel, like a melody you’ve never heard before in your life but you instantly recognize. You’ll find 55 of the 613 Sadnesses on pages 211 and 212 of Foer’s book or click

I often think about adding sadnesses to Brod’s 55, but I just came across an interesting website,, written, edited, and narrated by John Koenig. It contains 113 pages of sadness and sorrow that I’ve never come across before and yet they are strangely familiar to me, as from a dream or a previous life.

The sadnesses I would add to Brod’s:

  1. The fact that the world is not perfect;
  2. The fact that the world is perfect, but I am not;
  3. The fact that there is so much exquisite beauty in the world that I will never see or hear or touch;
  4. The fact that the beauty that I create in the world will never be seen or heard or touched;

I could go on and on. Don’t get me started.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel


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Filed under about writing, Prose, Stories and Novels

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