Review: Everything Beautiful Began After

“Language is like drinking from one’s own reflection in still water. We only take from it what we are at that time.”

Everything Beautiful Began After, Simon Von Booy


Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy was published in July of 2011. After discussing my love of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway with several people at independent book store, One More Page, in Arlington, VA, I was hand-sold this book. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that this novel may have unseated Possession by A. S. Byatt as my favorite book of all time.

The novel takes place largely in Athens, Sicily, and France, but spans many continents and time periods, and is divided into the time before and after an event. Before the event, in Athens, Greece, three people’s lives converge in unexpected ways as they are all displaced in some way from a life they should be living, where they reside under the cover of shadows from their pasts or demons from their present.

Rebecca, an artist, still feels the hollow wound of her mother’s abandonment of her and her twin sister when they were children. George, a linguist and American boarding school graduate, drinks to anesthetize himself from his loneliness. Henry, an archaeologist, is trapped in a tragedy from his past that has never allowed him to fully live.

The three of them meet each other in the decaying city of Athens and begin to emerge from their vacancies until a terrible incident changes everything. Though their worlds are shaken, the experience leads to true spiritual awakening and appreciation for the tragic beauty of every moment in life.

I knew from the moment I started Everything Beautiful Began After that I was in love. I had to remind myself to breathe after the first chapter, not because of any jarring scenes or shocking moments (those come later), but because of the language. This novel feels like 402 pages of poetry, without a single gratuitous word. Every sentence has weight, but rather than being exhausting, the reading is exhilarating. I underlined half of the sentences in the book, and I know I will reread it many times.

In addition to the elegant prose, there are several point of view shifts in the novel, not only from character to character but also from third to second person, that support both the thematic and character development. There are also many drawings, post cards and letters embedded within the text that enhance the authenticity of the story.

Everything Beautiful Began After is literary, philosophical, and spiritually rich but it is also very accessible, which makes it genius. This is a book club book, and as it was recommended to me, I suggest to you that you read this book on paper. An e-reader can’t possibly do its text features justice. This is a book you’ll want on your shelf to refer to and display so that people thumbing through your library can pick it up and get lost in it.

I can’t do justice to the perfection of this novel. I want to call it a religious experience, but I’m afraid I’ll sound ridiculous or build it up too much for you. I will say that Everything Beautiful Began After profoundly touched me. It is a book I will carry with me and recommend widely. Please read it and tell me what you think.


16 thoughts on “Review: Everything Beautiful Began After

  1. Dang, Erika…you make me want to run right out and buy this book. LOL!

  2. Well, I’m sold. Love this review, Erika, and love that fact that it was hand-sold to you at the bookstore. Off to add the title to my wish list. Thanks!

  3. Girl Parker says:

    Sounds amazing… Thanks!

  4. I’ve had this book on my to-read list for such a long time, but this totally just bumped it up to the top. You describe everything I love to read in a book. Thanks!

  5. Holy crap! As my go-to “bookie”, you gave me the chills with this review. And tell me again why you aren’t writing book reviews for money? This one needs to get published other than here! Can’t wait to read this one-you sold me!

  6. Even though, I assume, they have nothing to do with Everything Beautiful Began After, you had me at F. Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway, (but no surprise huh).
    Anyway, great review. I’m all-in too.

  7. Erika Robuck says:

    Oh, Hallie, I wish I could get paid to read, but then I’d have to be a critic, and I can’t do that. Only recommendations on this blog.

    Joseph, you will love this book, and no, I have no affiliation with it. I’m following him on Twitter, but it’s a one way relationship so far. 🙂 I told my blogger friend that the first half of the book has a Fitzgerald feel, and then after… it has a Hemingway feel. I’ll be interested to see what you think.

    Thanks so much for all of your great comments. I can’t wait to hear what you all think.

  8. heather webb says:

    I haven’t read this book or your other favorite of all time, Possession. I’m adding them to my library list right now!

    Have you read Ahab’s Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund? Beautifully written prose, almost lyrical, and an intriguing story about all kinds of love.

    By the way, I loved The Paris Wife so much, I can’t wait to read Hemingway’s Girl!

    • erikarobuck says:

      I haven’t read Ahab’s Wife, but I love Naslund! I loved her book, Abundance. Thanks for the rec.

      I hope you enjoy these books. I’ve had people tell me they hate or love POSSESSION. Never in between.

      And yes, I love The Paris Wife.

  9. Nicole Baart says:

    I’ll definitely put this on my reading list, Erika. Thanks so much for the recommendation! BTW, I was introduced to your site and your work through a mutual friend, Jennifer. I’ve put Receive Me Falling in my Amazon queue and can’t wait to read it. All best to you!


  10. “402 pages of poetry” –I”m downloading this one!

    • erikarobuck says:

      Dianna, I can’t wait to hear what you think.

      • The prose is beautiful, and Rebecca’s death scene is claustrophobic! Von Booy makes you feel the loneliness of death, but he contrasted it well with Rebecca’s acceptance of her fate. The novel loosened up for me as Henry traveled extensively and I wished to know more about George who was a well-drawn character. The snapshots of images and feelings—his stylistic way of moving from one scene to the next or one emotion to the next is unique but still easy to follow.
        Thanks for the recommendation, Erika!

      • erikarobuck says:

        Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this book. I wish we could have a book club to discuss it.

        I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

  11. […] Everything Beautiful Began After, by Simon Van Booy […]

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