Such Good Work

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 05 Feb 2019

Member Reviews

I enjoyed this quick read, even if it did feel a bit "white boy trying to make himself feel better about the injustice of the world" at times. At least the author was upfront with the ridiculousness that is the "white savior" and acknowledged the fact that Westerners often do things just to relieve their own guilt without thought for consequences, that empathy is often a tool for self-aggrandizement rather than a true emotional response. This is the story of Jonas Anderson, a 20-something recovered drug addict who finds himself in college in Sweden in the middle of the "refugee crisis" of 2015. There are many touching moments and occasional humor, including some good digs at American privilege and our current government. I just would prefer not to read another book about a white male trying to make himself feel better (the book is called Such Good Work!), but I was pleased with the humanizing of refugees and the self-awareness of the main character.
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I must admit that I found this book a little 'draggy". An unhappy, restless professor moves to Sweden to "find himself" and to find meaning in his life. He becomes involved in teaching English to refugees, a wonderful thing, right? But he never feels its enough. He wants to foster a refugee, but he can't because he doesn't have the means to care for one. I think that his struggle is one that many people can identify: a change of scenery, that will fix it! No. Helping the needy! That's the thing! No. What we need to find is within, and often found the hard way, with hard lessons. Strangely I could actually see this being a good screenplay.....but a but too slow as a "read".
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The pitch seemed like too much: a drug addict who ends up helping people?
But the evolution of the character, the way that the story makes you think and relate to your generation Y life, the ups and downs of the addiction and how he becomes interested to the refugees situation is perfect. It is a fascinating book, very well written, and that makes you think.
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A young man, Jonas, a teacher, gets fired from his job. Well, actually, he's been fired from a few. He is also an addict. He wants to start on a new path, one without drugs. Having dual citizenship, with Sweden, he heads overseas. He can speak the language and drugs are harder to get in Sweden. His journey engages him in the refugee crisis there and it's young people and he finds new challenges and satisfaction in giving back. This book is a fictionalized autobiography. Jonas is endearing in an odd sort of way, and being involved in teaching the refugees gives him a purpose as he struggles with recovery. A very well written book! 
Thank you to NetGalley, and Simon and Schuster for this an ARC for an honest review.
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Great read. The author wrote a story that was interesting and moved at a pace that kept me engaged. The characters were easy to invest in.
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Such Good Work is the inspiring tale of addiction and recovery based on a true story.

Jonas works as an adjunct creative writing teacher in the US. When he isn’t being fired. And if he isn’t high on oxy or another opiate. When Jonas hits rock bottom, he makes the unusual decision to get a Master’s degree, and hopefully teach in, Sweden. He has dual citizenship so the paperwork is simple. Once there, he works with Middle Eastern refugees teaching them Swedish while also going to school.

This is autofiction, or a fictionalized autobiography. It is a story of overcoming addiction and replacing it with Such Good Work. It is recommended to literary fiction readers and those struggling with addiction issues. 3.5 stars rounded up to 4 stars.

Thanks to Simon & Schuster and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for an honest review.
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Such Good Work by Johannes Lichtman is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in early January.

A former drug addict, Jonas, decides to teach Swedish to refugees in Sweden. He seems to use casual coping strategies toward his sobriety and has an easygoing attitude towards nearly everything, including his curriculum when he teaches in the US. There's a strong start/intro to who he is, a lax middle as he lives and goes to college in Sweden, then gains some strength when he becomes more invested and motivated while teaching the male teenage refugees, but, by the end, I was left wanting more, i.e. like closure/resolution.
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I was invited to read this debut novel by Net Galley and Simon and Schuster, but when I first saw it in my inbox, I recoiled. Another addiction memoir! Another chance to live through someone else’s excruciating nightmare! But then I read a few early reviews—they didn’t bear the numbed courtesy of an obligatory write-up. And then my own sense of courtesy tipped me over the edge. I was, after all, invited. Did I not want to be invited anymore? Of course I should read it. 

The story is Lichtman’s own written as autofiction, and his unusual writing style drew me in. I was surprised to see how quickly I went through it. At the outset, he is teaching creative writing and is crestfallen to find that a student he has championed has plagiarized her work for him, and not only is his anecdote written with great humor, it is immediately familiar to me, and most likely will be to all English teachers. We want to believe; we want to be supportive. And once in awhile, someone younger than ourselves comes along and manipulates the hell out of us. It is a humbling experience. 

Jonas is half American, half Swede, and he finds that to get off of opiates and opiods, he needs to be in Sweden, where street drugs are much harder to procure. He is enrolled in a graduate program in Malmo, but his time is primarily consumed by the refugee crisis as he volunteers to teach in a language school. Young men from the Middle East come by the thousands, and he is proud that Sweden doesn’t close its border, doesn’t set a cap to the number of immigrants it will welcome. At the same time, the Swedish government has some double standards where race is concerned; the Roma people that set up an encampment are quickly swept away. Then the nightclub bombing in Paris provides officials with an excuse to shut it all down; it’s a tremendous blow to the refugees and to those that want to help them. 

At times I fear for this writer, because he seems to have no filters with which to protect his own heart as he hurls himself into his volunteer work; he wants to make a difference so desperately. Many years ago I saw a short film that showed a Bambi-like deer grazing in a forest, and then the massive foot of Godzilla smashes it like a bug, and in his ragged, hungry quest for social justice, the author reminds me of that deer. Social justice work requires sacrifice to be sure, but a little care toward one’s own mental health is also essential. Lichtman’s master’s thesis focuses on a Swedish writer that ultimately succumbs to despair, turning on the car and closing the garage door, and I found myself urging this author to have a care, lest the same happen to him, a danger he refers to himself in the narrative. (From the acknowledgements at the end, I see that he appears to have emerged in one piece, at least so far.)

The stories of the refugee boys are searing ones. A young man told of walking through Iran, followed by Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, Austria, Germany, and Denmark on his way to Sweden. The whole journey was done on foot. So many families were dead that the boys’ tutors learned it was sometimes better not to inquire too deeply about those left behind. At one point, Jonas decides to become a mentor to one person, but things go amiss and he ruefully recalls his own role as that of “clumsy Samaritan.”

Lichtman’s prose is gently philosophical in a style that is slightly reminiscent of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, though in no way derivative. His perceptive commentary regarding the events that unfold around him, along with the lessons he learns about himself, is witty and absorbing. Along the way I picked up a little knowledge about Swedish culture and society that I didn’t have before.

The title has sharp edges. 

Recommended to those interested in Swedish culture, the refugee crisis, and addiction issues, as well as to anyone that just enjoys a good memoir.
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After losing his teaching job at a college because of his very peculiar assignments, Jonas Anderson moves to Sweden to change perspective and to have a fresh start. Even though he is some years older than the students there, he socialises with them easily and leads the life he had in his early 20s. After the break-up with his German girlfriend, he moves from Lund to Malmö, the town where 2015 masses of immigrants from the Middle East arrived. Seeing the hottest political topic in front of his own door, Jonas decides to get active and to volunteer in the work with the migrants, too. He soon realises that all that is meant to be supportive and good, doesn’t necessarily turn out to be such a good idea in the end.

Johannes Lichtman’s novel isn’t easy to sum up or to describe since his protagonist goes through tremendous changes throughout the novel which also affect the plot and the tone a lot. I really enjoyed the first part a lot when we meet Jonas trying to be a creative writing teacher. The tone here is refreshing and the character’s naiveté makes him sympathetic and likeable. With moving to Sweden and becoming a stranger and outsider, his role changes, yet, he still needs more time until he actually grows up and does something meaningful with his life.

The last part, his work with the unaccompanied minors, was for me personally the most interesting because I could empathise with him easily. Having myself worked with those youths when they came to Germany in 2015 and 2016, I went through the same emotions that Jonas went through. And I had to do exactly the same learning process: you want to help and you have good ideas, but actually they sometimes go past the needs of the refugees. The struggle between the news where all the immigrants were treated as a homogeneous mass and where the focus was put on the danger that came with them, and the everyday experiences with real people made it often hard to cope with the situation. In this respect, Lichtman did a great job because he depicted reality as it was back then.

All in all, a novel that addresses so many different topics with a lively and highly likeable style of writing, a great read not to be missed.
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Book Review: Such Good Work
Author: Johannes Lichtman
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: February 5, 2019
Review Date: February 1, 2019

Writing a review for books like this is always a conundrum. By “books like this” I mean rambling, first-person interior dialogue of the protagonist’s mental processes, thoughts, and feelings. The plot is not really much of a plot, just a jumble of thoughts, self-regard, and judgments. 

I was ready to be done with this book about one-third of the way through, but slogged on to the end, so that I could review the book without missing something. 

One of the problems for me with the book is the intense dislike I felt for Jonas, the protagonist. I realize my feelings about a character have nothing to do with how well written a book is. In the past year, I have had a similar strong dislike for the main characters of two other books. 

Another issue I had with the book, is that Jonas is an addict. His primary addiction is to the opiate oxycodone. But he discusses other drugs and his experience with them, and I know from personal experience that his experience with one of the drugs he mentioned is not at all accurate. This kind of thing is confusing to me because I am assuming the author has had some experience with addiction, but his inaccuracy gives away his lack of experience, so I don’t know what to think.

I took a great dislike to the protagonist because his mental wanderings were boring, self-righteous, full of entitlement, and childish. If I was reading this book for my own personal enjoyment, I would have stopped about 30% of the way into the book. 

The other defect was the plot, or rather the lack of one. I’m not sure what the book was about, and what happened if anything. I saw no conflict, and therefore no resolution. 

Some of the story was about refugees from Afghanistan settling in Sweden, where most of the book takes place. That part of the story was interesting, but because I found a lack of truth in other topics in the book, I took the information about Islamic refugees in Sweden with a grain of salt. 

I felt like I was supposed to like the book and be impressed with the writing. Alas, I did not like the book nor was I impressed with the writing. I give it 2-3 stars. Not recommended whatsoever. 

Despite my negative review of this book, I still wish to thank Simon & Schuster for allowing me an early look at Such Good Work.

This review will be posted on NetGalley, Goodreads, and Amazon.

#netgalley #suchgoodwork #simon&schuster
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SUCH GOOD WORK is an autofiction novel, a fictionalised autobiography. Jonas Anderson, our protagonist, is a creative writing teacher who has been battling drug addiction and drinking for most of his adult life. After yet another dismissal from a school, since he has dual American-Swedish citizenship, he decides to go to Sweden to pursue his Master's degree and try to sober up in a country where drugs are not so easily accessible. 

Written from a first person point of view, SUCH GOOD WORK is unlike other books I have read on the subject of drug addiction. Its aim is not to sensationalise or titillate, but to tell the story of a man who is dissatisfied with his life but doesn't quite know how to go about it. Jonas relates his withdrawal attempts in a matter-of-fact, and sometimes chilling way. I felt mostly neutral about Jonas: I didn't dislike him but I didn't like him either. He doesn't know who he is, and I don't feel I got to really now him ether. Jonas is defined by his addictions, and even when he tries to sober up, he doesn't really want to; it's what he knows he ought to do. Until he finds something that shakes him up. Even though I am in no way qualified, it eventually occurred to me that Jonas falls somewhere in the sociopathic spectrum and doing drugs is his way of trying to feel. 

SUCH GOOD WORK is very well written, it's fast-paced, but Jonas' head is a strange place to inhabit. He's selfish, unfeeling and human interactions are always a trial for him. However, these traits make him an excellent observer, and his insights on Sweden, Malmö, and immigration are most enlightening because of this. What began as a story about addiction ends with the plight of Muslim immigrants. SUCH GOOD WORK feels like a very long short story because, in the end, nothing is really settled for Jonas.
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I was sorry to come to the end of “Such Good Work”.  Jonas has become a friend.  I was cheering him on in his low moments, and holding my breath to help him stay sober.  I wanted him to find a job of work that he would find satisfying to his hyper-self-critical soul.  Although I understand and respect the self-reflective doubt that accompanied every good thing he did for the immigrant community, he was still doing good in the best way he knew how.  Our best impulses may not be perfect, but they are our best, and should be honored as such, at least by ourselves, even if not by the world at large.  
I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
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Jonas, a recovering addict who thinks about drugs a LOT, has moved from the US to Malmo, Sweden, with the thought that Sweden will help him stay off the opioids.  Interesting idea.  He's 28 and frankly privileged.  What he finds in Sweden is a group of refugees who have fled the upheaval in the Middle East- and slowly he finds himself.  Teaching the refugees gives him a purpose but it doesn't solve his problems.  Lichtman has provided some interesting insight into Sweden (and Swedish politics) and takes on two topical issues in this well written novel. There are times when you'll shake your head at Jonas but keep reading.  Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.
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When I read the description, I thought it would be easy to relate to the main character - basically, an academic in crisis. But in the end I struggled during all book trying to "like" the main character and I didn't. He is constantly thinking about drugs, and alcohol, even though his life is full of other things. But other than not relating or liking the main character, the story itself is rather interesting - about how we put things into perspective when other people have so much worse problems to deal with. Most of the story takes place in Sweden, where the character volunteers to help refugees. Once he relaxes, he even manages to start writing stories again and get paid for it. So in the end we may just need to put things into perspective to enjoy the next day.
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Such Good Work addresses the topic of opioid addiction. Obviously, this has become an epidemic, so it's refreshing to read a story about it. The struggle of getting and staying clean is terrible. This book shows the protagonist going through many trials and trying to also help others. It's a fast read and the story is engaging and informative. I recommend for anyone interested in the subject of addiction. Thanks to NetGalley for an arc in exchange for an honest review.
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Such Good Work is an insightful and gripping novel that reads a bit like a memoir. Lichtman’s writing style is strong, and the novel tackles several pressing issues: opioid addiction and refugee crises.
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Well, I must admit, I didn’t even get to the meat of this book (at least according to the blurb), but after almost half-way through, Jonas is still high. The writing is pretty good and there are some funny scenes here and there but taking lots of drugs is just boring and not really much of a plot. I did not finish this one.
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First: thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for providing an advance copy in exchange for my unbiased opinion. 

So. This book. In a lot of ways, this book reminds me why I stopped reading literature by straight white men.

Such Good Work tells the story of Jonas, from his time as a literature lecturer in Wilimington, NC, where he's cycling between sobriety and drug addiction, though a similar gig (and similar on-again/off-again relationship with the wagon) in Eugene Oregon, to his grad program in Sweden, where he finally finds sobriety, finds himself, and finds a new purpose in life as an advocate, mentor, and English tutor for young refugee boys fleeing the current Syrian (and broader Middle East)  crisis. 

There is a lot about this book that's good. I really enjoy Lichtman's writing style, which is so realistic, with such a well developed protagonist, that I was convinced this was a memoir (as another reviewer has said), rather than a work of fiction.  I also admire Lichtman's ambition, in trying to tackle so many of the pressing issues of RIGHT NOW--the refugee crisis, crumbling/exploitative academic culture, drug addiction/opioid crisis, and the bigger theme of our time which, in my opinion, is the constant struggle between doing good, remaining informed, and getting burned out or horribly depressed/anxious, vs, becoming apathetic and willfully ignorant in an attempt at self-preservation and being able to get out of bed. To this last point, I particularly appreciate the honesty with which Jonas narrates these conflicting emotions and urges--at many points, I found myself screaming "YES! THIS!" in support, as he accurately described feelings I've grappled with, but have yet been able to label. 

However, the biggest problem is that, well, I just don't care what Jonas thinks. The first half of the book, where Jonas flits from class to class, and sobriety to using, reads a bit too much like the 'white boy who desires to be a writer struggles to write' trope, one which was recently employed far more successfully, in The Nix (which also features a Scandinavian-American washed-up writing wunderkind who struggles with alienation/addictions,  gets dropped into something much bigger, and slowly pulls himself out).  More than that, it's far too long---for a book to claim to be about responses to the refugee crisis, the fact that  refugees don't even show up till almost two-thirds of the way through the book, is a disservice.   

As a result, this book is far too much about Jonas, who, in my opinion, is the least interesting part of the story. I also can't tell if we're supposed to view (and call out) Jonas for the naive, slightly self-centered, prototypical 'privileged white dude'  that he is, or if Lichtman is himself unable to see the flaws in his character.  Though at several points, Jonas calls himself out for veering a bit too much into 'instagram activism'/'voluentourism,' that he still continues to carry out the very actions he chides himself for, makes me wonder if we're supposed to forgive him, or pity him.  And the end result is that these call-outs read more like Lichtman's insertions to avoid future criticism from angry internet mobs, rather than core parts of Jonas' character. 

All this being said, I definitely enjoyed this book more than I didn't, mostly due to Lichtman's strong writing style.  And once I recover from all the eye rolling, I definitely look forward to reading future works by him. 

This review also appears on my Goodreads account, as of 1/11/19 (see link below)
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"Such Good Work" takes a delicate, yet intense, look at the intermingling of addiction and salvation. The protagonist escapes to Sweden, enrolls in a university, and begins assisting refugees with their language skills. While nothing terribly profound occurs in the book, it does open up to the value of helping others - even in the midst of a personal crisis.
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This reads at times like a gripping memoir. Honestly I didn’t know what to expect here but I ended up loving the writing and story. Poor Jonas was so lost but never let himself go under. I found myself constantly surprised and touched by his insightfulness about even the smallest things. Jonas was a great narrator. 

I’ve wondered quite a bit about addiction such as Jonas suffers from, and this is one of the first books that has left me feeling conflicted on the topic. I’ve never suffered from the same addictions as Jonas but while reading this I felt as though I were right there with him experiencing everything he did and recalling all of his memories. 

Lichtman really brings Jonas to life here. In short I felt this was a surprisingly emotional read.
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