Cover Image: Empty Hearts

Empty Hearts

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

3.5 rounded up to 4. Quick-reading, intriguing, and unexpected. While I found the characters somewhat flat and a bit of the context opaque, the concept and the writing style kept me interested from start to finish. I'd definitely read another book by Zeh.
Was this review helpful?
While I appreciated the social/political commentary that was the main objective of this book, I felt like it was a little too obvious and direct. The world Zeh creates is too near in the future - it would be more believable if there was just one or two more decades in between the political transitions that make up this world. The idea of Britta and Babak's business, The Bridge, is wonderfully creative though, and I enjoyed the plot that was driven by short chapters that kept me reading. And I really enjoyed the realistic ending.
Was this review helpful?
Empty Hearts is set in 2025, in a world where things have gotten worse - the UN is being dissolved, more countries are leaving the EU, and Germany has elected a party that is trying to eliminate democracy. Britta, meanwhile, is running a successful therapy business that helps suicidal people. Britta is an interesting character - she is complacent with the status quo and doesn't seem to have any morals. I read the blurb before reading the book, but it would have been very interesting to let the book, rather than the blurb, reveal what Britta really does. For me, this was definitely effective satire - Zeh tries to show us where we could end up in a very short time if we don't wake up. And in some ways it's really compelling - I wanted to know what was going on and what would happen to Britta. It did take me a while to get into the book, though. It was pretty slow going until the last half. I also think some of it felt a little too distressingly real. I'm always excited to read books in translation, though, and recommend it to people looking for speculative satirical fiction.
Was this review helpful?
Empty Hearts: A Novel by [Zeh, Juli]

I'm not clear why everyone is raving about this--I thought it was quite dull.

Review copy provided by publisher.
Was this review helpful?
Empty Hearts by Juli Zeh (translated by John Cullen) and To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers

What would you do if you could push a little red button to erase all the crazies from civilization? Empty Hearts by Juli Zeh (translated by John Cullen) is set several years in the future in a Germany where the political shocks of Trump and Brexit, exacerbated by a second financial crisis and the growth of an ultrapopulist movement, have undermined the will toward democracy. Given a choice between owning a washing machine or having the right to vote, the majority of the population would choose the washing machine.
	Disillusioned but sheltered from the fallout of these crises, the novel’s anti-hero Britta has found a way to profit from the nihilistic milieu. She has cornered the market on domestic terrorism. Along with the brilliant programmer Babak, she runs The Bridge, a legal organisation which identifies the suicidally inclined and, should they prove to be untreatable, pairs them with extremist factions ranging from Greenpeace to ISIS. But now a rival organisation called the Empty Hearts, led by one of Britta’s rejected clients, threatens her control of the market 
2019 has seen a string of novelists exploring the destabilised Western political psyche, but Empty Hearts strikes me as one of the strongest so far. It asks, what if the current political climate led not to catastrophe, but to stagnation? Its answer comes in the form of both a riveting thriller and a nuanced piece of social science fiction—predictive and precautionary. Britta embodies a series of internal contradictions: a deep distrust of political control coupled with a willingness to support non-state violence, defensive cynicism and a profound commitment to democracy. The novel’s only weakness is that its tight focus on social developments assumes stability in other areas including technological advancement and, perhaps most strikingly, climate change, which is relegated to one more ideological battleground. On the whole, though, Zeh’s novel is nuanced and brilliantly executed—one of the stand-outs of the year.  
To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers seems to be spawned from a similar set of concerns: overexposure to a frantic news cycle, loss of political efficacy, a feeling of rootlessness. But this novella—set in the world of her bestselling Wayfarers trilogy—emerges with very different take. 
Set at the turn of the twenty-second century, it follows Ariadne O’Neill and her three crewmates on an interstellar mission to survey several habitable exoplanets. Their journey takes them fifteen light-years from Sol, a distance which requires them to maintain intermittent contact through a series of news packages and updated mission briefings. Caught up in the joys and trials of their expedition, they begin to disconnect from the increasingly volatile political situation at home—up until they lose contact altogether. With fuel enough for either a return to the planet that launched them or a further foray into the unknown, O’Neill and her crewmates must decide on what they owe to those left behind.
Whereas Empty Hearts risks turning its news-weary readers into trolls unmoored from their compassionate instincts, Chambers seems to suggest going offline, tuning out the noise, and refocusing on what you value most. In this love letter to science, she shows surprising virtuosity in weaving together descriptions of new technology with entertaining characters and a fast moving, emotional plot. Her vision of the future is fraught with difficulties but its focus on warmth, comradery and teamwork is welcome. 
At times the book wears its heart too openly on its sleeve. Chambers named the exoplanets Miribilis, Opera, and Votum. The English translations of the Latin (miraculous, work and prayer) struck me as a touch on the nose and risked giving the novella something of the structure and flavour of a space-faring Eat, Pray, Love. 
But maybe this is unfair. The effect is magnified, I suspect, by the dearth of similarly optimistic novels being published right now. As bleakness increasingly becomes a stand-in for realism, To Be Taught, If Fortunate is a breath of fresh air.
Was this review helpful?
Great psychological thriller! Juli Zeh paints a great dystopia vision with Empty Hearts! Worth the read
Was this review helpful?
I've made a goal of reading more books in translation, so I was glad to be able to check our Juli Zeh's much-lauded Empty Hearts. The book is political satire with bite. It's certain to hit home for many readers, as well as terrify some with it's razor edge between dystopian world and prescient vision of reality. Readers will keep thinking: "But, this could happen..." The novel functions on the macro-level and the micro-level. At large, it looks at global politics - economics, hyper-populism, terrorism, etc. On the more intimate level, it is a story of a family. Britta and her family live a double life - preventing suicide and enabling it. It works until a rival group comes for them. This paradoxical way of being is a hyperbolic mirror for society at large, and it is a fascinating character study.   

Zeh won the Literaturpreis der Stahlstiftung Eisenhüttenstadt for this novel, and was also awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in May 2018, the government’s highest distinction bestowed to citizens who have made an outstanding contribution to and shown exceptional commitment in fields including science, politics, and culture.

Many thanks to NetGalley, the author, and Nan A. Talese for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.
Was this review helpful?
What is most striking about this book is how utterly darkly absurd the world is portrayed in the near-future....and how said future seems not only feels 100% realistic, but all too possible. This is a fun (and also at times sobering) read whose relentless satiric bite is perfect for the present-day..
Was this review helpful?