Written by Jacob Fletcher: This book, Where Have You Been?, by Amit Siovitz, tells the story of Johnny Milaowic, an American soldier who was just discharged from Iraq. On the surface, he seems like a normal guy, with the normal desires in life: he wants to get a better car, to ensure that his girlfriend Jenny doesn’t leave him…oh, not to mention, he also wants some heroin. If he goes long enough without this substance, he feels the change; he misses it, and the desire is a constant itch in the back of his head.
But—as things turn out—Johnny’s desire for heroin is only the first of his problems. In reality, things are much worse. For example, he can’t seem to remember things properly, and his mind is fuzzy. His friends don’t like him anymore; some act like he’s their enemy, while others don’t want to take the drug anymore, thus ensuring that they don’t have room for him in their lives anymore. As for Jenny, she wants to leave him, but the reasons why aren’t entirely clear. More than that, over the course of a single day, there’s aggravated assault and murder (and the in-between event of fixing a toilet). And honestly? Spending his life as the suspect of a murder was never something Johnny expected to do with his life.
I found that this book was an enjoyable read, and—though it’s his first foray into professional published fiction—Siovitz did an admirable job. First things first, I felt that the emotional content of the book was well-executed. It can be difficult to write emotions in a way that feels organic, realistic, and above all engaging, but in my humble opinion Siovitz nailed this concept. In the book, he draws on his own experiences, related to his experience as an immigrant, of disorientation and displacement. Less prosaically, he also points out what it’s like to live life as a daily ground, rather than a constant adventure filled with chills and thrills. When Johnny’s internal narration described what being in Iraq was like for him, a young soldier, it felt plausible and realistic; you could easily see yourself in his position, and feeling the same kinds of emotions.
Secondly, I found that this book was engaging, to the point where it was easy to get lost in the story. In the world of writing and creating fiction, there’s a phenomenon known as “suspension of disbelief,” in which the author or creator develops a world that’s so real and vivid that the reader can lose themselves within it—even to the point that they won’t realize plot holes. Now, I didn’t actually notice any plot holes in this book; however, it’s true that this book is so compelling that you will be hooked. For example, the descriptions are vivid enough to immerse readers in Johnny’s world; it’s easy to imagine what these locations look like, and conjure up pictures of them within our minds.
Another benefit of the book, related to the first two, is that the book has realistic elements which make everything more believable. Although the plot moves at a quick, effective pace, there are moments of respite; our characters have, on occasion, the time to sit down and enjoy a burger, even though it perhaps isn’t strictly necessary for the purposes of the plot. Part of this realism is that, as I said before, it shows us a bit of the monotony, the boredom of everyday life—that feeling of “every single day might as well be the same” that we sometimes get. And—mirroring my own life—when there were discussions of what it’s like to feel like you’re not going anywhere in life, I found that it was not unlike my own experiences. You can’t get much more realistic than that.
With all of this being said, part of this realism is that book gritty; it doesn’t shy away from all the bad things that can happen in life. You can see this from the discussions of drug usage, arguments between friends and lovers, deterioration of lower-income areas correlate well with the reality of things. In real life, not everything is perfect; things are bound to go wrong, and always do. Not every story—even happy stories—are constantly filled with positivity and happiness, and I found that the book works well when viewed under this theme.
Despite all of its good qualities, I found that the book is a little bit lacking in terms of punctuation. Sometimes commas are missing, or the wrong punctuation is used (a comma instead of an em dash or a semicolon, for example). Although this wasn’t a big problem, it got a little bit annoying at times, and on occasion made it difficult to understand what a given sentence was trying to say. Such problems are easily fixed, however, and in no way detract from the quality of a book that’s otherwise excellent.
Now that we’ve discussed the book, let’s learn a bit about its author. Amit Siovitz studied in Germany, but he is an immigrant of that country. For his university education, Siovitz studied in Germany, in the city of Freiburg im Breisgau. During his studies—he was working for a Bachelor’s in English and American studies—he was part of a number of student societies focusing on creative and literary activities. As he neared graduation, he worked both as part of groups for creative writing, and also in the publishing and writing of papers for seminars. He also co-founded a literary magazine, which was based in Freiburg. It wasn’t until after he founded the magazine that he decided to pluck up his courage and try to get published with his own fiction novel; the result, of course, was Where Have You Been?.
When all’s said and and done, I found that this was a great book. It’s an enjoyable read with strong emotional content; high realism, whether gritty or monotonous; believable characters and situations; and descriptions that help you visualize the world. If you like mysteries, suspenses, or books filled with intrigue and adventure, then you should check out Where Have You Been? by Amit Sivoitz.