Setting Free the Bears

by John Irving | Humor | This book has not been rated.
ISBN: 9780552992060 Global Overview for this book
Registered by BookGroupMan of Chester, Cheshire United Kingdom on 5/27/2024
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Journal Entry 1 by BookGroupMan from Chester, Cheshire United Kingdom on Monday, May 27, 2024
(different cover) I've had this on my shelf to-be-read for a while, and it comes with an endorsement from Kurt Vonnegut, 'The most nourishing, satisfying novel I have read in years. I admire the hell out of it'

(12/06/24) The first part of the book is a chaotic, picaresque, and sometimes slapstick road trip; new friends Hannes Graff and Siegfried ‘Siggy’ Javotnik set off on a restored motorbike in search of adventure and freedom, set in 1967 but with flashbacks to WW2. Stylistically it’s a cross between his contemporaries Kurt Vonnegut and Hunter S.Davies, although more grounded than the former and less spacey than the latter. On leaving Vienna they stop at the Heitzinger zoo (Schonbrunn?), which of course features later. Sig has an idea to set free the animals (maybe to mirror his own desire and family history of foreign subjugation/occupation?) but it becomes an obsession after he spends the night there and sees the abuses meted out by guard ‘O.Schrutt’ in the Small Mammals House

Part 2 (‘The Notebook’) alternates between Siggy’s overnight stay in the zoo and history of his family. The latter, about his mother, grandparents, would-be and actual father(s), is set during the war in Austria and further East (Slovenia and Yugoslavian nation states), a complicated theatre of war. Starting with Germany’s accession of Austria, and later Russian counter-invasion (military and ideological), with various partisan factions and shifting alliances. This was fascinating as I don’t know much about this region or history.

There is a falling out in the partnership, coming to head with Graffe falling for the gloriously braided Gallen Leonhard, the overturning of a dairy cart, and then a tragic crash involving beehives. As with Vonnegut the plot is almost indescribably, you just need to buckle up and place yourself in the author’s safe hands! There is also a made-up language and repeating motifs, in this case fantastic l but not SciFi, including; sneezing (orgasm), frot (the F word), custard (as a euphemism for death), motorbikes, a chicken costume (the Austrian Eagle) etc. etc.

Part 3 ‘Setting Them Free’ does include a chaotic and rather sad ending for most of the animals, and the possible end of Graff and Gallen’s relationship, although Irving doesn’t altogether tie up the loose ends (not even Graff’s self-declared ‘Loose ends’). The book title refers to a pair of rare Andean ‘Spectacled’ Bears, and our hope for their future on the run. There are deeper themes about love, freedom, the chaos & futility of war, amongst others, but this is essentially a fun romp, a road trip, coming-of-age, multi-generational family history … what the frot!

Addendum: this was Irving's first published book, which started life as a creative writing course thesis after he had studied in Vienna in the early 1960's; this all makes sense!

Journal Entry 2 by BookGroupMan at The Falcon Inn in Chester, Cheshire United Kingdom on Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Released 1 mo ago (6/12/2024 UTC) at The Falcon Inn in Chester, Cheshire United Kingdom


Another book for the little shelf in The Falcon. Please find any spare books to share the love ... !

Journal Entry 3 by BookGroupMan at The Brewery Tap in Chester, Cheshire United Kingdom on Friday, July 19, 2024

Released 4 days ago (7/19/2024 UTC) at The Brewery Tap in Chester, Cheshire United Kingdom


It looks like The Falcon has closed, hopefully a temporary pause. So I’m restocking and shifting things around in the sharing shelf down the road :) If you get this far, welcome to bookcrossing!

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