Paul La Farge
by Kevin Brockmeier
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Pain is private, and its privacy has long been a subject of interest to philosophers. Wittgenstein famously compared pain to a beetle in a box: "No one can look into anyone else's box, and everyone says he knows what a beetle is only by looking at his beetle." When we talk about pain, we have to take one another's word for it—that we are talking about the same thing, or indeed that we have beetles in our boxes at all. But what if there were a way to look into a stranger's box and actually see his suffering?
From this intriguing impossibility Kevin Brockmeier constructs his third novel for adults (he's also written two for children), The Illumination. Its premise is that, sometime around now, on a planet more or less like our own, pain (both mental and physical) becomes visible in the form of silvery light. All at
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