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I don’t remember if I’ve stated in one of my book reviews that John Irving is one of my most favorite writers in the long list of the authors I read. Having established his literary career after the publication of his fourth novel, the phenomenal The World According to Garp in 1978, one starts to get interested in his earlier masterpieces. Setting Free The Bears has this simple but interesting and original premise, to set free the animals in an Austrian zoo. I fondly remember having visited a local zoo in which I wonder what would happen if all the animals are released from their cages around the city. Well, that one is an obvious catastrophe, and catastrophe and tragedy is Mr. Irving’s forte.

The novel is consists of three parts which is such a long read for a plot that just contains of plans to release the animals. The first part is somehow difficult to read for Irving’s descriptions of actions which consists of riding a motorcycle and his feel for the passing environment, however things starts to pull through just before the first part ended, it is also in this part of the story that I got to feel the author I know from his later works for the feeling of sentimentality that nearly put tears in my eyes. Reading the second part was such a painful experience for me. To make it short, it is the narrator Hannes friend, Siggy’s life history, and the journey through it I didn’t find enjoyable. It bores me that I really want to get to the third part to know what really happens. I know I may miss something but I guess the novel will be much more readable without the second part. Reading this part of the story feels like climbing some brick wall decorated with barbwires that is required to climb just to get through to the other side of the wall. Having said all of that, there are parts that catch my attention, not scenes in particular but simple sentences in which it requires the reader to pause for a while to absorb its beauty.

The third part obviously concludes it all that the humor and tragedy (Irving’s trademark) inside of it somehow tends to look like it’s late for it to happen. Maybe cutting the second part and combining the remaining two would make the novel more enjoyable, but it would not make of a novel with lesser pages isn’t it?  Although the feeling of reading something short (and took a lot of time to finish) lingers about the reader once he’s done reading.

It is really hard for me to rate the novel and I don’t really want to be biased just because he’s my favorite author. But I have to say that I didn’t enjoy this one for what it really is unlike most of his later works. It is to say that if you’re new to Irving, do not attempt to start reading on this one, try his other novels like A Prayer for Owen Meany, The Cider House Rules and The World According to Garp. In doing this, reading something that is not enjoyable from Irving is understandable. And besides it is his first novel is it?

The Japanese version of Setting Free The Bears is translated by the renowned Japanese author, Haruki Murakami.

Opening Sentence: I could find him every noon, sitting on a bench in the Rathaus Park with a small, fat bag of hothouse radishes in his lap and a bottle of beer in one hand.

Ending Sentence: For sure, I expect to hear great things of the Rare Spectacled Bears.