Luminarium by Alex Shakar

No critic rating

Waiting for minimum critic reviews

See 14 Critic Reviews



Fred Brounian and his twin brother, George, were once co-CEOs of a burgeoning New York City software company devoted to the creation of utopian virtual worlds. Now, in the summer of 2006, as two wars rage and the fifth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, George has fallen into a coma, control of the company has been wrenched away by a military contracting conglomerate, and Fred has moved back in with his parents. Broke and alone, he’s led by an attractive woman, Mira, into a neurological study promising to give him "peak" experiences and a newfound spiritual outlook on life. As the study progresses, lines between the subject and the experimenter blur, and reality becomes increasingly porous. Meanwhile, Fred finds himself caught up in what seems at first a cruel prank: a series of bizarre emails and texts that purport to be from his comatose brother.

Moving between the research hospitals of Manhattan, the streets of a meticulously planned Florida city, the neighborhoods of Brooklyn and the uncanny, immersive worlds of urban disaster simulation;  threading through military listserv geek-speak, Hindu cosmology, the maxims of outmoded self-help books and the latest neuroscientific breakthroughs, Luminarium is a brilliant examination of the way we live now, a novel that’s as much about the role technology and spirituality play in shaping our reality as it is about the undying bond between brothers, and the redemptive possibilities of love.

"Luminarium is dizzyingly smart and provocative, exploring as it does the state of the present, of technology, of what is real and what is ephemeral. But the thing that separates Luminarium from other books that discuss avatars, virtual reality and the like is that Alex Shakar is committed throughout with trying, relentlessly, to flat-out explain the meaning of life. This book is funny, and soulful, and very sad, but so intellectually invigorating that you'll want to read it twice." — Dave Eggers

"This fascinating, hilarious novel, though set in the past, is the story of the future: technology has outlapped us, reality is blinking on and off like a bad wireless connection,  the ones we love are nearby in one sense, but far away in another. Yet at the book’s galloping heart, it’s the story of what one man is willing to go through to find—in our crowded, second-rate space—something like faith. This novel is sharp, original, and full of energy—obviously the work of a brilliant mind.” — Deb Olin Unferth, author of Revolution: The Year I Fell in Love and Went to Join the War

About Alex Shakar

See more books from this Author
Alex Shakar is the author of the story collection "City in Love", which won the 1996 National Fiction Competition and was published by The Fiction Collective. It was an Independent Presses Editors' "Pick of the Year." Shakar graduated from Yale University in 1990, was a Michener Fellow at the University of Texas at Austin, and is now pursuing a Ph.D. in English and Creative Writing at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Published August 23, 2011 by Soho Press. 449 pages
Genres: Mystery, Thriller & Suspense, Literature & Fiction. Fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Luminarium

Kirkus Reviews

See more reviews from this publication

But George has recently lapsed into a coma, and Fred starts getting some odd e-mails that seem to come from some ethereal world—“Avatara” is their subject line, and they’re signed “George.” As a form of therapy, Fred begins to visit alternative worlds and has dream visions induced by Mira Egghart...

Jul 06 2011 | Read Full Review of Luminarium

The New York Times

See more reviews from this publication

Alex Shakar’s protagonist broods over his comatose brother and joins a neurological experiment that promises “spiritual awakening.”

Sep 02 2011 | Read Full Review of Luminarium

Publishers Weekly

See more reviews from this publication

While Fred's coming-to-terms with George's situation makes for traditional drama, Shakar's blend of the business of cyberspace and the science of enlightenment distinguishes the novel as original and intrepid: Urth Inc., Fred and George's company, is essentially swallowed by megacorporation Armat...

May 16 2011 | Read Full Review of Luminarium

BC Books

See more reviews from this publication

Given thiss novel, I wonder what happened to the author to write a version of New York City this bleak and dark.

Jan 04 2012 | Read Full Review of Luminarium

BC Books

See more reviews from this publication

Your twin brother is in a coma, your family is dysfunctional, the company you have founded is being taken away from you, your girlfriend abandons you, and you're dead-broke: what would you do if every person in the world is dead-set against you?

Jan 04 2012 | Read Full Review of Luminarium

The Wall Street Journal

See more reviews from this publication

In the Victorian era, a character explains in Vanessa Diffenbaugh's novel "The Language of Flowers" (Ballantine, 308 pages, $25), "if a man gave a young lady a bouquet of flowers, she would race home and try to decode it like a secret message.

Aug 20 2011 | Read Full Review of Luminarium

AV Club

See more reviews from this publication

Experimental subjects wear a helmet through which electric shocks stimulate the portions of the brain which lead to religious experiences: the loss of self, out-of-body experiences, near-death experiences, and more.

Sep 07 2011 | Read Full Review of Luminarium

Los Angeles Times

See more reviews from this publication

Alex Shakar is dogged in his pursuit of disassembling human experience in hopes of finding the essence, or at least an astoundingly prismatic view, in his brilliant new novel.

Sep 25 2011 | Read Full Review of Luminarium

The Washington Post

Long before he fell ill, George, who reminds me of the virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier, envisioned an online experience that would improve people’s minds: a game of spiritual evolution played in an alternative reality called Urth.

Aug 18 2011 | Read Full Review of Luminarium

Seattle PI

Fred's younger brother Sam is a highly introverted dysfunctional computer programmer who always wears the same black outfit to work.

Jan 04 2012 | Read Full Review of Luminarium

Bookmarks Magazine

University of Illinois Associate Professor Alex Shakar's critically acclaimed debut novel, The Savage Girl (2001), was named a New York Times Notable Book.

Aug 23 2011 | Read Full Review of Luminarium

The Rumpus

When I read the inside cover, I did not think I was really going to enjoy reading Luminarium.

Aug 23 2011 | Read Full Review of Luminarium

Time Out Chicago

And Fred waffles as pretty much anyone would, at one point asking “What good was a truth that could be perceived only through delusion?” and “But wasn’t a foothold of reason in that sheer cliff of faith precisely what he himself had been trying to obtain through all his recent readings in science...

Aug 10 2011 | Read Full Review of Luminarium

Pank Magazine

Namely that Shakar can be a bit heavy-handed and tends to beat one over head with his motifs: in this novel alone we have twins, science and religion, magic/illusion, reality and virtual reality, twin towers, the two sides of the human brain, etc… A little of this stuff can go a long way and aft...

Sep 09 2011 | Read Full Review of Luminarium

Reader Rating for Luminarium

An aggregated and normalized score based on 56 user ratings from iDreamBooks & iTunes

Rate this book!

Add Review