Gabrielle Zevin’s novel Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow has done just fine for itself, thank you: Since it was published in July, it has made several bestseller lists, the film rights sold at auction for $2 million, and over the next year it’ll appear in about 20 languages. Plus The Atlantic just picked it as one of its top 10 “most thought-provoking books” of the year.
It took me a while to give the book a chance: Though it’s a novel about video game developers and I’m more or less addicted to video games, I usually steer clear of books that are this popular. (I’m an English professor, and I like to think my tastes are a little more refined.) Now that I’ve read it, I can say I wasn’t entirely wrong—Zevin’s book isn’t exactly avant garde—but it is a very solid, admirable work of fiction, worthy of your attention for half a dozen different reasons.
Not least of these, and almost unremarked upon in most of the reviews I’ve read, is that the novel tells the story of US video games over the past three decades or so as the story of two Jewish kids and their friendship. In other words (and I can’t believe I’m the first to be making this comparison), this novel couldn’t more obviously be The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay for video games. Its protagonists are Sam Masur, a Korean Jewish kid raised mostly by his Korean grandparents and mostly unwilling to acknowledge his disability, and Sadie Green, an MIT undergrad who takes inspiration, in one of her first games, from her grandmother Freda’s experiences as a survivor of the Holocaust. Like Jordan Mechner, a Jewish kid who spent his time at Yale making a landmark 2D fighting game, Sam and Sadie’s first big hit traffics in Orientalism: “It was 1996,” Zevin’s narrator reminds us, “and the word ‘appropriation’ never occurred to either of them.”
The novel’s a big, overstuffed armchair of plot, characters, invented video games, and precisely chosen symbols, like a long-suffering Donkey Kong arcade cabinet. It’s an unashamedly accessible story that admirably resists the convention of making every single narrative about who ends up sleeping with whom. There’s more than a ladleful of suffering and trauma, plenty of opportunities for a good, cathartic cry, and some of the most insightful writing about video games I’ve ever read. If you’re lucky enough to have a beach vacation ahead of you this winter, this’ll work, but it’d be equally diverting to listen to the audiobook while shoveling snow.