SUCH GOOD WORK: Volunteering Neurotically

Such Good Work



A Novel
By Johannes Lichtman
Read by Jacques Roy
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (February 05, 2019)
Length: 304 pages
Runtime: 6 hours and 30 minutes
ISBN13: 9781508278849

I voluntarily reviewed an advance reader’s copy of this book. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinions presented herein are my own except as noted.

A timely and provocative debut novel that Rivka Galchen calls “wisely comic and tremendously moving,” about a creative writing teacher whose efforts to stay sober land him in Malmö, Sweden, where drugs are scarce but the refugee crisis forces a very different kind of reckoning.


Jonas Anderson wants a fresh start.

He’s made plenty of bad decisions in his life, and at age twenty-eight he’s been fired from yet another teaching position after assigning homework like, Visit a stranger’s funeral and write about it. But, he’s sure a move to Sweden, the country of his mother’s birth, will be just the thing to kick-start a new and improved—and newly sober—Jonas.

When he arrives in Malmo in 2015, the city is struggling with the influx of tens of thousands of Middle Eastern refugees. Driven by an existential need to “do good,” Jonas begins volunteering with an organization that teaches Swedish to young migrants. The connections he makes there, and one student in particular, might send him down the right path toward fulfillment—if he could just get out of his own way.

Such Good Work is a darkly comic novel, brought to life with funny, wry observations and searing questions about our modern world, told with equal measures of grace and wit.


My Take Oblong Shaped

This is a contemporary novel about very real, very contemporary issues, and how people respond to issues collectively and individually.  The main character is Jonas who seems to best manage his addiction after years of trying  to be sober via traditional methods, through the use of alcohol.  He is also the example of how very well-educated, well-meaning person can be an addict.  It’s easy to dismiss the addicted when they seem “other,” but so much harder to when the addict is someone with the advantages we may have had ourselves.

This contemporary novel reminds me of the Raymond Carter book I tried to get through last year.  But this was more interesting as I felt it was more concrete, immediate and I understood better what was happening. I actually became engaged in the story and characters.  I did want to reach through my head[hones and shake the guy a few times.

This man’s real salvation comes in helping others and this is where the larger issue, how we treat other humans as a species.  He’s still stuck in what feels like an  adolescent rut with women (Does she like me, how can I impress her?), but he seems to decrease his need for drugs when he starts to become truly involved in helping Syrian refugees arriving in Sweden. 

I don’t know if there’s a link to seeing and helping these refugees, and it diminishing his self-pity and the need to feel better about himself.  He is also moved by how the feelings of the traditionally welcoming society of Sweden are changed through fear. Are we all addicted to our ability to pretend the things happening in the world are not; is that how we make ourselves feel okay, feel the way an addict does after a hit? This man is an addict but he is not a total loss: he contributes to society.

It is a profound book but it doesn’t feel “profound” as you listen to/read it.

The narration is simple, easy, maybe even lackadaisical. It’s a pleasant voice; easy to listen to.

It’s definitely literary fiction but not hard to hear and with a happier outcome than is often the case. The book has lingered in my mind, and reminds me that we can strive to be perfect before we act or we can help.



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