Book Review – A Gambler’s Anatomy

Well, I finished my first book of 2018 this week! This was another Book of the Month selection, this one curated by Anthony Bourdain. The book is A Gambler’s Anatomy, by Jonathan Lethem.

A Gambler’s Anatomy tells the story of Anthony Bruno, a gambler who is incredibly skilled at backgammon. Wealthy folks from around the world want to try their hand at a game with him, and he kindly lets them…then takes their money. Our story begins on a trip he’s taken to Germany. He meets the lovely Madchen on a ferry on the way over, and then proceeds on to his game. However, the visual distortion he’s been having for months proves to be more than a “blot”, as he’s called it — he passes out and has to go to the hospital.

Bruno finds out that he has a very serious condition, but can do little about it. As it stands right now, he’s completely broke. His last game out for his game-pimp Edgar Falk didn’t go so well, and Bruno’s chance to make everything up to him is fading fast. Instead, he reaches out to a high school friend named Keith Stolarsky, who happens to be particularly wealthy, albeit annoying. Keith flies him back to Berkeley to see the only doctor that might be able to save Bruno’s life.

Once he’s returned to his hometown, he has to navigate a totally different life — connecting to his past, losing his identity, and regaining parts of himself he’d tried to push away. Alexander Bruno has to figure out who he is and who he isn’t, and decide from there who he wants to be.


When I started this book, I began making assumptions about where I thought the book might go — but it had me guessing every step of the way. I hadn’t really read an in-depth synopsis of the book, and figured from a few chapters in that I knew what type of story it was. I was completely wrong. I had no idea what to expect from one chapter to the next. On the one hand, I was thrilled that the book could pique my interest. But on the other, I was sometimes left slightly confused, and unsure whether or not the narrator was reliable.

The more I think about the book, the more I like it. I struggle with wanting more story on Alexander, but maybe that’s a good thing. It means Jonathan Lethem has done a good job of creating a character — in that he feels real enough to me to believe that there is more of a story to tell. (But it’s kind of Bruno alone — the other characters, in my mind, seem to orbit him like a sun. Madchen, Stolarsky, Tira — they’re all a bit confusing to me, just in a way that I don’t quite understand their motivations or their humanity.)

I do recommend the book, it’s a solid read — but be aware ahead of time that this may not feel fully satisfying when you complete it. If you’re okay with that ahead of time and want to read just for a very complex story, then pick this guy up!

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