Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer (Visual Editions) is a striking example of erasure literature: the unremarkable-looking trade paperback opens to reveal a latticework of die-cut pages, each page a ladder with the words clinging onto the rungs.
Foer’s work is an erasure of Bruno Schulz’s Street of Crocodiles, a collection of short stories originally published in Polish in 1934; the book preserves the position of the words in the erasure text but literally cuts out the words Foer did not select.
The story itself is told by an unidentified first-person narrator who blames their mother for their father’s descent into dementia. Although described as a work of fiction, Tree of Codes is more poetry than prose and more art than book.
For all its beauty, the book itself difficult to read: every page must be lifted to be read, turning pages requires attention so as not to snag the words on the pages below, and it is distracting to glimpse the layers of words underneath the page being read.
It’s a book I love flipping through but not one I enjoy actually reading.
This review originally appeared as “Cut-Out Lit” in Geist 86.