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On onions and existentialism

The Onion's Great Escape by Sara Fanelli

Help! There is an onion trapped in this book, destined for certain death! It is up to us to save her from the Big Fry, the greatest fear of onions everywhere. But this onion has hope: “Yet I have been told / That there’s a way out / For an ONION who challenges, / Questions and doubts.”

All pretty mystifying and just plain weird, but readers interested in existential philosophizing may be tickled by the onion-like layers of meaning in Sara Fanelli’s interactive book The Onion’s Great Escape (Phaidon, May).

The book has no qualms about jumping into fundamental questions from the first peel. At the start of the volume, an onion’s face emerges from a series of solid red-washed double-page spreads. “WHO AM I?” the onion asks, soon followed by “WHO ARE YOU?” Faced with her imminent death, the onion leads us through an exploration of deep concepts like fear, time, memory, reality, imagination, and morality.

As we move from contemplation to contemplation, we punch out the onion’s perforated silhouette.

With each poignant question, we shed one more layer of the onion–or something like that. Then as we think about the onion’s thoughts and ask ourselves those same questions, we gradually free the onion from the book, and from her fate. (How exactly? I’m not entirely sure.) Then we can make a 3-D model of the onion that we’ve liberated from the prison of her pages.

Mechanically speaking, it’s hard to re-read the book once the onion has been freed, because a lot of relevant text and images appear directly on the form of the now-flown onion. But the self-actualization is worth it—at least to the onion.

"Who are you?"


Ariel Baker-Gibbs About Ariel Baker-Gibbs

Ariel Baker-Gibbs is a current editorial intern at The Horn Book, Inc.



  1. I think I’m going to have to see this. I’m confused about a book that is meant to be read once… I guess? And the core of the book becomes an art piece of sorts? Yeah, I’m going to have to see this.

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