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Everything Is Illuminated: A Novel

A book by Jonathan Safran Froer

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A luminous new star, illuminating

  • May 22, 2002
  • by
Take note of the name Jonathan Safran Foer. Here is a promising new writer. And if you want to know more about him (more than the bizarrely designed book cover capsulizes) just read this innovative first novel, as the author makes himself the principal character. EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED sheds a lot of light on Foer's literary if not genetic background.

This short novel packs a wallop, mostly due to the method in which it is written. For a quick synopsis of the story refer to the editorial reviews regarding the individual's search for obscure roots, in this case an American Jew travels to the Ukraine in an attempt to understand why his grandfather survived the Nazi invasion. That's all you have to worry about, story wise. But it is the manner in shich this tale is woven that Foer shines. Some of the most hilarious abuse of the English language comes out of the mouth and pen of Alex, a Ukrainian lad who serves as translator for the author's quest in finding the obscure town of Trachimbrod. For this reader, this endlessly creative foray of malapropisms is the highpoint of the book. Foer peoples his escapade with Alex's cranky but lovable grandfather, a farting dog named Sammy Davis Junior, Junior, and a huge supporting cast of quasihistorical characters slowly uncovered in the surreal myth of a simple Ukranian shetl (village).

As with any first novel there are areas which need nurturing by experience to live up to the success as a whole. Foer jumps around so much that at times he loses the reader and asks that we actually work (a little too hard at times) to keep up with his story, such as repeating phrases and words incessantly, creating conglomerate sentences/words, trickster verbiage, etc. This may be the author's way of conveying how the desparate mind functions when faced with incredible reality. The design layout from cover to page is cutesy and tends to cheapen the content. But these are personal responses, and afterall "Everything IS Illuminated"!

One thing remains clearly illuminated: here is a young author who can handle comedy like a pro, tragedy with sensitivity and truth, who can write stories about people that make a difference in your heart, and who has STYLE!

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review by . November 21, 2002
Not since "A Clockwork Orange" have I read a book that contains such unusual writing that becomes an important part of the story. The sections supposedly composed by the young Ukrainian are oddly phrased, as if by a person struggling to understand English as a second language, and the first few sections with this type of writing was a struggle. Eventually, however, reading it became almost second nature, and the story flowed very well. And what a story it is! We have a history, of sorts, of a Polish/Ukrainian …
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Grady Harp ()
Ranked #96
Grady Harp is a champion of Representational Art in the roles of curator, lecturer, panelist, writer of art essays, poetry, critical reviews of literature, art and music, and as a gallerist. He has presented … more
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The simplest thing would be to describeEverything Is Illuminated, Jonathan Safran Foer's accomplished debut, as a novel about the Holocaust. It is, but that really fails to do justice to the sheer ambition of this book. The main story is a grimly familiar one. A young Jewish American--who just happens to be called Jonathan Safran Foer--travels to the Ukraine in the hope of finding the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis. He is aided in his search by Alex Perchov, a naïve Ukrainian translator, Alex's grandfather (also called Alex), and a flatulent mongrel dog named Sammy Davis Jr. Jr. On their journey through Eastern Europe's obliterated landscape they unearth facts about the Nazi atrocities and the extent of Ukrainian complicity that have implications for Perchov as well as Safran Foer. This narrative is not, however, recounted from (the character) Jonathan Safran Foer's perspective. It is relayed through a series of letters that Alex sends to Foer. These are written in the kind of broken Russo-English normally reserved for Bond villains or Latka fromTaxi. Interspersed between these letters are fragments of a novel by Safran Foer--a wonderfully imagined, almost magical realist, account of life in the shtetl before the Nazis destroyed it. These are in turn commented on by Alex, creating an additional metafictional angle to the tale.

If all this sounds a little daunting, don't be put off; Safran Foer is an extremely funny as well as ...

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Books, Fiction, Jonathan Safran Froer


ISBN-10: 0618173870
ISBN-13: 978-0618173877
Author: Jonathan Safran Foer
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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