Chris's Reviews > Everything Is Illuminated

Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
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Feb 06, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: drama, historical-fiction, award-winners
Read from January 31 to February 06, 2011

What a sad, sweet, sentimental portrait of the difficulty in pinpointing one's genealogy. After reading the first few chapters I thought I'd need an inhaler from laughing so much, but the frantic psychobabble slowly gave way to a drifting melancholia that darkly overshadowed any starlets left by the jewish humor. The narrative goes back and forth between Alex's realism of the present- "perfectly" written as disjointed dialogue (not a fan of reality here, and I don't imagine the author is either), and Jonathan's novelistic idealism of the far past. Some of the most memorable passages are during Jonathan's narrative- strange tales like the ones involving Yankel, Brod, the guy that got a blade stuck in his head, and the guy whose dead arm aroused hundreds of women. To me Brod was the heart of the story and her 613 sadnesses all culminated in that unforgettable dream sequence portraying the Nazi invasion of Trachimbrod. On one side it's a very emotional story, but the genealogical paradigm offered some enticing brain candy as well (see below). The book is not all doom and gloom- since it was difficult not to feel any sympathy for these characters, as most of them are intelligent and kind, the more sentimental parts really had a high impact on me. In short, it's a great book with some of the best dialogue I've read. I'd recommend it to people interested in the Holocaust, Jews, or anyone looking for a good drama.

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SPOILER ALERT: I'm quite upended by the idea that Alex & Jonathan could be related as distant cousins. Near the end of the book there's a family tree in which names are replaced by symbolic words that might seem random at first. On second look, in the middle of the tree are the words "I will", which happen to be the last two words of the novel (in grandfather's suicide letter). Inferencing from the tree it's clear that grandfather is "i will", but it's difficult to distinguish whether or not the generational "ghost" is Augustine, the dead baby in Jonathan's novel, or something completely unrelated. The author writes several passages pertaining to the importance of memory and the difficulty in structuring associations, which is why I find the supposedly random references in that family tree very interesting.
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