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Everything Is Illuminated

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  170,267 ratings  ·  7,968 reviews
With only a yellowing photograph in hand, a young man -- also named Jonathan Safran Foer -- sets out to find the woman who may or may not have saved his grandfather from the Nazis. Accompanied by an old man haunted by memories of the war; an amorous dog named Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior; and the unforgettable Alex, a young Ukrainian translator who speaks in a sublimely but ...more
Paperback, 276 pages
Published April 1st 2003 by Harper Perennial (first published April 16th 2002)
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Average rating 3.89  · 
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 ·  170,267 ratings  ·  7,968 reviews

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Nov 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sometimes reading makes me so angry


I’m a freaking mess. I realize this and I accept it.


Why, Jonathan Safran Foer? Why? Why do you do this to me? And why the hell are you so young? I know that some call you gimmicky and think that you are just a phosphoresce in the pannikin (yes, I, too, have access to but I just…just…spleen them. They can read their Anderson and their Coetzee and leave us dreamers alone. I am ‘Team Foer’; others be damned. (I still wish you weren’t so f
Robert Beveridge
Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything Is Illuminated (Dutton, 2002)

My, what a clever novel!

In any case, that, I imagine, is what Jonathan Safran Foer kept saying as he was writing this. And really, much about it is clever. The comparisons to A Clockwork Orange are completely unwarranted, as Alex, Foer's Ukrainian hero, destroys the English language in a quite different way than does Burgess' Alex. (A less politically correct but more conceptually accurate comparison would be Charlie Chan, as written
Aug 30, 2007 rated it really liked it
I watched the movie of this first and loved it. It was basically a movie about cultural misunderstanding and how people can be cruel without really knowing it. It is a story about what happens when you put an American and someone born out of the Soviet era in the same room and try to make them explain to one another why the other one thinks the way they do. In a word: hilarious.

After reading the book, I still like the movie, but it seems obvious to me that the filmmakers missed the point entirel
K.D. Absolutely
Jul 12, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.D. by: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2006-2010)
You are burned out. So you suggested to your wife that the whole family spend the weekend in a beach resort. You left the house in the morning, drove the whole day and arrived at the resort few hours before the sunset. You dropped your things, donned your beach wear, went barefoot and hurriedly went straight to the shore. The sand is not sugar-like but the pain is bearable. The wind is a bit cold and it gives you slight chills. You dip your feet into the water. It is still lukewarm since the sun ...more
Sep 22, 2011 rated it it was ok
One of the nice things about being stoned is the added dimension of humor or profundity that otherwise inconsequential things can assume in our impression of them. I remember once having my mind blown at the idea of language, and how any two unrelated people, having been raised in the same country and while having no connection at all to each other, or there being any crossover among those who have taught or influenced them, can meet each other one day and have a mutually intelligible conversati ...more
when it's 1:20 a.m. and you're thinking about your favorite book of the year (so far) again and you realize you never posted your review and you just havetohavetohaveto let everyone know how much you loved it.

Ho-ly shit.

This book was incredible. Truly. I’ve taken the last hour or two to just kind of continue with my life and try to absorb that experience. Because even though I’ve been reading this book for almost three weeks (bananas long for me), it still
Oct 19, 2009 rated it it was ok
Recommended to Matthieu by: K.
Gimmicks as substance.
Jul 19, 2007 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Sorry but I didn't care for this at all. If Mr. Nobody wrote a book about himself as the main character, and used some uninventive malapropisms to make discussions with a foreigner amusing, the book would be tossed. But wait, Foer went to Yale. Unfortunately for me the quality of his writing shows me that nepotism will always beat out merit these days. Sorry to be harsh, but really, I found the writing to be quite poor. ...more
Jun 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: jewish, american
Funny In a Tragic Way

What would the English of a bright Ukrainian who had learnt it largely from local pop culture and a thesaurus sound like? Hilarious actually. Especially in the telling of a tale which has both been told so many times, and can never be told adequately: the Holocaust.

There are two protagonists, the author, a young Jewish man off to find his roots in a now famous but obliterated shtetl near the Polish/Ukrainian border; and a young, ambitious lad from a disfunctional family in
Sep 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 10, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2009
Everything Is Illuminated is one of the most focused books I’ve read. It doesn’t meander inappropriately, and there’s almost no excess. Seriously, this book’s got less fat than Christian Bale in The Machinist. It's either in full-on comedy mode, full-on fanciful mode, full-on drama mode, or some well-balanced combination of the three. Foer spent years editing the novel from his initial college thesis draft, and it shows—in a good way. There's no lag, and given some of the other books I was readi ...more
Dec 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The picaresque interchange between youths is like a more irreverent' albeit magic-natural take on Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. The imperfect prisms, the barriers of language of history and the imagination all these tools of literary alchemy are proudly on display. It attempts to hide the real theme of pathos inherent in all immigrant stories, & that the reader desires desperately to unearth it like nothing else. (Ingeniously, in EiI, a potato falling to the ground becomes a thing of singular beauty ...more
Nathan Pearson
May 28, 2007 rated it it was ok
The gut-tickling malaprop voice of Alex, bragging falsely (but without a trace of guile) in a broken idiolect that suggests computer translation gone awry, is worth the price of admission all by itself. Sadly, the rest of the book -- much of it strung out in unimaginative flashback episodes -- is a turgid, half-baked mess. Reading just Alex's bits and ignoring the rest would be a bit like picking out all the chocolate chips from a bag of trailmix...but that may be the best way to snack here. ...more
Emily B
Jan 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
‘Love me, because love doesn't exist, and I have tried everything that does’

I adore this book. It's original, funny and touching. After many years since reading it I still find myself thinking about parts of it. It's definitely a book to be read and reread.
Mar 14, 2012 rated it liked it
When JSF was a freshman at Princeton he took Intro to Writing with JCO (Joyce Carol Oates). She told him he possessed the most important trait a writer can have: energy. I guess I can see the evidence of that in this, his first novel, published when he was only 25. It was based on real-life research he had done in the Ukraine trying to find the woman in an old family picture who helped is grandfather escape the Nazis. He put a fictionalized wrapper around all this that bundled not only the famil ...more
Jun 26, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who like the arcane and the bizarre
Recommended to Shovelmonkey1 by: 1001 books list

Jonathan Safran Foer has magical powers.
No, really he does.
Look I'll prove it.
He can make anyone who reads his books spontaneously vomit adjectives in great abundance.
The cover of Everything is Illuminated.

Let's examine the evidence:

Gripping, entertaining, dazzling - The Evening Standard
Outrageous, extraordinary - Financial Times
Hilarious, exhilarating, moving - Jewish Chronicle
Serious, funny - Herald
Powerful, shocking, harsh, sincere - List
Spectacular, funny, brilliant, moving - Observer
Brian Godsey
Jan 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Brian by: Sammyatmiami
If I haven't laid out my good-book-philosophy yet, then I'll do it here. It needs to be done some time, or else any reviews I write would be somewhat out of context. So, here goes:

To me, there are two main parts, or aspects, of a book. One is the story, and the other is the way it is written. When I say "story", I mean everything that happens in the book, as it would happen in real life (or some other life, in sci-fi), while the "way it is written" is, of course, the words that are chosen to des
May 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
My first Foer.

Not sure if he's a genius or overrated or both. There are literary devices in here that made me roll my eyes on multiple occasions, for instance: 1) inserting the author, Jonathan Safran Foer, into the novel (and not like Alfred Hitchcock and Stan Lee have cameos in their movies; Jonathan is present in this book), 2) abandoning all grammar and sentence structure to stress that something horrifying and tragic is happening ( ...or that Foer is ready to end his novel), and 3) relying
Aug 24, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016
Jonathan Safran Foer comes with a full bag of tricks, all of which he uses in an attempt to dazzle you out of seeing what this book actually is, which is corny. Safran Foer calls himself the product of a sampling culture, but there's more of an air of desperation about this book, which employs play dialogue, diary excerpts, run-on sentences, and like three pages straight of ellipses. The lead character is a Ukrainian named Alex who's gone thesaurus-happy, with an effect that starts off funny and ...more
Graeme Hinde
May 03, 2008 rated it it was ok
This gets an extra star for a truly funny gag that carries the book for the first fifty or sixty pages. That's surprising and impressive mileage for a simple bit (the narrator, a non-native English speaker, relies heavily on a thesaurus, so that "a hard journey" is "a rigid journey"), but after it wears off -- grinding agony.

Foer wants to be Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but his magic is insipid and his realism is lazily dishonest. He consistently goes for an easy lie over a more complex truth. For e
Amy | littledevonnook
One of my best reads of this year so far! Straight into my goodreads favourites!

- This novel follows the story of Jonathan, a young man who is visiting Ukraine in the hopes of discovering the woman who saved his Grandfather from the Nazis fifty years before. On arriving in Ukraine Jonathan meets his translator, Alex who will be aiding him with his search. Along with Alex is Alex's Grandfather and his dog, Sammy David Jr, Jr. Their mission takes them around Ukraine and they slowly begin to uneart
Nils Samuels
Jul 13, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: twenty-somethings
I could go on and on about how what is clever at 25 grows less so as we age, about how metafiction resonates more with young men who have yet to face the issues that do have enduring meaning in life (durational love, children, divorce, death), about how tapping into the Holocaust for emotional weight seems increasingly to be cheating. But enough. There are already mixed reviews that discuss the limits of this novel. Read those. Smart but not especially emotionally or psychologically interesting.
May 07, 2008 rated it liked it
This book is hard to piece together. It's even harder to write about.

If Everything Is Illuminated had to be categorized onto one shelf, I'd assign it a spot alongside other books about the holocaust. Or maybe about love. No, it's about friendship. Scratch's really about loneliness.

Whatever it actually is about, Jonathan Safran Foer seems to be too odd of a man, and definitely too odd of an author, to define the book or narrow its focus. The minute the reader does, Foer changes the temp
Aug 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
A twenty-year old American Jew, whose name just happens to be Jonathan Safran Soer, travels to Ukraine in an effort to locate the site of the village of Trachimbrod that was razed by the Nazis in 1942. In doing so, the invaders executed practically all of the village’s Jewish inhabitants. He is also on a quest to find a woman named Augustine whom he believes helped his grandfather to escape the Nazis. To assist him, he hires the services of the Heritage Touring Company. Since the owner’s son, Al ...more
MJ Nicholls
Jan 25, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
Foer's bizarre mix of eroticism and WWII horror is somewhat disquieting. I found myself torn between arousal, boredom, horror, and laughter. At times the writing borders on histrionic – the melodrama between the grandfather’s lovers becomes ludicrous, and Foer exhibits the excruciating desire to excavate each human emotion from his personnel as his contemporary Lydia Millet.

That said, the one stream-of-consciousness scene turns out to be the most powerful moment in the novel. Which is quite an a
Violet wells
Essentially we’ve got two narratives here and three narrators. We’ve got two narrators telling the same story and another narrator writing a history. We’ve got magical realism, we’ve got the author himself writing a fictitious novel while also taking a backseat role in his own novel, we’ve got an unreliable narrator who doubles as a literary critic, we’ve got a novel within a novel within a novel, we’ve got a detective story and we’ve got a road novel. So, an ambitious venture.
The plot: a young
Joy D
I have previously read and liked a book by this author, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. So, I decided to try another. It did not go well.

There are two stories here. One involves the main character, Jonathan Safran Foer (yes, the same as the author), in the 1990s, searching for information about his family’s history, accompanied by Alex (a Ukrainian translator), Alex’s grandfather, and his grandfather’s dog. Jonathan wants to visit the village where his grandfather lived and hopes to find t
"The world is the smallest thing."

I have been hearing about Jonathan Safran Foer for ages, and he is one of those authors I keep meaning to read and somehow never quite manage to get around to. I decided to break this bad habit of always skipping him and tackled his debut, “Everything is Illuminated” with some reservation. I had heard a lot about the unusual structure of this book, the postmodernist trope of the author including himself in his narrative and all that; that kind of stuff doesn’t e
So, my husband (who spends quite a bit of time painting) and I have lots of conversations about the irony involved in the fact that lots of what is considered "art" is really just shock value. We've giggled over the formaldehyded sharks exhibited in tanks as "art"; we've commented on sculptures made with real bones as not necessarily more valid or better than those that were created from clay or wood or some other inert matter.

I couldn't stop thinking about those conversations when reading this
I'm not sure how I feel about this, one of the most overhyped novels of the early noughties. On the one hand, it undeniably contains flashes of genius. It is original, inventive and ambitious, which is great. On the other hand, it has a few aspects which annoyed me, and that, I think, is less good.

In a nutshell, Everything Is Illuminated is an amalgam of three interconnected stories. The first is that of a young Jewish American (bearing the same name as the author) who visits the Ukraine in an a
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Jonathan Safran Foer is the author of two bestselling, award-winning novels, Everything Is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and a bestselling work of nonfiction, Eating Animals. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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