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Everything is Illuminated

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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 butchered English, Jonathan is led on a quixotic journey over a devastated landscape and into an unexpected past.

276 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2002

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About the author

Jonathan Safran Foer

52 books13.6k followers
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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5 stars
58,757 (33%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 8,478 reviews
Profile Image for Kim.
286 reviews774 followers
September 14, 2009
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 Thesaurus.com) 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 freaking young, though)

The story is fragmented, told through letters and hodgepodges of writings that might or might not be parts of a novel. There is the story about the people of Trachimbrod, which might be Trochenbrod, a city in western Ukraine that was decimated during WWII by a Nazi Invasion. There is the story of Alex and Jonathan and their journey to find out Who is Augustine? And to thank her for saving Jonathan’s lineage. There is the story of Grandfather and Herschel (copious amounts of tears during that one).

And then there are the stories within the stories. The story of Brod, Jonathan’s great great great great great grandmother and her struggle with loving the idea of love and her 613 sadnesses ( “Mirror Sadness”, “Sadness of not knowing if your body is normal”, “Beauty Sadness”, “Sadness of Hands”, “Sadness of knowing that your body is normal”, “Kissing Sadness”, “Sadness of wanting sadness”, “Sadness of feeling the need to create beautiful things”, What if? Sadness”, “Sadness”, “Secret Sadness.”)

The story of the would-be ‘Augustine’ and her house with its many labeled boxes ( ‘Silver/Perfume/Pinwheels’, ‘Watches/Winter’, ‘Darkness’, ‘Pillowcases’, ‘Poetry/Nails/Pisces’, ‘Dust’, 'Menorahs/Inks/Keys', 'Death of a Firstborn', 'In Case')

I loved them all. I love the awakenings and the not-truths. I love the humor and the tragedies and the friendships. I am giddy and heavy hearted. I am in love with the idea.

What I loved most, what I clung to after I finished the book, was this:

Jews have Six Senses
Touch, taste, sight, smell, hearing….memory. While Gentiles experience and process the world through the traditional senses, and see memory only as a second-order means of interpreting events, for Jews memory is no less primary than the prick of a pin, or its silver glimmer, or the taste of the blood it pulls from the finger. The Jew is pricked by a pin and remembers other pins. It is only by tracing the pinprick back to other pinpricks—when his mother tried to fix his sleeve while his arm was still in it, when his grandfather’s fingers fell from stroking his great-grandfather’s damp forehead, when Abraham tested the knife point to be sure Isaac would feel no pain---that the Jew is able to know why it hurts.
When a Jew encounters a pin, he asks “What does it remember like?”

The idea of memory as a sense. Okay, I’ve admitted it before and will again and again. I’m a shiksa—a French-Canadian/German/NH bred—Shiksa. I can’t fathom the horrors of having the Holocaust in my past, I won’t even begin to pretend to imagine the ramifications. But I can appreciate this idea: “What does it remember like?” Aren’t we all tied to the past? Aren’t all of our future actions predetermined by a memory? “Everything is the way it is because everything was the way it was.”

So much for Free Will.

At one point, Alex begs Jonathan when writing their story: “I beseech you to forgive us, and to make us better than we are. Make us good.”

We have that power in writing. To take away the bad and to recreate. We usually choose not to. It has to be gritty…fairytales are for the young…we need to set the story straight… we need to exorcise our demons….and so on. Make us good. God, that just about killed me.

And this is why I will always defend Foer. His ability to bring me to this awareness and to break my heart in 300 pages or less.

Profile Image for Robert Beveridge.
2,402 reviews155 followers
January 23, 2008
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 by Earl Derr Biggers.) Foer's intertwining of stories is also quite clever, and his use of the two narrators to tell the main storylines.

However, with all the cleverness going on, Foer seems to have forgotten in many places to actually insert a novel. Threads pick up in odd places and then die with no fanfare, never to be resurrected again; the story has holes without being told an enough of an impressionist way to allow the reader to fill in enough blanks; the characters are obviously there as vehicles to carry off the cleverness, instead of being fully-realized human beings. In other words, this is a linguistic roller coaster, not a novel.

Not to say Foer doesn't write well when he forgets about the tricks and applies himself. Especially in the novel's last eighty pages, there are scenes of great beauty and tragedy that are conveyed in powerful manner that make the reader sit up and take notice. (The emotionl impact of every last one of them is dramatically undercut by Foer's following each with a needlessly scatological and/or pornographic piece of attempted humor, each of which fails because of its positioning, but the tragic pieces themselves are extremely well-written.) Unfortunately, these scenes are all too few. One of them is going along swimmingly until he decides to interject a Rick Moody-esque three-page unpunctuated sentence. Horrid. (And a trick he repeats a couple of times afterwards, also throwing in run-on words. Even more horrid.)

The book is billed as a comedy, and Foer tries to carry it off as such, but when the finest-written scenes are those of tragedy, it's hard to call it a success as attempted. Foer has the makings of a fine dramatic writer, once he gets away from being so consciously clever. **
Profile Image for Mike.
23 reviews20 followers
September 3, 2007
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 entirely. The book, while still a hilarious exploration of an American immersed in post-Soviet culture, is so much deeper and weirder.

The story is (sort of) about the author, Jonathan Safran Foer. He is an aspiring writer in his early 20s who travels to Ukraine to try to find the small Jewish village of Trachimbrod where his grandfather grew up and to find the woman who helped him escape the Nazis during the war. He speaks no Ukrainian or Russian, and his only maps of the area are 60 years old, so he enlists the help of Alexander, an Odessa native of about the same age, his blind grandfather, who acts as their driver (if you have read any modern Russian literature you will understand not to question this kind of thing) and their deranged seeing-eye bitch Sammy Davis Junior, Junior.

Half of the story (the half on which the movie is based) is ostensibly written by Alex. He write in English with an accent, in that (I assume) it was written, then rewritten by looking up every third word in the thesaurus and replacing it with the least appropriate synonym. This section is a humorous, touching, narrative touching on the nature of friendship, grief and regret, among other things. It is accessible and easy to understand.

The other half (which is entirely ignored by the movie) is written by Jonathan, and covers the history of the village from the day it got its name in 1791 until its destruction by the Nazis in 1941, following the exploits of his ancestors. All of these sections have a very surreal quality. They jump around in time, different eras have glimpses into the past and future. Everything that happens is completely bizarre and makes no sense. It explores much more difficult topics, such as the nature of life, love, and art, and is in general much more philosophical and harder to get your head around.

These sections are split by letters from Alexander to Jonathan commenting on Jonathan's sections and introducing his own next section.

The weird thing about this book is that, at least for me, it gets frustrating to read the author's crazy attempts at philosophy. He wanders around so much, it seems like he is trying to write a little mini-story for every emotion he's every experienced in his entire life. Normally, I would discard a book like this and say, "Well, it's a young author's overeager first attempt, and he tried to cover too much." However, there are so many parts in Alex's letters and narrative where these things are addressed (once Jonathan says something like, "I want to be a writer, but I'm not good yet.") and Alex asks a lot of questions like Why do you write like this? and Why did you have the characters do that? The incoherence of it all becomes a part of the greater logic of the novel, which in turn provides an answer to the question, "Why did Jewish people stay in Poland and Ukraine when they knew the Nazis were coming?" This books answer, I imagine, would be, "Because nothing anyone did in the village's 150 year history made sense, why should they have done the sensible thing in 1941?"

The book is hilarious, moving and disturbing among other things. I can't help but be annoyed by its weird narrative and pointless philosophical musings, but given that it bathes itself in its own strangeness, it raises itself up and becomes a pretty awesome book.
Profile Image for Adina.
827 reviews3,224 followers
April 20, 2022
Read 2015. Minor edits 2022. I was quite blunt back then :))

This book seems like it was written by someone on drugs. It screams - I am such a special and interesting book. It was indeed special but not always in a good way.

I have such mixed feelings about this novel. There were some parts that I liked and others in which I wanted to close the book and delete it from my Kindle. I wanted to stop so many times but somehow I kept going and then I found some passages that made me want to hang on in there.The last 20% of the book was torture.

So, as a short summary. A Jew American goes to Ukraine to find the woman that helped his grandparents escape from the Nazis. He travels together with an interpreter (Alex, the only character I connected with), his grandfather and a crazy dog. They do not find the woman but of course it does not matter because the plot is just a pretext to launch in a series of side stories and philosophy. The book is fragmented, he employs a lot of (too many) literary gimmicks to tell the story : letters, different POV, excerpts from books, three pages of dots etc. I enjoyed the letters sent by Alex to the "hero". Those really tried to convey a meaning to the whole story and made me care for the character. However, most of the other gimmicks were distracting and unnecessary. Pages and pages of dull nonsense which only succeeded to irritate me.

The author is trying to be deep and make us feel the horrors of the Holocaust. He succeeded nicely through the confession of Alex's grandfather and through Alex's story. What I did not like about this book, is the invented history of the "hero"'s ancestors. Pretentious hyper realism of sorts. I just disliked most of it.
Profile Image for K.D. Absolutely.
1,820 reviews
December 5, 2013
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 is just about to set. You start to swim. Then you notice how beautiful the sun is. The kaleidoscope of colors: yellow, orange, bright orange, red, reddish orange. It’s like God’s canvas spluttered with beautiful colors.

You feel mesmerized. Sunset is always breathtaking and you find yourself staring at it, perplexed and speechless. You are there standing, you feel the small stones piercing your soles. With wet hair, your wet clothes on, the water drips to your skin. With the afternoon sea breeze softly blowing, you feel cold. You feel the discomfort, but you don’t care. You go on standing. You go on staring. You want to see the finality of the sunset.

Slowly, slowly. Down. Down. Until it’s gone.


But you remain standing. You want to see what comes next. The shore is part of the bay and you can see lights starting to flicker from the nearby island. The fishermen light up the gas lamps on the boats. You look up at the sky. The crescent-shaped moon starts to appear over at the horizon. And the countless stars twinkle as if they are smiling at you. The small insects start to swarm and bite, you swat them with your hands. You feel the stones poking your skin. You start to shiver from cold. But you feel happy as you have just witness an unspeakable beauty. Something that we tend to ignore as we rush through our daily lives. A celebration of life. A miracle.

You feel utterly happy. Blissful. Joyous.

This is exactly how I felt reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s debut novel Everything is Illuminated.

Profile Image for emma.
1,823 reviews48k followers
May 11, 2017
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 feels like one cohesive experience.

I just want to quote this book to you, if that’s okay. Just for a hot sec.

“There is no love--only the end of love.”

Between a grandfather and a grandson:
“(You have ghosts?)
(Of course I have ghosts.)
(What are your ghosts like?)
(They are on the inside of the lids of my eyes.)
(This is also where my ghosts reside.)
(You have ghosts?)
(Of course I have ghosts.)
(But you are a child.)
(I am not a child.)
(But you have not known love.)
(These are my ghosts. The spaces amid love.)”

Maybe quoting it wasn’t a good idea, because I want to give swaths of it to you all. I’ll end up trying to trick you into reading by including ever-lengthening passages.

These characters may very well stay with me for the rest of my life. Lovely Alex, with his love for his brother and his grandiose lies and his dashed dreams and his wonderfully terrible English (“Did you manufacture any Zs?”). The metafiction how-much-is-real Jonathan Safran Foer, dedicated to his notebook, staunch vegetarian. Brod and her 613 sadnesses, her love for everyone and everything and no one and nothing. The Gypsy girl whose heart broke for Safran, whom she did not love, and his books organized by the colors of their spines. The shtetl of Trachimbrod, its Trachimday and the Time of Dyed Hands and surname-initialed residents (Bitzl Bitzl R was my favorite).

This book sometimes gave me a feeling like my heart was swelling up. My hand twitched for a pencil or a Post-It while I read these lovely words, but I was always too absorbed and soon forgot what I was trying to remember to do. That feeling is why I read.

This was slow to start, and I almost--god forbid--DNFed it. Can you imagine? Even two-thirds in I contemplated three stars, sadly reminiscing on my vast love of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

I know this review isn’t of YA, or a book that’s “in” right now, or a new release. I still hope you guys read this and will consider picking it up, though. Because I want to live inside this book.

Bottom line: I don’t even know what to say. I so badly want you to read it. But if you do and you don’t like it, even when you get to the beautiful, beautiful last seventy-five pages, please don’t tell me.

I want to write like Jonathan Safran Foer can write.
Profile Image for Jason.
137 reviews2,296 followers
August 10, 2016
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 conversation. Fascinating, right? Well, no not really, but it sure as hell seems fascinating when you’re high.

I feel as though the only way I could have read this book and found it as funny and profound as other readers found it is if I were completely and totally baked.

Everything Is Illuminated is essentially comprised of two narratives interwoven in a nonlinear arrangement. The first is the account of a small Jewish settlement in the Ukraine which, along with most of its quirky inhabitants, is wiped out by the invading Nazis in 1941. The “writer” of this section is a fictionalized version of Foer himself, who is a direct descendant of some of these villagers. The second narrative is that of a present-day Ukrainian who recounts his experiences with Foer as they try to locate a mysterious woman who Foer believes helped his family escape that aforementioned invasion. The Ukrainian, whose name is Alex, is hired by the fictional Foer as a translator in his endeavors.

While Alex is the source of much of the book’s comedy in his unintentional misuse of the English language, the comedic value stemming from this quickly ran dry for me. I think there is also an absurdity with which Foer describes the ancestral characters in the Ukrainian village (called Trachimbrod) but to me most of the quirkiness seemed forced and unnatural, and ruined what could have provided an endearing element to the story. I mean, we’re talking about a village wherein characters collect each other’s tears in thimbles and send each other pieces of string that match the length of their body parts in order that their recipients be assuaged of any fear that their loved ones have “changed.” (Blech.)

And then there are the sentences, the ones I think are meant to sound deep and awe-inspiring but which only come across as shallow and trite in my non-Coloradan state of sobriety. (Sorry, Coloradans, but I guess that’s your thing now.) Sentences, for example, like these!
We burned with love for ourselves, all of us, starters of the fire we suffered—our love was the affliction for which only our love was the cure.

They reciprocated the great and saving lie—that our love for things is greater than our love for our love for things—willfully playing the parts they wrote for themselves, willfully creating and believing fictions necessary for life.

She never ran from his fists, but took them, went to them, certain that her bruises were not marks of violence, but of violent love.

The Kolker was trapped in his body—like a love note in an unbreakable bottle, whose script never fades or smudges, and is never read by the eyes of the intended lover—forced to hurt the one with whom he wanted most to be gentle.

Yes, there is a lot of talk of love in this book. (I think JSF wrote it before he got himself hitched.)

Anyway, there is a section toward the end of the novel during which Alex’s grandfather reveals an atrocity that occurred in his presence, and in which he was involved, and that revelation was very heartfelt and exemplifies, possibly, what JSF can be good at. But it wasn’t enough to rescue this book from its overall effect of having kind of irritated the crap out of me.
Profile Image for Valeriu Gherghel.
Author 6 books1,291 followers
May 8, 2023
Cineva a inițiat pe vremuri un concurs pornind de la îndemnul: „Rezumați într-o propoziție cît mai scurtă romanul lu Marcel Proust În căutarea timpului pierdut...”. Cel care a cîștigat întrecerea a propus acest enunț minimal: „Marcel învață să scrie”.

I-aș urma exemplul și aș rezuma romanul lui Foer astfel: „Jonathan își caută rădăcinile”. Aș mai divulga faptul oarecum nesemnificativ, deși evident, că Jonathan „este un evreu ingenios” (p.9). Atît de ingenios încît nu poți să nu te întrebi dacă Totul este iluminat reprezintă și altceva decît un exercițiu narativ foarte ingenios. Părerile sînt împărțite.

De neuitat rămîne povestea iubirii dintre Brod și Kalkianul / Safran (pp.162-187). Engleza lui Aleksandr Perciov (pe numele lui oficial!) e seducătoare. Să spun oare că părțile redactate de Aleksandr mi s-au părut mai amuzante decît cele redactate de Jonathan? Nu spun. Citez numai un pasaj:

„A încercat din nou să pună verigheta pe degetul mic al eroului și a apăsat foarte rigid și am observat că asta i-a dat eroului multe feluri de durere, cu toate că el n-a înfățișat nici măcar una dintre ele” (p.256).

Citiți cartea și veți trăi negreșit multe feluri de plăcere...
Profile Image for BlackOxford.
1,081 reviews68.1k followers
September 4, 2018
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 Odessa who acts as guide and subsequent interlocutor. The author writes history (of a post-modernist sort); the lad writes of the trip and comments on the author's text.

It is these latter comments that are most compelling because they reveal both the essential irrelevance of the destruction of European Jewry to the lives of those who have inherited the unexpurgated guilt of the massacres, and the way in which that guilt remains an essential but unspoken feature of life. Without the comedic language to make this contradictory point, the book would likely fall flat. With that language, and it's gradual 'normalisation' during the course of the tale, the book becomes a story of revelation.
Profile Image for Ben.
19 reviews5 followers
July 19, 2007
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.
Profile Image for Lea.
117 reviews339 followers
October 3, 2021
“And then they stopped all of the tanks and for a moment I was so foolish to think that it was over, that they had decided to return to Germany and end the war because nobody likes war not even those who survive it, not even the winners.”

When I started this book I was thinking it is a pretentious contrived work of experimental fiction that I usually don't connect with, but I ended up really liking it. I love these kinds of surprises which push me to give more than one chance to genres of books I didn't immediately find compelling. The narrative is by no means traditional, the non-linear fragmented structure jumps around in time, and there are stories within the stories told by three different narrators, switching style, language and viewpoint, sometimes without satisfying conclusion. We are following the main character Jonathan (the author himself) in a journey across Ukrania in the quest of finding the mysterious woman Augustina, who may, or may not save his Jewish grandfather from the Nazis. As the stories of Jonathan's ancestors unravel more and more emotional and compelling stories of Ukrainian people are being displayed in the magic realism history of the village of Trachimbrod, from 1791 to the arrival of the Nazi army in 1941. I was definitely highly interested and emotionally and mentally invested in stories, and considering that connection happens really with me and this type of literary fiction, I consider this a good book, but I think it would benefit from simplification but then again, it would lose a bit of its quirkiness and uniqueness, especially for the genre of historical fiction. I loved the arrogant trippiness of the prose throughout and I want to try more Safran in the future for sure. I think fans of work similar to David Grossman's A Horse Walks into a Bar would immensely enjoy Everything is illuminated, in my opinion, much more vivid and better-crafted work.

“It's true, I am afraid of dying. I am afraid of the world moving forward without me, of my absence going unnoticed, or worse, being some natural force propelling life on. Is it selfish? Am I such a bad person for dreaming of a world that ends when I do?”
Profile Image for Guille.
755 reviews1,535 followers
June 3, 2021
“Soy una buena persona que vivió una mala época”
Como esos títulos que tienen forma de ola o de montaña rusa en los capítulos de una de las partes que de forma alternativa se van sucediendo a lo largo de todo el relato, así fue mi experiencia con la novela: grandes subidas y suaves descensos, sin que ello signifique que, como en ese carro que se hunde en el río en el inicio del relato histórico del que van saliendo a la superficie objetos de muy diversa índole, no aparecieran en esos declives de vez en cuando párrafos maravillosos. El final, como en las etapas ciclistas de montaña, es en alto, aunque después haya un pequeño descenso hasta llegar a la meta.
“El fin del mundo ha llegado a menudo, y sigue llegando con la misma frecuencia.”
La novela se inicia con mucha fuerza gracias a las divertidísimas reflexiones que Alex hace acerca de lo que fue su trabajo como traductor para Safran Foer en Ucrania mientras este se documentaba sobre sus ancestros judíos con el fin de escribir una novela, su primera novela, una preciosidad durante buena parte de la poética, dura, mágica y triste historia.
“Para Brod, la vida era la lenta constatación de que este mundo no estaba hecho para ella, y de que, por la razón que fuera, ella nunca podría ser feliz y sincera al mismo tiempo… Nada conseguía ser más de lo que era en realidad. Eran solo cosas, prisioneras de su propia esencia.”
Como enlace entre ambas partes están las cartas, divertidas en un principio, muy amargas a medida que avanza la historia, que Alex escribe a Safran comentando los capítulos de la novela que este le va enviando, y que nosotros también leeremos, al mismo tiempo que discutía los comentarios que el novelista le hacía sobre el relato que Alex iba escribiendo acerca de sus días en Ucrania y que este le enviaba a su vez, también con una deriva desde lo divertido hacia lo doloroso. Cartas que, copiando su estilo y sus expresiones y hasta frases enteras, podría yo enviar a Safran para decirle:

Querido Jonathan.

Espero que estés feliz y que tu familia esté saludable y próspera.

Tragándome un trozo de orgullo, me siento forzado a proclamar primeramente que no soy nada primordial escribiendo cartas y que querer, como quiero, ser sincero y a la vez benévolo es bastante rígido.

Empezaré decorosamente refiriendo los rosados cosquilleos que sentí leyendo tu libro, lo embelesado que me he encontrado con muchas de las contingencias de tu familia que a mucha gente le irá bien saber. Toda la pandilla me ha parecido primordial, el héroe, o sea, tú, Alex, el machete, el torpe Pequeño Igor, el abuelo, que me gustaría imaginármelo ahora exhalando zetas, y, aunque a ti no te electrifique mucho, también el perrito Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior, ¡qué gracia bosquejarlo socializando con tu pierna! De padre mejor no digo nada, ni de madre tampoco. Estoy siendo cautelar

Hay otros momentos en la parte céntrica del libro que no he disfrutado tanto, conjeturo que pudo ser porque eran muy judías. No atesoro peros en contra de los judíos, aunque no pueda perdonaros vuestro proceder como país en la actualidad ni comprender vuestra pasiva instalación en aquellos acaecidos tiempos.
“De manera que no se hizo nada. No se tomó decisión alguna. No se preparó ninguna maleta, ni se vaciaron las casas. No se construyeron trincheras ni se blindaron edificios. Nada. Esperaron como tontos, sentados como tontos, hablando, como tontos…”
Pese a todo, te reiteralizo lo de los rosados cosquilleos y mis muchos embelesos. Si tu diana era hacer algo de lo que no avergonzarte, puedes conformarte mucho.

Y ya, no teniendo ningún otro apunte luminoso que darte, me despido, que sé que mi forma de articular termina fastidiando un poquito y quizás fue algo de lo que tú dispensaste cantidubi en la novela. Lo que no roba que poseas razón al pensar que “el humorístico es el único modo sincero de contar una historia triste”, aunque tampoco puedo disputarte que también, mano a mano, “el humor no es más que una forma de escabullirse de este mundo maravilloso y terrible”.

Bueno, que espero que mis palabras no te hayan parecido insignificantes o carentes de adecuación, nada me hastiaría más que haberte puesto aburrido. Solo puedo instruirte de que he colocado mi mejor talento y me he esforzado al máximo, que es lo máximo que puedo esforzarme.

Con todo mi candor.

Profile Image for Beth.
527 reviews11 followers
July 2, 2009
Probably in the top 3 best books I've read in the past 5 years. It is not an easy book to read, and it is at times bizarre and vaguely offensive. But it is also hearbreaking and heartwarming and funny and thought-provoking.

Throughout the novel, Jonathan is referred to as the "hero" by Sasha/Alex, but I believe that Sasha ends up being the real hero. I don't think that Jonathan becomes some sort of terrible person, but it is telling that Jonathon and Sasha stop writing to each other. I believe it is because Sasha has come away with a much deeper understanding of himself from their trip, while Jonathan seems to have mostly come away with good writing material. Sasha becomes so angry with Jonathon's story because it is not truthful in the way that Sasha is truthful. Jonathan wants to take pieces of what he knows for sure, and embellish and expound and fictionalize it to make enticing fiction. In doing so, he does make his grandfather out to be a pretty bizarre person, taking only his supposition that his grandfather had a dead arm and a lot of teeth as a baby, and looking through his journal, and then making up this whole ridiculous story about how the Safran had affairs with over 2,000 women because they were strangely attracted to the dead arm. Sasha, on the other hand, comes away from the trip with a better understanding of, and deeper love for, his grandfather, and a commitment to truth. He realizes the value of truth in seeing what his grandfather had to live with and in coming clean on certain aspects of his life. For instance, he admits that he is a virgin, though he boasted in the beginning of how many women he was "carnal" with. And he is not especially tall, as he also boasted about in the beginning. He also embraces his love for Ukraine, giving his savings away and deciding to stay there and take care of his family. And he is finally able to stand up to his drunken father and banish him from the family.

So, I believe that the title refers to the way the past illuminates the present, and the present illuminates the past. But differently for our two "heroes". For Jonathan, he has found the material he needs to become the writer he believes he was born to be. For Sasha, he has found the truth he needs to become the man he wants to be. You could argue the value of each. Jonathan writes everything down, documents the names on all of Lista's boxes, reads guidebooks on properly dealing with Ukrainians. Sasha listens to the stories, takes it all in, doesn't think to worry about each little detail to remember forever. Sasha is more concerned with understanding the heart of the truth, in short, while Jonathon wants the material to use later.

In one final thought, I remember that Ernest Hemingway was mentioned at some point in the novel, I believe by Sasha in talking about Jonathan becoming a great American writer. I took an American Lit class in which we discussed the novel Garden of Eden by Hemingway, and the way in which Hemingway addressed the guilt of the writer who puts themselves and those they love in emotionally reckless positions in order to create good writing material. I just thought it was interesting that his name comes into this novel because of Jonathan's intentions. Not that Jonathan creates any sort of emotionally reckless situation, but he in some way sells out his family history in order to write an interesting book.

On a side note, don't see the movie if you want it to be like the book. The movie felt like the screenwriter thoroughly read the first half of the book, and then skimmed the rest in about 8 minutes and threw the movie together from that. I felt like it missed everything that was important about the story.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
102 reviews282 followers
December 4, 2013
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 reading at the time (e.g. The Recognitions), this leanness and pacing were very welcome.

Moreover, I don’t think I’ve ever been so off-base with my preconceptions of a book. I’d somehow come to the conclusion that the controversy surrounding Foer was due to his pretentiousness, and I was prepared for something in-your-face erudite, clever, showy, and snarky (since I’d heard it was funny) with his first effort. This probably sounds idiotic for those of you familiar with Foer’s work, but that’s what I was expecting. The only question for me was: would he be able to use his pretentiousness in a way that I’d find enjoyable? But as I got into the book, what I found was one of the least pretentious literary novels I’ve ever read. And perhaps this puts the backlash that this guy’s received into a whole new light, although I don’t want to get into that right now. I’d rather talk about what Foer does (and does very well) in Everything Is Illuminated.

First, the humor. This book is funny, but not in the way I was expecting (Foer’s basically anti-snarky). And it’s with his comedy style that he probably makes most of his enemies. Instead of taking one of the modern American approaches to humor*, Foer utilizes the type of slapstick that ruled comedic cinema over 60 years ago and has more or less disappeared from popular culture. Bold, bold move. And one that I, as a long-time Abbot and Costello fan, happen to love. I’ve watched each Abbot and Costello movie between 3 and 25 times, and while I think their routines are brilliant, I’m also aware that the majority of Americans under 40 would likely yawn or cringe through many of them. It’s just a different style, full of classic gags sans sarcasm or irony, and one where any constraints of realism are given the boot while the routine is in progress—just like in Everything Is Illuminated. From Alex’s ludicrously over-the-top English, where Foer nabs Wallace’s gag of incorrectly substituting difficult words for easy ones, to the hero’s inconvenient vegetarianism; from the absurd dog behavior to the classic mistranslation humor reminiscent of the Pequod’s encounter with the French Rose-Bud, Foer never wastes an opportunity to inject an episode of hilarity. And to be honest, he’s not always successful. But when it works, and if you’re susceptible to this style of humor, you will laugh out loud.

I can’t think of another book that blends this kind of extreme comedy with fanciful melancholy so well (or even at all). The initially hidden sadness builds (in both the present-day storyline and the 18th-century through WWII storyline) to a dramatic moment that didn’t quite have the impact on me that Foer reaches for and that others have experienced. I’m not especially disappointed about this, although I am stuck knowing that I didn’t experience the emotional tidal wave that this book is capable of unleashing. But you might.

*Here I must rely on an excerpt from David Foster Wallace’s essay on Kafka’s humor: There's no recursive word-play or verbal stunt-pilotry, little in the way of wisecracks or mordant lampoon. There is no body-function humor in Kafka, nor sexual entendre, nor stylized attempts to rebel by offending convention. No Pynchonian slapstick with banana peels or rapacious adenoids. No Rothish satyriasis or Barthish metaparody or arch Woody-Allenish kvetching. There are none of the ba-bing ba-bang reversals of modern sit-coms; nor are there precocious children or profane grandparents or cynically insurgent co-workers. Ok, so there’s some word-play and maybe ‘Pynchonian slapstick’ could describe a few scenes in Everything is Illuminated, but since when was Thomas Pynchon’s sense-of-humor considered part of ‘contemporary U.S. amusement’?
Profile Image for Fabian.
947 reviews1,561 followers
August 7, 2019
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. The writer simply must get props poor lathering up this sad story that includes the Holocaust with joyous amounts of high-grade and universal ripoaring comedy. One of the ten most important novels of the new millennium. And its rich; exhilarating; it has balls. It is fresh prose-like-a-rose and exhibits one intuitive, clever, downright beautiful structure. With its proud badges of a first--not to mention major) literary novel audaciousness it is a wondrous, always necessary!-- version of the Don Quixote legend. & you will definitely carve out something in your busy schedule to complete it. And, like me, somehow I really crave for a sequel to this, which I very rarely do, you will think the same.

"Everything is the way it is because everything was the way it was." 145
Profile Image for Emily B.
426 reviews419 followers
July 5, 2021
‘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.
Profile Image for Tea Jovanović.
Author 410 books673 followers
June 15, 2013
Jedna od onih neobičnih "otkačenih" knjiga koje mi s vremena na vreme nalete i osveže mi dan... Imala sam zadovoljstvo da je čitam u rukopisu pre objavljivanja... Mnogo kasnije nastao je film... Knjiga je, nažalost, kod nas prošla nezapaženo i srećom u međuvremenu mu se promenio izdavač... Koji će možda više učiniti za ovog autora jer on to zaslužuje... Ako volite Marka Haddona ili Dana Rhodesa... ovo je autor za vas... :)
50 reviews3 followers
May 29, 2007
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.
Profile Image for Brian Godsey.
Author 2 books18 followers
January 11, 2012
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 describe these things and happenings, and their particular relationship with each other.

It is my [strong] opinion that any really good book not be lacking at all in the writing category, because a story by itself is just a campfire tale or a Jerry Bruckheimer production. I have a collection of old Irish short stories, and the early ones are all like this; they were made to be told, by a trained storyteller, to groups of people on cold winter evenings. Yeah, you hear about some interesting people and interesting things happen to them, but they're stuck in some sort of one-dimensional, ambiguity-free world. So, if the writing's no good, even the best story in the world will only earn three stars (case in point: Da Vinci Code, not even to imply it has the best story in the world, but it does have a good one.

Tilting the scales the other way, all I remember from the first time I
read Catcher in the Rye was that Holden got kicked out of school [again] and subsequently went home to New York and wandered around for a while. That's hardly a story, in the classical sense. Can you imagine telling the story of Holden Caulfied to a cabinful of people on a chilly January night? I can, and all the people would be asleep, or maybe they'd be gone, having a nip or vodka at someone else's house before tucking in. What I'm trying to say is that, even though there is a story in Catcher in the Rye, it's not an incredibly strong one. And yet it's the greatest book ever written (that I've read). Not once in J.D. Salinger's masterpiece do I find myself wanting to know what happens next, contrary to Dan Brown's perpetual "where's the GRAIL?!?" and any of the generally despicable "crime" genre, "who done it?". Salinger always lives in the moment, telling you what is happening without building it up into some sort of Rocky vs. Drago scene. That's good writing; I want to read it, not skip ahead to know the ending. That brings me to another point: if knowing the ending "ruins" a book, the book has bad writing. Salinger dedicates CITR to the "casual reader", if he exists (in 1955, presumably), because he reads when he has time, for enjoyment, and not to get to the end of the book. I was disappointed the second time I read CITR, last year, because it didn't just keep going. Salinger is perfect for casual readers, because nearly every page can be seen as a contextless example of good writing.

But enough talking up of Salinger [, who's a genius]. My next example
is Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Very good writing. But the story gets in the way. It's a shame, because I'd like to hear more about what the kid (I have forgotten his name) has to say about a lot more stuff. JSF keeps hanging that "to what lock does this key belong" question in front of us. And some of the interstitial/backstory chapters are slightly off the mark and distracting, sometimes because those stories were too complicated and I couldn't keep all of the characters straight.

But what he did wrong in Extremely Loud, his second novel, he somehow managed to get, spot on, in his first, Everything is Illuminated. This book changed my entire perspective of novels, because I was starting to believe that a "good" (i.e. exciting, mysterious, goal-oriented) story cannot be paired with good writing without overshadowing it. Nope, JSF existed in some parallel dimension where this pairing is possible when he wrote Everything is Illuminated. The most powerful character by far is the Ukrainian guide (I forgot his name, too), and somewhere between his interactions with the "hero" (named Jonathan Safran Foer; I remembered that one), the letters he writes later, and the observations he makes on every aspect of the story, are nothing short of amazing. And then JSF includes, in between "main plot" chapters and the guide's letters, a wonderfully surreal (and surreality is perhaps the best quality of JSF's writing, that I have seen so far) historical recount dating back some 200+ years, of which I never tired of reading.

Two observations that earn this book five stars: I enjoyed reading the book immensely without wanting to skip ahead, and at the end of the book my jaw was hanging open and I wanted to cry [just a bit]. Writing: check. Story: check. Do the writing and story play nicely with each other?: check.

Five stars.

As a final note, and not to take away from the unbelieveable
awesomeness of Everything is Illuminated, but I don't feel like
reading it again. I'm not surprised, because Catcher in the Rye is the
only book I've ever read more than once, but I have to think about why
I don't want to read Everything is Illuminated again, other than
simply wanting to read other books instead. I want to read Salinger
(any of them) over and over again. Let's just say that in a
Salinger-less world, JSF would be on top, but here in this world, this
is not the case.

Everything is Illuminated is awesome. Read it.
Profile Image for Steve.
251 reviews871 followers
March 14, 2012
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 family history, but tales about life in the shtetl, an account narrated by his young Ukrainian translator (Alex), and the correspondence between them. The writing was usually pretty lively no matter whether it was JSF or Alex at the helm. The switching between them kept the pace spritely as well. But with all this energy, something else was lacking. It falls under the more mundane category of editing.

First, there were the gimmicks. There was nothing inherently wrong with them, I just didn’t feel like they were very well-executed. The fact that JSF himself was a character in the novel was a contrivance, but understandable. At least he could write convincingly from that particular point of view. His Ukrainian counterpart, though, Alex, was not as plausible. His narration was meant to be funny, replete with idiomatic inventions and not-quite-right synonyms. For instance, he would close each correspondence with “Guilelessly” rather than “Sincerely.” Actually, that was one of the better ones. Others were more far-fetched, and the repetition got old. That was part of an overall inconsistency in tone, sort of like if a classically trained violinist tried to play hillbilly-style every third or fourth measure.

Good editing could have helped in a few other areas, too. For instance, the sex scenes in the early days of the shtetl didn’t ring true, pre-dating by many years movies like Long Dong Silver where the outlandishness might have been more fitting. The stories, in general, were sort of inane. Then there was an extreme case of Deus ex machina to explain how Alex’s grandfather, who was the putatively blind driver in this investigation, connected to the people they met. Foer was also criticized for overstating the part Ukrainians played in abetting the Nazis in the actual historical event at Trochenbrod (which was the model for his story).

I’m sure Foer is a real talent. My feeling with this one, though, is that he had no one in his corner telling him anything other than how great he was. He’s probably matured since then, as have his people, and the editing is bound to have improved. Can anyone who’s read any of his later books confirm this?

Afterthought: For a much better Holocaust story with a twist, try The Complete Maus.
Profile Image for Shovelmonkey1.
353 reviews874 followers
May 9, 2012

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
Showy, smart - Susan Sontag
Startling, original, comic, tragic - Nicci Gerard
Extraordinary, brilliant, shattering - San Francisco Chronicle
Glittering - Mark Lawson
Bold, exuberant - Daily Mail
Subtle, profound, fantastic, bold, imaginative - Boston Globe
Funny, brilliant - Esquire
Effervescent, reckless, vibrant, playful - TLS
Astonishing, shattering - Independent

See, the covers are spattered, inside and out, with a veritable adjective pebble-dash. Proof, Mr Safran Foer that you are not the only person in possession of a Thesaurus and that even the people at Esquire and the Daily Mail have one too.

Jon-fen is searching for a woman who saved his Grandfather during World War II. To find her, he has travelled from America to the Ukraine. He has only a photograph and a name. He had a map but that was eaten by the bitch. He is helped, and hindered in equal measure by Alex and his Grandfather who is responsible for the bitch. The bitch is a seeing-eye dog called Sammy Davis Jr, Jr. The inclusion of the dog is for humorous purposes. Jonathan is in the Ukraine to uncover a part of his family history, however his presence forces Alex's grandfather to examine his own past too. Alex acts as interpreter and guide and puts his own inimitable spin on the English language. Told in three parts with three separate voices, sadly none of which belong to the bitch, the tone of the book alternates between melancholy, mirth and malapropisms.

This book is difficult to categorise and many people have tried to cram it into the box marked holocaust. Others have said, no it belongs in the box called love. Or family. Or remembering. Or war. Or semi-autobiographical. Or biographical. Or atonement. Or lost. Or old country.

Does it really need to go in a box? Lets just put it on top of the box and see what happens.

Profile Image for Graeme Hinde.
53 reviews3 followers
May 3, 2008
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 example, near the end the hero's grandfather is talking to a statue, and the statue tells a story about a couple living near a waterfall. At first the wife hates the constant noise. Over time she gets used to the sound, until finally she can't hear it at all. She dances and splashes in the falls, completely deaf to the roar. The metaphor is that parents eventually get over the death of a child, and that's essentially true, but it's made dishonest by Foer's lazy cuteness. When you're inside washing dishes maybe you don't hear the waterfall anymore, but if you go up and splash in it, it's deafening.

The cuteness crops up constantly ("first they had meetings every day, then every other day, then every other every other day"). At best I could imagine Peter Faulk reading it to me a la Princess Bride, but even that was an effort to keep up and eventually some piece of repulsiveness would shatter the illusion. All this cuteness, and all this dishonesty, could possibly be overcome, if only the story was good. But it's not. Foer builds up some suspense by withholding information and other cheap trickery, but there's nothing up his sleeve. By the time the big illumination finally comes, we've already pretty much guessed it. This book is all style, no substance, and other than the one great gag, the style isn't very good.
Profile Image for Alex.
1,418 reviews4,381 followers
June 1, 2017
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 quickly gets insufferable; the funny talk disguises what he's actually saying, which is corny.

It's told in several voices: Alex writing to Safran Foer, Alex writing a book, and Safran Foer's history of his family. The multiple voices allow him to comment on himself as he goes: they're each other's critics, peanut galleries, cheering sections and study groups. Safran Foer congratulates Alex on a particularly clever line about families; Alex analyzes the possible symbolism of Safran Foer's grandfather's erotic dead arm. Since actual Safran Foer wrote all of it, this amounts to self-congratulation.

The family history seems to be entirely made up. It goes heavy on the magical realism. (Special debt to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, from whom Foer even borrows the butterflies.) Safran Foer did visit Ukraine when he was 19, but as far as I can tell no part of his family's story is real, even the parts that aren't obviously surreal. That makes you feel a little manipulated; Safran Foer seems to have appropriated the most heart-wrenching stories he knows about Nazis and Jews. It's easy to make an impact with a story about burning people.

Safran Foer belongs to a 21st century school of clown car authors - David Mitchell is another egregious example - who know a lot of tricks but not a lot of truths. Their stories are flashy but there's not a lot going on underneath. Without its razzle-dazzle, this is basically a maudlin and manipulative novel. Some of the tricks are fun! But it's like that old (racist) stereotype about Chinese food: fun to eat but you're hungry an hour later. This book is just okay.
Profile Image for Amy | littledevonnook.
200 reviews1,204 followers
October 28, 2015
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 unearth things relating to Jonathan's family.

- The format of this book is something that I really loved but also something that I have seen criticised. There are chapters which follow Jonathan and Alex in the present time, each one of them telling the story from their point of view (I have to say that I found Alex's jumbled English to be hilarious), but there are also chapters that go back in time to Jonathan's Grandfather and what actually happened to him. This intertwining of present day and the building story of Jonathan's ancestors was beautifully done and I'm eager to read something similar in the future!

- Overall I found the comedic nature of Alex mixed with the more solemn and dark undertones of the novel to be wonderfully written by Foer, I was pulled in and emotionally battered by the end!

- Hilarious, beautiful and heart-breaking. This is definitely a novel I will be rereading in years to come, 5 out of 5 stars from me!
Profile Image for Sharon.
248 reviews101 followers
May 30, 2017
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 heavily on magical realism (I'm normally not a fan).

The above devices can reek of pretension in lesser hands, so until I decided which camp Foer's hands fell in, my hands were on the "abort" button multiple times while reading this.


Some of the razzle dazzles used by Foer (the author of Everything is Illuminated, not the Foer in the novel) were way more successful. And the story is intriguing. One that definitely creeps up on you:

Jonathan travels to the Ukraine in search of a woman named Augustine who saved his grandfather from the Nazis during World War II. He enlists the help of Alex, the translator of a Ukrainian touring company. Accompanying the two are Alex's grandfather (the driver) and the grandfather's "seeing-eye bitch" Sammy Davis Junior, Junior. (A comedy, you most likely will presume? Ha!)

Shit goes down instead. And, as the title promises, everything is illuminated. (Except, everything actually wasn't for me. This book left me with a lot of unanswered questions. ...But in a good way; stay with me.)

Jonathan and Alex trade manuscripts after their journey. The novel is structured in the form of 1) letters (while we read Alex's letters to Jonathan, we never read any letters by Jonathan, only his manuscripts), and 2) the actual manuscripts. Alex's manuscript is more straightforward, and about their travels. Early on, it serves as the humor in the book. Jonathan's manuscript starts out very grandiose, covering the birth of his great, great, great, great, great (forget how many "greats," but there were a lot) grandmother Brod in the Jewish shtetl Trachimbrod, and is full of mysticism and symbolism.

Over the course of the novel, truths are revealed about both Jonathan and Alex's grandfathers. To say more verges on spoiler-territory.

I've covered both the plot and my frustrations above. Below are the strengths:

1: I like nonlinear stories, especially those centered around a life-altering event. This story has that going for it in spades. It feels like a mystery, and the author rewards you for paying attention, like you are solving a puzzle.

2. There are sections that read like John Irving (never a bad thing): tangents that show absurdity, but also humanity, thus making the tragic seem ridiculous. (Brod and the Kolker's love story, for instance, and lame-armed Safran--the grandfather, not Jonathan Safran Foer (...Jesus)--becoming a town gigolo of sorts.)

3) The character of Alex. Alex starts out a bit like Borat: funny, bad at English (hot damn does he love that thesaurus!), and hard to take seriously. However, the transformation of his writing and some of his insights to Jonathan were what made me keep reading.

Sometimes Alex's letters weren't as successful--like Foer was using them as a Cliff Notes of sorts, telling the reader what the author may or may not have been trying to accomplish, or even admitting when it was ok to be confused because Alex was confused, too--but ultimately, these letters were my favorite parts of the book. You got great insight into Jonathan, too, a most "premium person" and his unusual habits: his fear of dogs, his vegetarianism, and his anxiety.

4) When you view the novel as a whole, it's easier to tolerate--and even appreciate--some of Foer's devices. In my mind, the book is an homage to Foer's grandfather. When Alex and Jonathan learn truths about their respective grandfathers and then bicker about which version of the truth to tell (yep, there's some real Life of Pi shit going on in here), I saw the devices and structure as Foer--at the time, a first-time author--exploring the best way to write about his grandfather, and making those struggles a part of the novel. (Kind of like Charlie Kaufman trying to figure out how to adapt The Orchid Thief, and writing Adaptation instead.)

...did Foer even go to the Ukraine? I didn't look it up (yet). Was he inspired by real events experienced by his grandfather? I'm not sure, but it's what I'd like to think after reading this novel, and one of the reasons I was won over in the end. It's a story that will stay with me. A challenging read, both in subject matter and in structure... a bit of a mindfuck if I'm laying it all out there, but still very worthwhile.
Profile Image for Violet wells.
433 reviews3,040 followers
March 7, 2016
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 American called Jonathan Safran Foer travels to the Ukraine with the photograph of the woman believed to have saved his grandfather from the Nazis and who he wants to find. He employs as guides and translators a supposedly blind ancient chauffeur with his guide-dog, and the driver's grandson, Alex, the translator. The village of Trachimbrod is their destination. So what we get is a magic realism history of Trachimbrod in the form of a novel Foer is writing, dating from 1791 to the arrival of the Nazis in 1941; an account of the road trip and letters from Alex to Jonathan about Foer’s novel and his own tribulations.

The Alex sections are brilliant. His second language English is high trapeze crazy and often laugh-out-loud funny thanks to his relentless use of a thesaurus to poeticise his vocabulary. (“"I fatigued the thesaurus you presented me, as you counseled me to, when my words appeared petite, or not befitting.") But it isn’t just a cheap comic trick and Alex soon becomes not only the most compelling character in the novel but also the most admirable. The history of Trachimbrond unfortunately is hit and miss. Foer letting his imaginative vitality and perhaps his vanity get the better of him. Because sometimes Foer just isn’t as funny as he so obviously finds himself. And because sometimes Foer’s relentless wackiness plummets into whimsy. And because sometimes his determination to create adorable characters waters down into the sentimentality he struggles so hard to avoid.
Profile Image for Nils Samuels.
32 reviews3 followers
July 13, 2007
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.
Profile Image for Lucy.
475 reviews592 followers
June 4, 2008
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 that...it'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 tempo and direction of the book. Sometimes, the stories of cruelty are cover-your-eyes horrible. Sometimes, the situations are uncomfortably obscene. Sometimes, the story and characters are folklorist-y bizarre. Sometimes, it's modern-age hilarious. A lot of the time, it's furrow-your-brow confusing. Everything definitely did not get illuminated for me.

With broad, sweeping strokes, I'll attempt to give a basic summary of the book. A young 20 year-old Jewish man, whose name also happens to be Jonathan Safran Foer, travels to the Ukraine in an attempt to track down a woman in a photograph named Augustine, who saved his grandfather from the Nazis. To help him, he hires a tour guide/translator named Alex, whose English appears to have been mostly learned directly from a thesaurus. The nouns and verbs he chooses are almost always slightly off, but kind of, sort of close, and the reader is forced to translate almost all of Alex's narrative into actual English. Part of the book is written as letters from Alex to Jonathan as explanations for his translations and editions. Some of it is what the character Jonathan Safran Foer writes as his novel (after his return from his trip) and some of it is narrative of the actual trip, given by Alex. When the parts are put together as a whole novel, the reader is forced to be quite patient and thorough to finish the book actually understanding all of what happened, and even more willing to be content with its loose ends that will never be tied.

While Alex's broken English can certainly be funny, it slows down the pace of the novel (because it's impossible to read it fast) too much. Thankfully, his conversational skills do improve and his letters to Jonathan towards the end are much more accessible. Additionally, because both Alex and Jonathan are young and male, there is quite a bit of sexual humor that turns out to be quite harmless, and even slightly endearing, but still makes the overall effect a bit R-rated.

There are so many characters to keep track of and I'm not exactly certain if I figured out who was who and if they mattered. Ultimately, I think most didn't matter because, again, I think the take-home message is meant to be about the horrors of the holocaust and how good people can do bad things. If not, then I missed a whole lot.

If you do attempt this book, read it patiently. It might help to read it as part of a group effort. Then, perhaps if you're able to talk it through and everyone brings their own understanding into a collective whole, everything about this novel might actually BECOME illuminated.
Profile Image for Sheri.
1,204 reviews
February 5, 2013
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 book. Yes, Foer is creative and yes, Alex's voice is quite good (funny and honest and sympathetically not-offensive because the cultural differences are so transparent in the writing). BUT the whole novel is just long and boring and not really very enlightening (sorry, I could not bring myself to write illuminating).

I get the Ulysses reference (thank you James Joyce for putting a play inside a novel and making it so absurd and dreamlike that we can call it "art"), especially as a sexual reference for Safran's conquests and Bloom's masturbatory wishes but I found it annoying and unnecessary and hard to read.

I was bothered by the anachronistic stuff. If Foer wants to start his story in 1791, he needs to actually write about 1791 and not give his tiny little obscure Russian village things like welcome mats and ovens and newspapers and novels. THEY DIDN'T HAVE THAT SHIT IN 1791! His characters in 1804 (Kolki and Brod) should also not have conversations about having a meaningful conversation (my understanding is that a Russian peasant in the 1800s would most likely NOT want this from his wife), or argue about TOILET PAPER ROLLS.

Ultimately the book was about love; not that love can save us or necessarily redeem us but that love will conquer us. No matter how we try to insulate or prevent or avoid, love will weasel its way into our lives and force us to make difficult decisions and face dire consequences. Early on Brod has to "satisfy herself with the idea of love--loving the loving of things whose existence she didn't care at all about. Love itself became the object of her love."

I still haven't figured out how Foer made a WWII love story so ridiculously boring, non-compelling, and tough to read; but I did not enjoy this at all.
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