Kim's Reviews > Everything Is Illuminated

Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
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's review
Nov 10, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: favorite-authors, contemporary, mmix

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 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.

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Reading Progress

November 10, 2008 – Shelved
September 12, 2009 – Shelved as: favorite-authors
September 12, 2009 – Shelved as: contemporary
Started Reading
September 13, 2009 – Finished Reading
December 13, 2009 – Shelved as: mmix

Comments (showing 1-39 of 39) (39 new)

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message 1: by Michelle (new)

Michelle I liked your review, but why'd you have to drag Coetzee into it.

Once again, you make me want to read this guy.

message 2: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim I'm a bitch... I shouldn't have said that but it was late and yeah... bitch.

Stephen Passionate review.

Gabrielle 'Team Foer'!!!

message 5: by Kim (last edited Sep 14, 2009 12:36AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim mmm... Passionate sounds so cool. Was it the Twilight reference? ;)

*high fives Gabrielle*

Matthieu I guess we can't be friends, Kim...

message 7: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim You're too young to be so negative, Matthew. :) You have yet to explain your hatred of JSF. I'm waiting.

message 8: by Printable Tire (new)

Printable Tire I'm up to reading this, but I'm sick of every book that's come out in the goddamn last 10 years being about "memory" and the immigrant tale.

It's so tired I can do an adlib of any review in the New York Times Book Review: "____ is a haunting story about memory, loss, and the blah blah blah."

I'm so sick of "memory." Give me forgets.

message 9: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim Nicely put, Patrick. This is why I'm glad I didn't read this when it was the 'hot, new thing' or whatever that translates in NYTBR speak.

It seems to be more of a love/hate thing with Foer. Hopefully, you're not steered down the hatah path. (*cough* Matt *cough*)

message 10: by Matthieu (last edited Sep 13, 2009 10:42PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Matthieu Foer just comes across as fake to me. He's like the male equivalent of Zadie Smith.

message 11: by Kim (last edited Sep 14, 2009 03:29AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim I've never read Zadie Smith, Matthew. What makes her fake?

Edit: Chris really liked White Teeth. Maybe I'll give it a shot. You'll still be my friend, right? ;)

message 12: by Chris (last edited Sep 14, 2009 05:08AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Chris I met Zadie Smith at a book signing and practically fell in love with the woman. White Teeth is a fantastic book and On Beauty is pretty darn good as well.

Matt seems unwilling (or unable?) to give any real reasons for his strong dislike for these young authors. It's strange, especially since he doesn't appear to have ever read anything by Jonathan Safran Foer, or Zadie Smith, or Dave Eggers, or [insert name of relatively successful young author:].

message 13: by Chris (last edited Sep 14, 2009 04:59AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Chris I don't know the lady on the left, but I wouldn't be surprised if Matt hates her too!

[image error]

Matthieu Pretty hostile, huh?

Chris I'm just having some fun with you, Matt. I just happened upon a photo of the two of them and thought it was funny.

Matthieu I didn't see the photo—I was half-asleep and checking on my phone... but yeah, that's pretty funny. I didn't mean to come across as harsh. I misunderstood what you said. Sorry, Chris.

message 17: by [deleted user] (new)

Jonathan Safran Foerever.

message 18: by Jill (last edited Sep 15, 2009 02:22AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jill Kim--such a wonderful, spot on review. I was absolutely hysterical during the story of Grandfather and Herschel as it built to a crescendo. I'm a jaded reader, so very few things can affect me like that! And ending the book in the middle of a sentence? I thought I was going to die when my audio book just.....stopped.

message 19: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim Thanks Jill! You did the audio version? Have you seen the book? I wonder how they did the Grandfather/Herschel part--in the book the wordsstarttoruntogether and repeat and... it makes an impact.

Dorothea I love this review.

message 21: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim Thank you, Dorothea! That's very kind.

Lorehorrible i'm a bit late (i always am, for everything), but i just finished this book and also your review and we should be best friends.

message 23: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim hahaha! That's awesome! Thanks, Lorehorrible!

Rosalba I never read reviews... they're so full of nonsense, but I LOVED yours. I agree with so many parts of what you wrote =)

Jessica Mavaro God, I am so glad but not surprised that many other people are incredibly moved by his work. Why do his characters creep into your very soul and make you feel so connected and protective of them that you almost feel hopeless? I can't describe the feelings that I get when I read foer. But hands down, they are the strongest and most complex feelings that an author has ever evoked in me. Cheers to team foer :)

Alice43 Kim, I loved your review,I started it last night and it just got my attention from the start.

message 27: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim That's great, Alice! I hope you love it!

Alice43 Kim, I finished the book and I have to agree with you,I loved it.I also watched the movie but it did not do it justice and no fault of the movie producer,it is after all so much more to fit into less than 2 hours.

As of Free Will, have you read the book by Sam Harris. Food for thought.

message 29: by Betsey (new) - added it

Betsey C. Kim, you're in a league all your own. Certainly we are not in the same but i like reading your reviews just the same. They inspire me to be a more insightful reader. Thank you!

message 30: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim Thanks, Betsey!!! :)

Kathryn well Kim, let me know when your book comes out, I'm all over it. Your review is as lovely as this book is, and I'm only half way through the audio version > which is wonderful!!! thanks for your review.... and seriously... looking forward to reading your book one day.

message 32: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim Thank you, Kathryn! That is very sweet!!! :)

message 33: by Robin Wang (new)

Robin Wang wow thats a great review Kim (-:

message 34: by Robin Wang (new)

Robin Wang wow thats a great review Kim (-:

message 35: by Robin Wang (new)

Robin Wang wow thats a great review Kim (-:

message 36: by Sara (new) - added it

Sara Beautiful review. When a review makes me cry....thanks.

message 37: by Elin (new) - rated it 4 stars

Elin I clung on to the same Kim, as well as:
(The five generations between Brod and Safran, pg. 210)

message 38: by Sam (new)

Sam Such eloquence, such simplistic, such humane and such moving review I haven't read in a long time.

message 39: by Ashley (new)

Ashley Dowds I’ve only just finished the book in a very public cafe (mentioned because I am blinking back emotion) in Muizenburg and leaped over to the app here to check in with what readers felt as they too had come to this end.
You can never get back to the past, this moment that ‘hangs as if on strings’... Never stop what is coming. Safran Foer, 21 yrs old when he wrote this!? That sparse, lined page looks contrived (seconds before the Nazi bombs rain down in Trchimbrod) but when you get there, oh God the world stops. And the segments of story delivered in just the right moments is so finely crafted, I will carry this with me forever.

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