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Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran…

Everything Is Illuminated (original 2002; edition 2002)

by Jonathan Safran Foer

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11,261197249 (3.89)302
Title:Everything Is Illuminated
Authors:Jonathan Safran Foer
Info:Houghton Mifflin Company (2002), Hardcover, 288 pages
Collections:Your library, To read

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Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer (2002)


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Perhaps my expectations were too high. Perhaps my expectations were to down to Earth.

Or perhaps [b:Everything Is Illuminated|256566|Everything Is Illuminated|Jonathan Safran Foer|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1327865538s/256566.jpg|886727] is just a bit overrated.

Let the reader beware books that come packaged with literary aspirations and disguised by tricks and strange formatting. There may be something there, but it might just as well be literary fluff.

Everything is Illuminated is Jonathan Safron Foer's first book, but the second of his that I've read. His second, [b:Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close|4588|Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close|Jonathan Safran Foer|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1327879967s/4588.jpg|1940137], was far more interesting, better written, and more credibly worthwhile fiction. In fact, it was on the weight of Extremely Loud that I picked up Everything is Illuminated (well, that and my book club had voted to read it, but you know what they say about democracy).

I should also admit that just prior to reading Everything is Illuminated, I finished William Manchester's three volume biography of Winston Churchill and Unbroken by Laura Hillebrandt. In recent years, I've read [b:HHhH|13166622|HHhH|Laurent Binet|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1344315740s/13166622.jpg|12476227] by Laurent Binet, [b:Frozen in Time|16248142|Frozen in Time An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II|Mitchell Zuckoff|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1359983316s/16248142.jpg|22276989] and [b:Lost in Shangri-la|9729504|Lost in Shangri-la A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II|Mitchell Zuckoff|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1299264036s/9729504.jpg|14618372] by Mitchell Zuckoff, and [b:With Wings Like Eagles|3534214|With Wings Like Eagles|Michael Korda|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1401645168s/3534214.jpg|3576173] by Michael Korda, just to name a few. I very much enjoy World War II history, and while I'm no historian, I am sensitive to the nuances of the period.

Foer is anything but sensitive to the nuances, let alone the bare historical facts. Rather, Foer seems to rely more on his reader being vaguely aware the World War II happened and that a lot of people (especially Jews) died. But at whose hands? And what were the times like? And what are the times like now? His approach becomes far more fantastical and...strange?

Which brings me back to expectations. Perhaps if I had opened the book expecting a literary fantasy (I think the academic types would call it something akin to "magic realism," not too far from [a:Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez's|13450|Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1408500613p2/13450.jpg] [b:One Hundred Years of Solitude|320|One Hundred Years of Solitude|Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1327881361s/320.jpg|3295655]), then I may have been able to swallow it better.

Expectations aside, there are moments when the writer that Foer will become (is becoming?) shine through in distinctive and memorable ways. One of my favorite aspects of the novel is the voice of Foer's driver/guide during his visit to Eastern Europe. While at times Foer seems to overwrite the character, the effect is in general humorous as he seems to utilize an English thesaurus to come up with words that would not otherwise apply. I lived in Eastern Europe for two years in my late teens and early twenties, and I could hear the echo of individuals I knew then as they learned English, often using words and phrases they did not know and completely out of appropriate context.

Everything is Illuminated has moments of brilliance, but overall was disappointing to me. Perhaps I'm just not literary enough to appreciate the nuance Foer is going for, but I suspect that it's more likely that it's more a product of Foer's early efforts as a writer. Add to this a heartbreakingly depressing ending--not because of the Holocaust, but because Foer seems to just run out of steam and decide to damn all his characters to horrible endings--and it was a tough book for me to enjoy. ( )
  publiusdb | Jun 4, 2015 |
I suspect that most people, after reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s first novel, will consider him either some sort of literary con artist trickster or a brilliant new voice in postmodern fiction. I myself see him as a lit bit of both, although I lean toward the latter estimation.

“Everything is Illuminated” tells an unconventional story in an exponentially unconventional manner. The non-linear narrative blends the stories of a character named Jonathan Safran Foer—who is recreating the story of his grandfather’s (and his grandfather’s ancestors) origin in the shtetls of the Ukraine before World War II. Jonathan is seeking the identity of the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis. Therefore, he enlists the aid of Sasha, a young, hip Ukrainian who relates the tale from his perspective using a version of English distinguished by misappropriated vocabulary and a cooler-than-thou attitude. Add to the mix Sasha’s crotchety grandfather—who might or might not have known the woman who saved Jonathan’s grandfather—and a feisty dog named Sammy Davis Junior Junior, add you’re in for a unique, wry but ultimately poignant tale of two contemporary young men who are searching in the past for some meaning in the present.

Despite the book’s relative brevity (it runs just 276 pages), portions of the narrative can take some time to navigate. The characters’ dialogue is not always structured in the conventional manner—it often runs together in one paragraph without clear cues as to who is speaking to whom (such as the customary new paragraph whenever the speaker changes), and Sasha’s narration can be very difficult to understand due to his misuse of colloquial English and his unusual syntax (here’s a hint—read his sections out loud for better comprehension). Your efforts, however, will certainly be rewarded. ( )
  jimrgill | Mar 26, 2015 |
I don't know how to describe my feelings for this book. I didn't LOVE it, but I didn't dislike it at all either. The easiest way to describe it is this: when I was reading this book, I enjoyed doing so, but once I put it down, I had a hard time picking it back up.

I wanted to badly to love this book, which may have done a disservice to the writing. Much like a movie that gets to much hype, a book that has gotten a lot of praise by critics and friends alike can seem lackluster once you finally read it.

The book is written in two different voices, but three different styles. Jonathan's character wrote the history of his grandfather and Trachimbrod, while Alex wrote the present-day sections, as well as letters that are included in which Alex questions Jonathan's intentions with the historical portion of the book. It was a very interesting way to learn the story and the characters.

Maybe I'll give this book another try in a year or so. I still want to love this book. I just don't think it's going to happen for me. But I would still recommend it to friends and family, as well as other Goodreads members, if only for the wit and the style. If you want to read Foer's work, this is definitely where you should start ( )
  CarleyShea | Feb 5, 2015 |
When I first discovered that the writer was using himself as one of the main characters I checked my passports for an ego trip, but it comes off very naturally. There are three stories going on at once: one recounting the history of a Jewish shtetl in the 1700’s and one recounting the protagonists family in the 1940’s and the third is the search for a mysterious woman in the present. The separate stories are great alone, but when you find out how they are tied together, that’s the real treat. Foer is brilliant at creating laugh out loud moments that blend into scenes of unbelievable horror that at the end leave a lump in your throat. It is the kind of book that when you finish it you have to just sit there a moment to absorb what you have read. ( )
  vlcraven | Jan 7, 2015 |
I read this hoping it would illuminate some of the things I was confused by in the movie. It kind of did a little, but then there were more confusing unclear things. It was good, but I struggled to connect with the characters. ( )
  jaelikesbooks | Sep 23, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 184 (next | show all)
In Everything is Illuminated, Jonathan Safran Foer creates an unflinching plot that hits readers, like myself, who are unaccustomed to such profound writing.

» Add other authors (15 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jonathan Safran Foerprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Abelsen, PeterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Shina, ScottNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Woodman, JeffNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Simply and impossibly: For My Family
First words
My legal name is Alexander Perchov.
One day you will do things for me that you hate. That is what it means to be family.
The only thing worse than being sad is for others to know that you are sad.
What is wrong with you?
Nothing, I just don't eat meat!
Grandfather informs me that is not possible.
With writing, we have second chances.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0060529709, Paperback)

The simplest thing would be to describe Everything Is Illuminated, Jonathan Safran Foer's accomplished debut, as a novel about the Holocaust. It is, but that really fails to do justice to the sheer ambition of this book. The main story is a grimly familiar one. A young Jewish American--who just happens to be called Jonathan Safran Foer--travels to the Ukraine in the hope of finding the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis. He is aided in his search by Alex Perchov, a naïve Ukrainian translator, Alex's grandfather (also called Alex), and a flatulent mongrel dog named Sammy Davis Jr. Jr. On their journey through Eastern Europe's obliterated landscape they unearth facts about the Nazi atrocities and the extent of Ukrainian complicity that have implications for Perchov as well as Safran Foer. This narrative is not, however, recounted from (the character) Jonathan Safran Foer's perspective. It is relayed through a series of letters that Alex sends to Foer. These are written in the kind of broken Russo-English normally reserved for Bond villains or Latka from Taxi. Interspersed between these letters are fragments of a novel by Safran Foer--a wonderfully imagined, almost magical realist, account of life in the shtetl before the Nazis destroyed it. These are in turn commented on by Alex, creating an additional metafictional angle to the tale.

If all this sounds a little daunting, don't be put off; Safran Foer is an extremely funny as well as intelligent writer who combines some of the best Jewish folk yarns since Isaac Bashevis Singer with a quite heartbreaking meditation on love, friendship, and loss. --Travis Elborough, Amazon.co.uk

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:46 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Hilarious, energetic, and profoundly touching, a debut novel follows a young writer as he travels to the farmlands of Eastern Europe, where he embarks on a quest to find Augustine, the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis, and, guided by his young Ukrainian translator, he discovers an unexpected past that will resonate far into the future. 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. By turns comic and tragic, but always passionate, wildly inventive, and touched with an indelible humanity, this debut novel is a powerful, deeply felt story of searching: for the past, family, and truth.… (more)

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2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141008253, 0141037326

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