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Everything is Illuminated Paperback – 5 Jun 2003

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (5 Jun 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141008253
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141008257
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.8 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (86 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 14,033 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jonathan Safran Foer is the author of the bestseller Everything Is Illuminated, named Book of the Year by the Los Angeles Times and the winner of numerous awards, including the Guardian First Book Prize, the National Jewish Book Award, and the New York Public Library Young Lions Prize. Foer was one of Rolling Stone's "People of the Year" and Esquire's "Best and Brightest." Foreign rights to his new novel have already been sold in ten countries. The film of Everything Is Illuminated, directed by Liev Schreiber and starring Elijah Wood, will be released in August 2005. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close has been optioned for film by Scott Rudin Productions in conjunction with Warner Brothers and Paramount Pictures. Foer lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Product Description

Amazon Review

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 bitch, 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 and Latka from the US television series Taxi. (Sentences such as "It is mammoth honour for me write for a writer, especially when he is American writer, like Ernest Hemingway"; "It is bad and popular habit for people in Ukraine to take things without asking" are the norm.) Interspersed between these letters are fragments of a novel by "Safran Foer"--a wonderfully imagined, almost magical realist, account of life in the Shetl 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. Admittedly he has an annoying habit of capitalising great chunks of text, but minor typographical nuances are easy to ignore in a book that combines some of the best Jewish folk yarns since Isaac Bashevis Singer with a quite heartbreaking meditation on love, friendship and loss. --Travis Elborough --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


'An astonishing feat' The Times

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Mingo Bingo VINE VOICE on 28 Feb 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There is no doubt that this is a very clever book. It's clever in concept, clever in structure, clever in use of language and clever in composition. There are reams of congratulatory quotes all over the cover that announce it's cleverness. The question I'm left with having finished it is, is being clever enough?

The basic story follows Jonathan Safran Foer as he visits Ukraine to try and find the woman, Augustine, who saved his grandfather during the war and to research for a novel he is planning to write on his family history. He is helped in this search by a translator, Alex, driven about the country by Alex's "blind" grandfather and is repeatedly dry humped by their dog Sammy Davis Jr, Jr.

Immediately here lies one of the major problems with this book. Alex's grandfather isn't really blind, he just pretends to be, but continues to act as a driver. The dog is called Sammy Davis Jr, Jr as the original dog, Sammy Davis Jr, has died. As far as I can tell neither of these facts mean anything or serve any purpose other than being a little bit quirky and to me proved a distraction rather than an enhancement.

The story is told in a cleverly (that word again) fractured way. Alex narrates events from his viewpoint, in broken English. This strand is well crafted, but is essentially just one joke, which, since this book was released, has been firmly claimed by Borat. Then we see Alex's half of a letter conversation in which he discusses with Jonathan the accuracy of his narration and the finer points of his command of the English language. The third strand is the text of the novel which Jonathan is writing. This is written in a faux-high-literary style and concerns itself with the history of the town, Trachimbrod, from which his family originated.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By BookWorm TOP 500 REVIEWER on 5 Nov 2007
Format: Paperback
An unusual and ambitious book, I found 'Everything is Illumniated' easier to read and more enjoyable than I first expected. The story is narrated by two young men living the 1990s, both struggling to understand the past of their grandparents during World War II and the effect that it has on their own present lives.

Jonathan is an American Jew who travels to the Ukraine in search of his family history. His sections of the story are a novel he is writing about his family in Ukraine from the 18th century up until 1942. These sections are strange and a little disjointed, and rather surreal - think Garcia Marquez or Rushdie. I found these sections harder to read and sometimes annoying as I felt they distracted attention from the 'real' story.

The other narrator is Alex, a Ukrainian youth who acts as Jonathan's translator and guide. Alex dreams of emigrating to America and escaping his unhappy family life. Alex's sections consist of letters he writes to Jonathan after the latter has returned home, and of the story of their trip together in search of Jonathan's past. These are written in a rather amusing broken English. A device that elsewhere I often find annoying and hard to read is here used to great comic and narrative effect. I found it readable and it added humour to what is ultimately a rather bleak story.

The humourous nature of Alex's earlier sections lull the reader into a false sense of security. The story unfolds to tell of the horrors committed in Ukraine by the Nazis, affecting both Jews and non-Jews. As the tale progresses the humour becomes lesser and the contrast between the amusing early chapters and the later ones heightens the emotional impact of the ending.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By T. Watson on 24 July 2008
Format: Paperback
I bought this book on the strength of reading on the back cover that there was a dog in it called Sammy Davis Jr, Jr.

After reading the first page and wiping the tears of laughter from my eyes, I gleefully launched into the book walking down the pavement upon leaving the book store. To my initial disappointment the hilarity didn't continue unabated, and the book's structure took some getting used to - it is effectively a series of letters between two young men (one from the US and one from Ukraine who is armed with a thesaurus and has no fear of using it); interspersed with the narration of the two men's journey through Ukraine in search of the village of the American's forbears, which was wiped out by the Nazis; alongside a story based in the village, but from a much earlier time.

The humour does continue to thread its way through the story, but a human tenderness, and a great deal of pain also figure prominently as the story evolves.

Upon finishing the book I had been strongly moved, and had laughed out loud several times. I will enjoy reading it again.

As a word of caution though, if you don't enjoy word play, and weren't the type of kid who sat writing out their sentences including the words from their primary school weekly spelling list armed with a thesaurus and a determination to use the fanciest words possible at all times, then you may not find the humour quite so humorous!
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48 of 54 people found the following review helpful By W. R. Saunders on 30 Mar 2008
Format: Paperback
Everything is Unbearably Smart.

This novel I picked up with out any preconceptions, and without anything to colour my interpretations. But there was a lot of praise printed in and on the covers, and Elijah Wood looked out at me from front image, so as I started I anticipated an interesting read, worthy of not scant praise, and a film interpretation, and that it was, in places.

I'll be honest when I say that by the end I was willing it to finish. I was tired of Safran Foer's typographic gymnastics, and the rambling narrative. There are moments of cutting poignancy, and occasions when I was charmed by the clever prose. But the charm of the character Alex's broken English wears off - it just becomes labourious, a critisicm that could be levied against the whole book. Safran Foer seems to take great pleasure in twisting up syntax and grammar, idiom, turn of phrase, and turning it on its head. Sometimes his sentences are so inward looking they seem palindromic. You read it and think, 'Well that's a smart bit of linguistic contortion, but I hate you for putting my through it, page after page, chapter after chapter'. By the end of this book, I was blinded from the posthumously evident sadness and power of the narrative because of the tortuous language use. Don't get me wrong, I'm no prescriptivist when it comes to language use, but I get the feeling with this book that Safran Foer isn't playing with language for the good of the story, but for his own cryptic pleasure.

So this morning I finished the book, and I sighed with relief. I think this author is a brave one, and perhaps greatness will follow, but this was not a masterwork.
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