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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Kooky and inventive novel of two young men's coming of age., 25 Nov 2005
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
The eccentric and attention-seeking graphics of the bookjacket convey the idea that this book is fresh, daring, kooky, and inventive--and the book is all these things! But it is also serious and thoughtful, touching on universal themes and the essence of what makes us human. With young "heroes" who are sometimes both earnest and sweetly vulnerable, the book contains moments of profound melancholy, as well as deep sadness, behind its bravado and its finger-snapping brio.
Jonathan Safran Foer, a character bearing the same name as the author, is looking for the woman he believes saved his grandfather Safran from the Nazis. Traveling to the Ukraine, he meets Alex Perchov, a young man representing a Ukrainian travel agency which specializes in taking tourists to the sites of vanished shetls. Alex, a not-quite-fluent translator, and his "blind" grandfather, who serves as the driver, travel with Jonathan to the site of Trachimbrod, his family's village, collecting stories and legends which will help Jonathan learn about his family and his Ukrainian Jewish heritage.
Parts of the book are a bit sophomoric. (How many farting dog jokes does one need? And do we really need to know the details of Grandfather Safran's 132 mistresses?) The fictional Jonathan's letters and comments as he writes a novel about his trip are an artificial device for dealing, perhaps, with the author's uncertainties and/or heading off criticism, while the chapters he includes for Alex's review, are, of course, the actual chapters of this book. And Alex's misuse of language, while often very funny, begins to pall after numerous repetitions.
But these are minor criticisms in view of the author's immense achievement in dynamically presenting two young men as they explore who they are, where they come from, and how they fit in the world. As the sought-after story of each boy's grandfather emerges, the depth and breadth of family relationships and cultural history become clearer to character and reader alike. The dramatic and moving conclusion clearly establishes Foer's credentials as a brilliant new talent. Mary Whipple
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An unusual style, 26 April 2008
By 
DubaiReader "MaryAnne" (Rowlands Castle, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)   
Chosen as a book group read, at least half the members gave up because of the language. Those of us who persevered actually quite enjoyed it.
The language is supposed to be a Ukrainian's idea of well spoken English - based on a severe overuse and misunderstanding of the Thesaurus.
This was quite cleverly done, however, and gave rise to a few chuckles throughout the book.

The story is based around a visit made by an American, coincidentally called Jonathan Safran Foer, to the Ukrainian village of Trachimbrod, to track down the woman who saved his Jewish father from the Nazis. He hires Alexander as guide and interpreter. They are accompanied by Alexander's supposedly blind grandfather as driver and a truly disgusting dog.
The narrative is revealed through letters written between JSF and Alexander as they piece together a story that is ostensibly fiction but is based on the atrocities of the war and the history of Trachimbrod over the preceding 200 or so years.

According to an interview with the author, he did make such a trip to the Ukraine but found nothing at all, no evidence of the village and no living relatives or contacts. The visit did, however, produce a rather unusual piece of fiction!

Having been assured by other reviewers that his second novel is even better, I look forward to the author's more recent book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mostly illuminated, 1 April 2008
By 
E. A Solinas "ea_solinas" (MD USA) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
Jonathan Safran Foer takes literary risks and entertaining leaps in his debut novel, "Everything is Illuminated," an amusing chunk of magical realism. It's a tragicomic experience, centering on the devastation of the Holocaust, and a modern-day quest for the past.

A young Jewish American man -- same name as the author, Jonathan Safran Foer -- travels to the Ukraine. His reason: to locate Augustine, a woman who apparently saved his grandfather from the Nazis... only he just has a photo to guide him. He's accompanied by an annoying, flatulent dog, and an old man haunted by war memories.

He also corresponds with the old man's quirky grandson Alex, and new revelations are made about both young men through their letters. And in the third story-line, we are treated to the history of Trachimbrod, an endearing shtetl full of peculiar people... which was destroyed by the Nazis long ago.

"Everything is Illuminated" seems to be primarily about the past and present, and how those two things connect. To twentysomethings now, World War II seems as distant in some ways as the Trojan War, unless brought to life by someone else's words. Foer may not have been there during the Holocaust, but his unique novel will leave you thinking and wondering about the past.

It's certainly an unconventional story. Foer has a quirky, offbeat style that gets a little off-kilter. And he bends everything from his narrative to the characters to the English language ("spleening"?). Not to mention reality -- by naming his alter ego Jonathan Safran Foer, he blurs the line between fiction and reality. Is this based on anything real? Does Alex exist? Is there a Trachimbrod? At the end of the day, none of it matters. Even if these things don't actually exist, they certainly do have real counterparts.

Foer's book is not quite a work of genius. Sometimes the fragmented, topsy-turvy narrative runs away from him. Not to mention that the in-jokes -- the flatulent dog, the Russo-American dialect -- do not age terribly well. But the humor and magical realism tinges start to fade as the Holocaust looms overhead. While the opening chapters may make you laugh, it becomes far deeper and more intricate later on.

"Everything" may not be totally illuminated, but it is a quirky, sometimes saddening book that stumbles and takes a few risks. A flawed but excellent debut.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A great read, 1 July 2013
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I would recommend this book to anyone who wants an intelligent and funny read.

It was recommended to me by a colleague and it had me rolling around the floor laughing!

Fantastic characters, though the story may seem to some to be lacking. It's all about the language, I feel.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Well crafted and thought provoking, 18 Dec 2011
By 
GT (Alton) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
A worthwhile read, which juxtaposes the lives of a jewish family in Europe. Beautifully written with humour and sadness, combining truly horrific scenes from Nazi Germany to amusing self-effacing characters in modern Eastern Europe. An excellent read with 'highs' and 'lows' and some fairly punchy messages, gleaned from insightful glimpses of human behaviour and past catastrophes.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Mostly illuminated, 1 Oct 2008
By 
E. A Solinas "ea_solinas" (MD USA) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
Jonathan Safran Foer takes literary risks and entertaining leaps in his debut novel, "Everything is Illuminated," an amusing chunk of magical realism. It's a tragicomic experience, centering on the devastation of the Holocaust, and a modern-day quest for the past.

A young Jewish American man -- same name as the author, Jonathan Safran Foer -- travels to the Ukraine. His reason: to locate Augustine, a woman who apparently saved his grandfather from the Nazis... only he just has a photo to guide him. He's accompanied by an annoying, flatulent dog, and an old man haunted by war memories.

He also corresponds with the old man's quirky grandson Alex, and new revelations are made about both young men through their letters. And in the third story-line, we are treated to the history of Trachimbrod, an endearing shtetl full of peculiar people... which was destroyed by the Nazis long ago.

"Everything is Illuminated" seems to be primarily about the past and present, and how those two things connect. To twentysomethings now, World War II seems as distant in some ways as the Trojan War, unless brought to life by someone else's words. Foer may not have been there during the Holocaust, but his unique novel will leave you thinking and wondering about the past.

It's certainly an unconventional story. Foer has a quirky, offbeat style that gets a little off-kilter. And he bends everything from his narrative to the characters to the English language ("spleening"?). Not to mention reality -- by naming his alter ego Jonathan Safran Foer, he blurs the line between fiction and reality. Is this based on anything real? Does Alex exist? Is there a Trachimbrod? At the end of the day, none of it matters. Even if these things don't actually exist, they certainly do have real counterparts.

Foer's book is not quite a work of genius. Sometimes the fragmented, topsy-turvy narrative runs away from him. Not to mention that the in-jokes -- the flatulent dog, the Russo-American dialect -- do not age terribly well. But the humor and magical realism tinges start to fade as the Holocaust looms overhead. While the opening chapters may make you laugh, it becomes far deeper and more intricate later on.

"Everything" may not be totally illuminated, but it is a quirky, sometimes saddening book that stumbles and takes a few risks. A flawed but excellent debut.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A book that grips you from the beginning, 23 May 2007
By 
Linda Oskam "dutch-traveller" (Amsterdam Netherlands) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
The Jewish main character, who has the same name as the author, goes to the Ukraine to find the woman who saved his grandfather's life when the Germans attacked his native village Trachimbrod in World War II. During this quest he is accompanied by Alex, the son of the owner of the travel agency where he has booked his trip, Alex' grandfather and the dog Sammy Davis Junior Junior. A number of story lines are intertwined: Jonathan tells the story of Trachimbrod, Alex the history of the quest and in between we read the letters that Alex writes after Jonathan has returned to the USA.

Alex writes in beautifully wrong English which at times leads to hilarious sentences and the story of the village is also intertwined with anecdotes that made me cry with laughter. But there is an undertow of deep sadness which comes to a climax during the description of the Nazi destruction of the village. A great book that makes you laugh and cry, grips you from the beginning and does not let you go. A fantastic debut of a writer who is only 25 years old.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An unusual style, 26 April 2008
By 
DubaiReader "MaryAnne" (Rowlands Castle, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)   
Chosen as a book group read, at least half the members gave up because of the language. Those of us who persevered actually quite enjoyed it.
The language is supposed to be a Ukrainian's idea of well spoken English - based on a severe overuse and misunderstanding of the Thesaurus.
This was quite cleverly done, however, and gave rise to a few chuckles throughout the book.

The story is based around a visit made by an American, coincidentally called Jonathan Safran Foer, to the Ukrainian village of Trachimbrod, to track down the woman who saved his Jewish father from the Nazis. He hires Alexander as guide and interpreter. They are accompanied by Alexander's supposedly blind grandfather as driver and a truly disgusting dog.
The narrative is revealed through letters written between JSF and Alexander as they piece together a story that is ostensibly fiction but is based on the atrocities of the war and the history of Trachimbrod over the preceding 200 or so years.

According to an interview with the author, he did make such a trip to the Ukraine but found nothing at all, no evidence of the village and no living relatives or contacts. The visit did, however, produce a rather unusual piece of fiction!

Having been assured by other reviewers that his second novel is even better, I look forward to the author's more recent book.
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Everything is Illuminated
Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer (Paperback - 2003)
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