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Everything is Illuminated Paperback – 5 Jun 2003
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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 TimesSee all Product description
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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.
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Reading the opening chapters of this book I was minded of a Roald...Read more