As it turned out, I did enjoy Everything is Illuminated quite a bit, but I'm afraid that the reverse has happened: Jonathan Safran Foer may be one of those authors whose first work read becomes the favorite. My first experience was one of wonder--everything felt fun and original, his writing, his characters, his story were all grounds for discovery. This second experience wasn't as glittery and new. The characters held a similar quirkiness to his other characters; the writing had a cadence that was no longer unique. I enjoyed it, I appreciated it, but it didn't hold quite the magic for me that the other did.
That being said, Foer does manage to present his ideas through very different people and their very different circumstances, making the way the story ties together all the more meaningful. Each person that Oskar encounters as he makes his way through New York City has a story, just as each person we pass each day has a story, but Oskar--unlike most of us--is allowed the privilege of hearing those stories and becoming (if for just a moment) part of their lives. There is something incredibly unifying about this; something brave about pushing against the profound loneliness of a crowd.
Mom told me, "It probably gets pretty lonely to be Grandma, don't you think?" I told her, "It probably gets pretty lonely to be anyone."(p. 69)Generally known as a novel of 9/11, I think it works much better when viewed as a novel of loving and loss. The idea that 'living is harder than dying' is returned to again and again throughout the book. What is living? What is love? Why do we live? Why do we love?
I promised myself I would stay until I found her, but as night began to come in, I knew I had to go home, I hated myself for going, why couldn't I be the kind of person who stays? (p.114)I love how Foer gets right down to the heart of humanity. Some of his characters have habits and opinions bordering on absurd, but through these extremes normal becomes simplified and understandable. I might not hold onto hundreds of empty envelopes, but perhaps I do hold onto empty promises, empty words. I might not keep a scrapbook of everything that's happened to me, but perhaps I do horde the inconsequential in other ways, continually looking back through those moments in my mind. I might not be dealing with grief, but perhaps I still erect walls around myself as a barrier against pain.
You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness. (p.180)It is a call to appreciate life, to be thankful for what you have when you have it, to be brave enough to be a part of someone else's life, regardless of the drawbacks. Live life--don't let it pass you by.
"She let out a laugh, and then she put her hand over her mouth, like she was angry at herself for forgetting her sadness." (p.254)
(note: lucky for me, this book was on my wish list & counts for my wish list challenge...also, my book club will be discussing it on Monday, so I'll get more opinions on it then!)