Saturday, May 7, 2011

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

Everything Is Illuminated : A NovelThis is book is so....much.  I don't know quite how to explain it, but there was so much more in the book than I was expecting.  Although I hadn't seen the movie, (I watched it after reading the book,) what the movie covered was more what I was expecting...a story of a guy looking for his roots in Eastern Europe...perhaps that was based on seeing the trailer back when it was released?  (Now that I've mentioned the movie I have to say that it is no where NEAR the experience the book is.  VERY different.  So don't got saying well I've seen the doesn't count. At all.)

There is so much creativity in the writing, for one thing.  From the fact that Jonathan Safran Foer is himself a character in the book, to the huge chunks of dialogue all smooshed into a single paragraph (which shouldn't work, but does) to the eye-dialect written so well that I often found myself reading aloud just for the fun of it.

Here's a quote (from page 3, in the words of Alex--the Ukrainian translator) that will give you an idea of the dialect, the audacity, and the humor:
I will be truthful again and mention that before the voyage I had the opinion that Jewish people were having shit between their brains.  This is because all I knew of Jewish people was that they paid Father very much currency in order to make vacations from America to Ukraine.  But then I met Jonathan Safran Foer, and I will tell you, he is not having shit between his brains.  He is an ingenious Jew.
I can understand now why people talk about this book like they leaves an impression, regardless of your ultimate opinion.  There were times while reading that I was thinking I love this!  So much fun! and other times when I was cringing at the irreverence:  oo, a little too much...hope my book club can handle it.  But neither impression lasts for long: just as soon as I'd almost had too much oddity, I was plunged back into fascinating humor or touching insight.

From page 78:
She was a genius of sadness, immersing herself in it, separating its numerous strands, appreciating its subtle nuances.  She was a prism through which sadness could be divided into its infinite spectrum.
This is a story of an American traveling to the Ukraine to research his ancestry; it is a story of Jewish heritage and oppression; it is a balance between characters and caricatures, old world and new world, past and present.  I laughed and cried many times--by the end of the book the people inside were dear to me, even with all their quirks.  Not your typical reading experience, this is a book to go to when you are in the mood for something unique.

Title: Everything is Illuminated
Author: Jonathan Safran Foer
Pages: 276
Published: Harper Perennial 2003 (orig. 2002)
Read For: Book Club 1
My Rating: 4.5 stars


  1. This book was just returned to the library that I work at today. I considered picking it up and then remembered that I have to read 16 books this month already. It's being put on my TBR even though I didn't read the review. I don't like having my opinions affected by other bloggers but I will definitely come back and read this after I've done my own review in the next few months.

  2. Oooh! I've had my eye on this book for a while now! Glad to know that it is the fantastic book that I thought it was! Definitely getting on my TBR list!

  3. Alex cracked me up...I could totally hear his ridiculous voice in my head.

    So...what was the consensus from book club??

  4. This is the book my daughter chose at our B&N browse yesterday... sounds like I'll have to read it, too.

  5. I really liked it, but read it right after EL&IC and somehow it didn't have the same impact. Compared to EL&IC most books dwarf a bit when it comes to creativity.

  6. Gabriel, I hope that you enjoy it--come back and let me know what you think!

    Bethany, totally not what I was expecting, but a great surprise. A great pick when you're in the mood for something creative and different!

    softdrink, I loved Alex too, what a character! One person in my book club had a difficult time with the non-linear approach, but overall everyone loved it and we had one of the best discussions we've had (maybe even better than with Wind-Up Bird Chronicle)in quite a while.

    JoAnn, you should! It takes a little while to get into and get used to, so be prepared to give it a fair shot if it doesn't catch you right away. :)

    Alexandra, I've heard so many great quotes and reviews about EL&IC that I wanted to make sure to read this one first...also thought I'd let some time pass before reading more Foer--his writing strikes me as something that gets better the more you let it simmer.

  7. I have a rocky relationship with Foer. I tried Everything is Illuminated and had a hard time with it. I haven't tried Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close just yet. I'm willing to give him another shot given your review.

  8. Andi, it did take me a little while to get into the rhythm of his writing, and like I said, there were times while reading that I was really unsure whether I liked it, so I can understand what you mean! But in the end I really loved the creativity and the world he created. It makes me even more curious about EL&IC.

  9. Glad you liked this one. I enjoyed it as well. I'm not sure if you've had the chance to read Extremely Loud & Increibly Close, but it's also fantastic in a really unique way.

  10. Oh, JSF -- my love. I read Everything Is Illuminated when I was interning in D.C. and had a long commute to and from work each day; this book was my companion for a few very memorable days and I absolutely didn't want it to end. I can still remember passages many years later... and though I rarely re-read books, I think I will make an exception for this one!

    And yes, the movie is totally a different experience... honestly, I didn't like it much. I think it failed to capture any of the novel's magic and was so singular in focus, which didn't work for me. The book's magic, for me, is in the combining of so many stories -- past, present, future -- and the film seemed to examine the present almost exclusively.


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