Everything Is Illuminated is Jonathan Safran Foer's first novel. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Safran's second novel) was my favorite read of 2010 and of Foer's two works, I've got to say I enjoyed his later work more than his first. However, that's not to say Everything Is Illuminated should be missed. Like EL&IC, this is a truly powerful story that I won't soon forget.
Foer has a knack for creating unique and memorable characters. In Everything is Illuminated we meet Alex, a Ukrainian who struggles to speak English (he tells us "my second tongue is not so premium"), yet acts as a translator for the character named Jonathan Safran Foer - a young American Jew in search of a woman, Augustine, who may have saved his grandfather from the Nazis. Alex offers a lot of comic relief, as his spoken English sounds more like a misplaced thesaurus than the colloquially spoken English Americans often hear.
Foer combines a few different stories into this one book - that of Alex and Jonathan, as narrated by Alex and his broken English, and their search for Augustine and also the story Jonathan the character is writing. Then there are a series of reflective letters between Alex and Jonathan throughout. The novel as a whole evoked many different emotions, particularity the story the character Jonathan Safran Foer is writing that centers around Brod. It's both beautiful and heartbreaking, detailing the life of a girl who struggles to find happiness:
She felt a total displacement, like a spinning globe brought to a sudden halt by the light touch of a finger. How did she end up here, like this? How could there have been so much - so many moments, so many people and things, so many razors and pillows, timepieces and subtle coffins - without her being aware? How did her life live itself without her?Everything is Illuminated explores themes of identity and memory, and how our relationship with the past affects our everyday present. It challenges preconceived notions of what it means to be intelligent and also offers a bold vision of the Holocaust. It questions what love really means and asks how we know when it's real:
If there is no love in the world, we will make a new world, and we will give it walls, and we will furnish it with soft, red interiors, from the inside out, and give it a knocker that resonates like a diamond falling to a jeweler's felt so that we should never hear it. Love me, because love doesn't exist, and I have tried everything that does.This book is anything but ordinary. As I mentioned earlier, it is a complex work of post-modern fiction, but well worth the effort. If you are looking for a book that will move you and encourage you to think about ideas in a new way, this is it.
Publisher: First Perennial, 2002