“Imagine a novel as verbally cunning as A Clockwork Orange, as harrowing as The Painted Bird, as exuberant and twee as Candide, and you have Everything Is Illuminated . . . Read it, and you'll feel altered, chastened — seared in the fire of something new.” — Washington Post
With only a yellowing photograph in hand, a young man — also named Jonathan Safran Foer — sets out to find the woman who might or might not have saved his grandfather from the Nazis. Accompanied by an old man haunted by memories of the war, an amorous dog named Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior, and the unforgettable Alex, a young Ukrainian translator who speaks in a sublimely butchered English, Jonathan is led on a quixotic journey over a devastated landscape and into an unexpected past.
As their adventure unfolds, Jonathan imagines the history of his grandfather’s village, conjuring a magical fable of startling symmetries that unite generations across time. As his search moves back in time, the fantastical history moves forward, until reality collides with fiction in a heart-stopping scene of extraordinary power.
“A rambunctious tour de force of inventive and intelligent storytelling . . . Foer can place his reader’s hand on the heart of human experience, the transcendent beauty of human connections. Read, you can feel the life beating.” — Philadelphia Inquirer
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
In Jonathan Safran Foer’s debut, a young American writer—who also happens to be named Jonathan Safran Foer—travels to Ukraine to discover his family’s history, accompanied by his incompetent interpreter Alex and an ill-tempered dog named Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior. Both Foer’s travels and the flashbacks taking place before and during World War II are rooted in truth—the author visited his grandparents’ former shtetl to do historical research while working on his thesis at Princeton. The postmodern playfulness of the novel’s structure never detracts from the story’s deeply emotional core. Indeed, the moments of antic comedy provided by Alex and Sammy are a perfect balance for the tragedy at the book’s heart.
What would it sound like if a foreigner wrote a novel in broken English? Foer answers this question to marvelous effect in his inspired though uneven first novel. Much of the book is narrated by Ukrainian student Alex Perchov, whose hilarious and, in their own way, pitch-perfect malapropisms flourish under the influence of a thesaurus. Alex works for his family's travel agency, which caters to Jews who want to explore their ancestral shtetls. Jonathan Safran Foer, the novel's other hero, is such a Jew an American college student looking for the Ukrainian woman who hid his grandfather from the Nazis. He, Alex, Alex's depressive grandfather and his grandfather's "seeing-eye bitch" set out to find the elusive woman. Alex's descriptions of this "very rigid search" and his accompanying letters to Jonathan are interspersed with Jonathan's own mythical history of his grandfather's shtetl. Jonathan's great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Brod is the central figure in this history, which focuses mostly on the 18th and 19th centuries. Though there are some moments of demented genius here, on the whole the historical sections are less assured. There's a whiff of kitsch in Foer's jolly cast of pompous rabbis, cuckolded usurers and sharp-tongued widows, and the tone wavers between cozy ethnic humor, heady pontification and sentimental magic-realist whimsy. Nonetheless, Foer deftly handles the intricate story-within-a-story plot, and the layers of suspense build as the shtetl hurtles toward the devastation of the 20th century while Alex and Jonathan and Grandfather close in on the object of their search. An impressive, original debut.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Everything is illuminated
Very confusing at time,and leaves questions unanswered,but a truly good story.
100 Words or Less
This was recommended by someone who knows what she’s talking about, so I was shocked at how much I disliked it. The plot is a bit stale, but good enough. The writing is effective. But the characters simply aren’t true, especially the Eastern Europeans. Having lived and traveled throughout that area, the stereotypical bad English rang false with me. (Of course, for all I know, this is a fictional account of a real-life experience? Then I just seem an idiot.) But no matter, the novel simply held no lure for me. I lasted 100 pgs, but then let it go.
This book made me cry. It is so beautifully written. Please read.