Everything Is Illuminated is one of the most focused books I ve read It doesn t meander inappropriately, and there s almost no excess Seriously, this book s got less fat than Christian Bale in The Machinist It s either in full on comedy mode, full on fanciful mode, full on drama mode, or some well balanced combination of the three Foer spent years editing the novel from his initial college thesis draft, and it shows in a good way There s no lag, and given some of the other books I was readi Everything Is Illuminated is one of the most focused books I ve read It doesn t meander inappropriately, and there s almost no excess Seriously, this book s got less fat than Christian Bale in The Machinist It s either in full on comedy mode, full on fanciful mode, full on drama mode, or some well balanced combination of the three Foer spent years editing the novel from his initial college thesis draft, and it shows in a good way There s no lag, and given some of the other books I was reading at the time e.g The Recognitions , this leanness and pacing were very welcome Moreover, I don t think I ve ever been so off base with my preconceptions of a book I d somehow come to the conclusion that the controversy surrounding Foer was due to his pretentiousness, and I was prepared for something in your face erudite, clever, showy, and snarky since I d heard it was funny with his first effort This probably sounds idiotic for those of you familiar with Foer s work, but that s what I was expecting The only question for me was would he be able to use his pretentiousness in a way that I d find enjoyable But as I got into the book, what I found was one of the least pretentious literary novels I ve ever read And perhaps this puts the backlash that this guy s received into a whole new light, although I don t want to get into that right now I d rather talk about what Foer does and does very well in Everything Is Illuminated First, the humor This book is funny, but not in the way I was expecting Foer s basically anti snarky And it s with his comedy style that he probably makes most of his enemies Instead of taking one of the modern American approaches to humor , Foer utilizes the type of slapstick that ruled comedic cinema over 60 years ago and hasor less disappeared from popular culture Bold, bold move And one that I, as a long time Abbot and Costello fan, happen to love I ve watched each Abbot and Costello movie between 3 and 25 times, and while I think their routines are brilliant, I m also aware that the majority of Americans under 40 would likely yawn or cringe through many of them It s just a different style, full of classic gags sans sarcasm or irony, and one where any constraints of realism are given the boot while the routine is in progress just like in Everything Is Illuminated From Alex s ludicrously over the top English, where Foer nabs Wallace s gag of incorrectly substituting difficult words for easy ones, to the hero s inconvenient vegetarianism from the absurd dog behavior to the classic mistranslation humor reminiscent of the Pequod s encounter with the French Rose Bud, Foer never wastes an opportunity to inject an episode of hilarity And to be honest, he s not always successful But when it works, and if you re susceptible to this style of humor, you will laugh out loud I can t think of another book that blends this kind of extreme comedy with fanciful melancholy so well or even at all The initially hidden sadness builds in both the present day storyline and the 18th century through WWII storyline to a dramatic moment that didn t quite have the impact on me that Foer reaches for and that others have experienced I m not especially disappointed about this, although I am stuck knowing that I didn t experience the emotional tidal wave that this book is capable of unleashing But you might Here I must rely on an excerpt from David Foster Wallace s essay on Kafka s humor There s no recursive word play or verbal stunt pilotry, little in the way of wisecracks or mordant lampoon There is no body function humor in Kafka, nor sexual entendre, nor stylized attempts to rebel by offending convention No Pynchonian slapstick with banana peels or rapacious adenoids No Rothish satyriasis or Barthish metaparody or arch Woody Allenish kvetching There are none of the ba bing ba bang reversals of modern sit coms nor are there precocious children or profane grandparents or cynically insurgent co workers Ok, so there s some word play and maybe Pynchonian slapstick could describe a few scenes in Everything is Illuminated, but since when was Thomas Pynchon s sense of humor considered part of contemporary U.S amusement One of the nice things about being stoned is the added dimension of humor or profundity that otherwise inconsequential things can assume in our impression of them I remember once having my mind blown at the idea of language, and how any two unrelated people, having been raised in the same country and while having no connection at all to each other, or there being any crossover among those who have taught or influenced them, can meet each other one day and have a mutually intelligible conversati One of the nice things about being stoned is the added dimension of humor or profundity that otherwise inconsequential things can assume in our impression of them I remember once having my mind blown at the idea of language, and how any two unrelated people, having been raised in the same country and while having no connection at all to each other, or there being any crossover among those who have taught or influenced them, can meet each other one day and have a mutually intelligible conversation Fascinating, right Well, no not really, but it sure as hell seems fascinating when you re high.I feel as though the only way I could have read this book and found it as funny and profound as other readers found it is if I were completely and totally baked Everything Is Illuminated is essentially comprised of two narratives interwoven in a nonlinear arrangement The first is the account of a small Jewish settlement in the Ukraine which, along with most of its quirky inhabitants, is wiped out by the invading Nazis in 1941 The writer of this section is a fictionalized version of Foer himself, who is a direct descendant of some of these villagers The second narrative is that of a present day Ukrainian who recounts his experiences with Foer as they try to locate a mysterious woman who Foer believes helped his family escape that aforementioned invasion The Ukrainian, whose name is Alex, is hired by the fictional Foer as a translator in his endeavors.While Alex is the source of much of the book s comedy in his unintentional misuse of the English language, the comedic value stemming from this quickly ran dry for me I think there is also an absurdity with which Foer describes the ancestral characters in the Ukrainian village called Trachimbrod but to me most of the quirkiness seemed forced and unnatural, and ruined what could have provided an endearing element to the story I mean, we re talking about a village wherein characters collect each other s tears in thimbles and send each other pieces of string that match the length of their body parts in order that their recipients be assuaged of any fear that their loved ones have changed Blech And then there are the sentences, the ones I think are meant to sound deep and awe inspiring but which only come across as shallow and trite in my non Coloradan state of sobriety Sorry, Coloradans, but I guess that s your thing now Sentences, for example, like these We burned with love for ourselves, all of us, starters of the fire we suffered our love was the affliction for which only our love was the cure.They reciprocated the great and saving lie that our love for things is greater than our love for our love for things willfully playing the parts they wrote for themselves, willfully creating and believing fictions necessary for life.She never ran from his fists, but took them, went to them, certain that her bruises were not marks of violence, but of violent love.The Kolker was trapped in his body like a love note in an unbreakable bottle, whose script never fades or smudges, and is never read by the eyes of the intended lover forced to hurt the one with whom he wanted most to be gentle Yes, there is a lot of talk of love in this book I think JSF wrote it before he got himself hitched Anyway, there is a section toward the end of the novel during which Alex s grandfather reveals an atrocity that occurred in his presence, and in which he was involved, and that revelation was very heartfelt and exemplifies, possibly, what JSF can be good at But it wasn t enough to rescue this book from its overall effect of having kind of irritated the crap out of me I watched the movie of this first and loved it It was basically a movie about cultural misunderstanding and how people can be cruel without really knowing it It is a story about what happens when you put an American and someone born out of the Soviet era in the same room and try to make them explain to one another why the other one thinks the way they do In a word hilarious.After reading the book, I still like the movie, but it seems obvious to me that the filmmakers missed the point entirel I watched the movie of this first and loved it It was basically a movie about cultural misunderstanding and how people can be cruel without really knowing it It is a story about what happens when you put an American and someone born out of the Soviet era in the same room and try to make them explain to one another why the other one thinks the way they do In a word hilarious.After reading the book, I still like the movie, but it seems obvious to me that the filmmakers missed the point entirely The book, while still a hilarious exploration of an American immersed in post Soviet culture, is so much deeper and weirder.The story is sort of about the author, Jonathan Safran Foer He is an aspiring writer in his early 20s who travels to Ukraine to try to find the small Jewish village of Trachimbrod where his grandfather grew up and to find the woman who helped him escape the Nazis during the war He speaks no Ukrainian or Russian, and his only maps of the area are 60 years old, so he enlists the help of Alexander, an Odessa native of about the same age, his blind grandfather, who acts as their driver if you have read any modern Russian literature you will understand not to question this kind of thing and their deranged seeing eye bitch Sammy Davis Junior, Junior.Half of the story the half on which the movie is based is ostensibly written by Alex He write in English with an accent, in that I assume it was written, then rewritten by looking up every third word in the thesaurus and replacing it with the least appropriate synonym This section is a humorous, touching, narrative touching on the nature of friendship, grief and regret, among other things It is accessible and easy to understand.The other half which is entirely ignored by the movie is written by Jonathan, and covers the history of the village from the day it got its name in 1791 until its destruction by the Nazis in 1941, following the exploits of his ancestors All of these sections have a very surreal quality They jump around in time, different eras have glimpses into the past and future Everything that happens is completely bizarre and makes no sense It explores muchdifficult topics, such as the nature of life, love, and art, and is in general muchphilosophical and harder to get your head around.These sections are split by letters from Alexander to Jonathan commenting on Jonathan s sections and introducing his own next section.The weird thing about this book is that, at least for me, it gets frustrating to read the author s crazy attempts at philosophy He wanders around so much, it seems like he is trying to write a little mini story for every emotion he s every experienced in his entire life Normally, I would discard a book like this and say, Well, it s a young author s overeager first attempt, and he tried to cover too much However, there are so many parts in Alex s letters and narrative where these things are addressed once Jonathan says something like, I want to be a writer, but I m not good yet and Alex asks a lot of questions like Why do you write like this and Why did you have the characters do that The incoherence of it all becomes a part of the greater logic of the novel, which in turn provides an answer to the question, Why did Jewish people stay in Poland and Ukraine when they knew the Nazis were coming This books answer, I imagine, would be, Because nothing anyone did in the village s 150 year history made sense, why should they have done the sensible thing in 1941 The book is hilarious, moving and disturbing among other things I can t help but be annoyed by its weird narrative and pointless philosophical musings, but given that it bathes itself in its own strangeness, it raises itself up and becomes a pretty awesome book You are burned out So you suggested to your wife that the whole family spend the weekend in a beach resort You left the house in the morning, drove the whole day and arrived at the resort few hours before the sunset You dropped your things, donned your beach wear, went barefoot and hurriedly went straight to the shore The sand is not sugar like but the pain is bearable The wind is a bit cold and it gives you slight chills You dip your feet into the water It is still lukewarm since the sun You are burned out So you suggested to your wife that the whole family spend the weekend in a beach resort You left the house in the morning, drove the whole day and arrived at the resort few hours before the sunset You dropped your things, donned your beach wear, went barefoot and hurriedly went straight to the shore The sand is not sugar like but the pain is bearable The wind is a bit cold and it gives you slight chills You dip your feet into the water It is still lukewarm since the sun is just about to set You start to swim Then you notice how beautiful the sun is The kaleidoscope of colors yellow, orange, bright orange, red, reddish orange It s like God s canvas spluttered with beautiful colors You feel mesmerized Sunset is always breathtaking and you find yourself staring at it, perplexed and speechless You are there standing, you feel the small stones piercing your soles With wet hair, your wet clothes on, the water drips to your skin With the afternoon sea breeze softly blowing, you feel cold You feel the discomfort, but you don t care You go on standing You go on staring You want to see the finality of the sunset Slowly, slowly Down Down Until it s gone Darkness.But you remain standing You want to see what comes next The shore is part of the bay and you can see lights starting to flicker from the nearby island The fishermen light up the gas lamps on the boats You look up at the sky The crescent shaped moon starts to appear over at the horizon And the countless stars twinkle as if they are smiling at you The small insects start to swarm and bite, you swat them with your hands You feel the stones poking your skin You start to shiver from cold But you feel happy as you have just witness an unspeakable beauty Something that we tend to ignore as we rush through our daily lives A celebration of life A miracle You feel utterly happy Blissful Joyous This is exactly how I felt reading Jonathan Safran Foer s debut novel Everything is Illuminated.Amazing Gimmicks as substance. when it s 1 20 a.m and you re thinking about your favorite book of the year so far again and you realize you never posted your review and you just havetohavetohaveto let everyone know how much you loved it.Ho ly shit.https emmareadstoomuch.wordpress.coThis book was incredible Truly I ve taken the last hour or two to just kind of continue with my life and try to absorb that experience Because even though I ve been reading this book for almost three weeks bananas long for me , it still when it s 1 20 a.m and you re thinking about your favorite book of the year so far again and you realize you never posted your review and you just havetohavetohaveto let everyone know how much you loved it.Ho ly shit.https emmareadstoomuch.wordpress.coThis book was incredible Truly I ve taken the last hour or two to just kind of continue with my life and try to absorb that experience Because even though I ve been reading this book for almost three weeks bananas long for me , it still feels like one cohesive experience.I just want to quote this book to you, if that s okay Just for a hot sec There is no love only the end of love Between a grandfather and a grandson You have ghosts Of course I have ghosts What are your ghosts like They are on the inside of the lids of my eyes This is also where my ghosts reside You have ghosts Of course I have ghosts But you are a child I am not a child But you have not known love These are my ghosts The spaces amid love Maybe quoting it wasn t a good idea, because I want to give swaths of it to you all I ll end up trying to trick you into reading by including ever lengthening passages.These characters may very well stay with me for the rest of my life Lovely Alex, with his love for his brother and his grandiose lies and his dashed dreams and his wonderfully terrible English Did you manufacture any ZsThe metafiction how much is real Jonathan Safran Foer, dedicated to his notebook, staunch vegetarian Brod and her 613 sadnesses, her love for everyone and everything and no one and nothing The Gypsy girl whose heart broke for Safran, whom she did not love, and his books organized by the colors of their spines The shtetl of Trachimbrod, its Trachimday and the Time of Dyed Hands and surname initialed residents Bitzl Bitzl R was my favorite.This book sometimes gave me a feeling like my heart was swelling up My hand twitched for a pencil or a Post It while I read these lovely words, but I was always too absorbed and soon forgot what I was trying to remember to do That feeling is why I read.This was slow to start, and I almost god forbid DNFed it Can you imagine Even two thirds in I contemplated three stars, sadly reminiscing on my vast love of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.I know this review isn t of YA, or a book that s in right now, or a new release I still hope you guys read this and will consider picking it up, though Because I want to live inside this book.Bottom line I don t even know what to say I so badly want you to read it But if you do and you don t like it, even when you get to the beautiful, beautiful last seventy five pages, please don t tell me.I want to write like Jonathan Safran Foer can write Sorry but I didn t care for this at all If Mr Nobody wrote a book about himself as the main character, and used some uninventive malapropisms to make discussions with a foreigner amusing, the book would be tossed But wait, Foer went to Yale Unfortunately for me the quality of his writing shows me that nepotism will always beat out merit these days Sorry to be harsh, but really, I found the writing to be quite poor. Funny In a Tragic WayWhat would the English of a bright Ukrainian who had learnt it largely from local pop culture and a thesaurus sound like Hilarious actually Especially in the telling of a tale which has both been told so many times, and can never be told adequately the Holocaust There are two protagonists, the author, a young Jewish man off to find his roots in a now famous but obliterated shtetl near the Polish Ukrainian border and a young, ambitious lad from a disfunctional family in Funny In a Tragic WayWhat would the English of a bright Ukrainian who had learnt it largely from local pop culture and a thesaurus sound like Hilarious actually Especially in the telling of a tale which has both been told so many times, and can never be told adequately the Holocaust There are two protagonists, the author, a young Jewish man off to find his roots in a now famous but obliterated shtetl near the Polish Ukrainian border and a young, ambitious lad from a disfunctional family in Odessa who acts as guide and subsequent interlocutor The author writes history of a post modernist sort the lad writes of the trip and comments on the author s text It is these latter comments that are most compelling because they reveal both the essential irrelevance of the destruction of European Jewry to the lives of those who have inherited the unexpurgated guilt of the massacres, and the way in which that guilt remains an essential but unspoken feature of life Without the comedic language to make this contradictory point, the book would likely fall flat With that language, and it s gradual normalisation during the course of the tale, the book becomes a story of revelation Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything Is Illuminated Dutton, 2002 My, what a clever novel In any case, that, I imagine, is what Jonathan Safran Foer kept saying as he was writing this And really, much about it is clever The comparisons to A Clockwork Orange are completely unwarranted, as Alex, Foer s Ukrainian hero, destroys the English language in a quite different way than does Burgess Alex A less politically correct butconceptually accurate comparison would be Charlie Chan, as written Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything Is Illuminated Dutton, 2002 My, what a clever novel In any case, that, I imagine, is what Jonathan Safran Foer kept saying as he was writing this And really, much about it is clever The comparisons to A Clockwork Orange are completely unwarranted, as Alex, Foer s Ukrainian hero, destroys the English language in a quite different way than does Burgess Alex A less politically correct butconceptually accurate comparison would be Charlie Chan, as written by Earl Derr Biggers Foer s intertwining of stories is also quite clever, and his use of the two narrators to tell the main storylines.However, with all the cleverness going on, Foer seems to have forgotten in many places to actually insert a novel Threads pick up in odd places and then die with no fanfare, never to be resurrected again the story has holes without being told an enough of an impressionist way to allow the reader to fill in enough blanks the characters are obviously there as vehicles to carry off the cleverness, instead of being fully realized human beings In other words, this is a linguistic roller coaster, not a novel.Not to say Foer doesn t write well when he forgets about the tricks and applies himself Especially in the novel s last eighty pages, there are scenes of great beauty and tragedy that are conveyed in powerful manner that make the reader sit up and take notice The emotionl impact of every last one of them is dramatically undercut by Foer s following each with a needlessly scatological and or pornographic piece of attempted humor, each of which fails because of its positioning, but the tragic pieces themselves are extremely well written Unfortunately, these scenes are all too few One of them is going along swimmingly until he decides to interject a Rick Moody esque three page unpunctuated sentence Horrid And a trick he repeats a couple of times afterwards, also throwing in run on words Evenhorrid The book is billed as a comedy, and Foer tries to carry it off as such, but when the finest written scenes are those of tragedy, it s hard to call it a success as attempted Foer has the makings of a fine dramatic writer, once he gets away from being so consciously clever With only a yellowing photograph in hand, a young man also named Jonathan Safran Foer sets out to find the woman who may or may 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