Sunday, October 4, 2009

Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

Jonathan Safran Foer has written an amazing debut novel in Everything Is Illuminated. It explores the Jewish culture and history in the Ukraine. A young American writer, also named Jonathan Safran Foer, has come to this country to find his family's history. In particular, he wants to find the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazi's. In order to accomplish this, he engages the services of Alex Perchov, a young Ukrainian translator. The men take off an a journey of exploration and discovery, accompanied by Alex's grandfather and the family dog, Sammy Davis Junior, Junior.

Jonathan knows the name of the village his family came from, Trachimbrod. Unfortunately, that name is not on any maps, nor can they find anyone who knows anything about such a place. Finally, they find an old woman who says she has been waiting for years for someone to come and ask about this place and all that occurred there.

The book is told through several devices. Some of the narrative is Alex writing to Jonathan after Jonathan's return to America. These portions are where we find out Alex's story and his hopes and desires. Another part is the recounting of the journey they take. Finally, stories of the Jewish people in this region are interwoven with the current narratives.

Foer has written an amazing debut novel. It is, by turns, ribald, humorous, breathtakingly depressing, passionate and trivial. The stories of the families that made up Trachimbrod over centuries are told. It explores love, betrayal, kindness, violence, hopes for the future and actions grounded and caught in the past. There were scenes that made me laugh out loud, and scenes that brought me close to tears. This book is recommended for those readers looking for a unique reading experience that validates the human experience.

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