Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

This has been a big week for me: landed a second job and got my driver’s permit. Here’s hoping I warm up to driving, because it would be kind of terrible to hate something that I’ll undoubtedly have to do quite a lot of in my life. I care more about having the job, anyway.

So, for those interested, in the Winthrop area, I’m now a waitress at Tubby’s, and you should all come and see me. I enjoy this job much more than housekeeping (I’m not giving that job up, by the way- I’m keeping them both). Even if I hated the activity of waitressing (which I don’t), this job is still preferable because there are people around me. And, of those I’ve met so far, every one of my coworkers is very cool.

That’s all.

Oh my god. I was completely rational about writing this review up until the last fifty or so pages of the book, which came completely out of nowhere and blew me so far away that I can’t even think right now. Geeze. Deep breaths, okay.

Everything is Illuminated is a very strange book by Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, about a young man (also named Jonathan Safran Foer) who’s recently been given a photograph of his grandfather, standing with a woman named Augustine, who reportedly saved him from the Nazi’s during WWII. This took place in Ukraine, in a small nothing town known as Trachimbrod or Sofiowka. Sixty years later, Jonathan returns to Ukraine to try and find Augustine and Trachimbrod.

To help him on his quest is Alex, another young man from Ukraine who speaks a stilted sort of intelligible English, and will act as his translator. They’re accompanied by Alex’s grandfather (also Alex), who will act as their driver, and Sammy Davis Junior, Junior, Alex Sr.’s “seeing-eye bitch.” Go ahead and work that one out.

The story is told in three styles. The current action- the story of Jonathan searching for Augustine in the present day- is narrated by Alex, who is writing it as a book. This is portrayed in Alex’s excessively formal English, which was jarring at first. You get used to it quickly.

The second part is the story of Trachimbrod in the 1780’s-90’s, beginning on the day Trachim B’s wagon went into the Brod River- Trachim’s body was never recovered, but he became a legend to the village and they would celebrate him every year on Trachimday. Somehow from the wreckage, a baby was found- a young girl, eventually adopted by the “disgraced usurer Yankel D” and named Brod. This is the book Jonathan is writing.

The third part of the story is told through letters that Alex writes to Jonathan, after he has returned to America and they are both writing their books. Presumably, Jonathan is writing back to Alex, but we never see his letters. Alex tells Jonathan about his family- his brother Little Igor, whom he thinks the world of; his grandfather, who has become obsessed with Augustine; his father, who is strict and cold; and his mother, whom he only wants to be close to. Meanwhile, Alex comments on Jonathan’s story- paralleling, in many places, exactly what the reader is thinking of the action.

This is just a curiosity- but I felt, very sincerely, that this story took place in the exact same universe as The History of Love. I’m not sure how to explain this, except that I felt certain that while Jonathan and Alex were hunting down Augustine, Leo Gursky was biding his time in New York, watching his son from afar. I’ve never had this feeling with a book before. It’s odd, but I’ve never come across another novelist who writes like Nicole Krauss, except Jonathan Safran Foer- in my head, they automatically click (it’s only one of life’s perfect ironies that they’re actually married).

So this book is odd, but it was also incredibly gripping. I enjoyed reading it- though there were a few moments around 180 pages in that it slowed down a bit, it only became that much more amazing when he revealed the truth of everything. All I could think was that this was one of the most mind-bending, unbelievable, powerful things I had ever reader. I was in awe of was JSF did with the ending. I spent the last fifty pages or so just trying to breathe evenly around my accelerated heartbeat (though there easily could have been, there were no liquid tears).

As far as JSF goes, I thought that this book was much better than his other (which I liked quite a lot, so). If you have even the slightest amount of time, read this book. I’m going to add this to my rec list and buy a copy for myself, that’s how highly I thought of this book. That’s all I can say.

There’s been a movie made, starring Elijah Wood. I watched the trailer, and to be honest, the tone of the movie looks very different from the tone of the book. The movie looks much more fun- odd in a Sunshine Cleaning, Little Miss Sunshine kind of way. I have to say that I’m not sure I would watch it in conjunction with the book, but as a movie it looks interesting. Here’s the trailer, if you like:

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