Book Review: Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
Preview… “Everything is Illuminated” doesn’t disappoint. Jonathan Safran Foer, the author and the book’s main character, explore multiple storylines within the text. The character travels to modern-day Ukraine to search for the woman he believes is responsible for helping his grandfather escape to America during the Holocaust. Our hero is accompanied by a young man, Alex, who acts as translator despite his lack of skill in this area, Alex’s blind grandfather in the role of driver and grandpa’s “officious seeing-eye bitch” dubbed Sammy Davis Junior Junior.
In the midst of our present-day adventures, Jonathan also tells us his imagined family history, tracing back several generations of Foers. In old Trachimbrod, we encounter a baby who mysteriously appears from the bottom of a pond after a wagon crash and sets are whole story in motion, cosmic sex energy that, if done right, can be seen from space many years later and a man whose head is impaled by a disc-saw blade yet continues to live for years after the accident with the blade lodged vertically in his head. These plotlines are largely influenced by magical realism, a tactic perhaps best exercised by author Gabriel Garcia Marquez. If this turns you off, you can still enjoy the 2005 film adaptation, which only portrays the modern-day storyline.
All-in-all, the characters are endearing and interesting, and although quite a bit quirky, they are relatable. Alex, the translator, added a great deal of humor, shifting the tone of the novel from a depressing holocaust-topical novel to a comedic one. There were a lot of high points in this story, as comedy was masterfully interwoven with what is perhaps modern man’s greatest tragedy.
You may like this book if… you like stories that weave several different threads into one tapestry, you are a speaker of ESL or close to someone who is (you will enjoy Alex’s ramblings very much), you are interested in how the Holocaust touched the lives of others and continues to do so even today, you want to laugh out loud when reading a story (the only other book I have ever done this for is Cervantes’s Don Quixote), you like coming of age novels
You may not like this book if… You despise the writing style of Gabriel Garcia Marquez (formally referred to magical realism), you get confused by a plotline that jumps back and forth between different story- and time- lines, you have a hard time keeping track of multiple characters with similar names, you don’t want to read 50 pages before you are able to settle into the story and begin enjoying it, you like a traditional ending where the hero wins and everyone lives happily ever after