Book Review: Everything is Illuminated

Also published in the News Register on Oct. 20th:

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

Everything Is Illuminated” (the movie) by Jonathan Safran Foer is the comic, tragic and loosely autobiographical story of a young Jewish-American man who travels to Ukraine to find the woman he believes helped save his grandfather from the Nazis.

In this literary creation, the author uses his own name for the protagonist. The character is naively resolute in his search to find this enigmatic woman and create a written account of his travels. Foer’s story also follows the Ukrainian family that assists Jonathan in uncovering his history, lost in the murky memories of people determined to forget their grotesque war-torn past.

While the plotline provides the structure of the novel, Foer’s story runs much deeper. Just like in the Brod River that provides a thematic backdrop to the story, curious flotsam is continually rising to the surface of this eccentric tale.

Jonathan’s Ukrainian guide, Alex, who claims to be “fluid” in English, tells pieces of the story in mangled English that is both brilliantly humorous and poetic. Alex insists that Jonathan need not write events as they “occurred in the actual,” but that the story must still be made “faithful.” This book accomplishes exactly that.

Foer completed a manuscript of “Everything Is Illuminated” as a philosophy student at Princeton, where Joyce Carol Oates served as his mentor. His unconventional style of writing is daring and enchanting, and his story is intricately beautiful and sad. But although this debut novel has experienced wild success and rave reviews, it also has its critics.

Rather than succumb to the hype, though, leave your expectations behind and experience the book for yourself. I promise that even if you don’t love it, even if everything isn’t illuminated, the story will force you to stop, think and feel deeply about what a wonderful and terrible world we live in.

What more can you ask?


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