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"In the city of my birth, I had a dream..."
Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer 
1st-Aug-2007 01:17 am
Foer, Jonathan Safran. Everything Is Illuminated. 2002. New York: Harper Perennial, 2005.
          Summary: The Ukranian translator Alexander Perchov is recruited to accompany the American writer Jonathan Safran Foer in a hunt for the woman who may have saved his Jewish grandfather from the Nazis. Though, in that respect, the search is not successful, it ends up revealing wartime scars in Alexander's own family. Afterwards, the two young men exchange letters and semi-fictional prose and reach some sobering conclusions about family and history.
          Comments: Jonathan Safran Foer was a mere twenty-three years old when this novel was published, and though it evinces great talent, skill, and dedication to the craft of writing, his youthful enthusiasm shows--especially, and perhaps most appropriately, in those parts purported to be written by himself. They're all over the stylistic map: folklore, magic realism, historical fiction, outright bizarre textual tidbits, and more. Equal parts silly, sexy, and sad (I was oddly reminded of Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex in this respect), they try to be everything and.surprise surprise, fall short of that lofty goal.
          On the other hand, the parts of the novel purported to be written by Alexander are unadulterated brilliance made text. His butchered English, which improves noticeably in conjunction with the seriousness of the tone, quickly becomes the novel's trademark. The deadpan reportage, particularly about his grandfather's "seeing-eye" dog and about his supposed sexual escapades, are unforgettably hilarious; the author is being the best he can be in this. Actually, despite the fact that Foer is ostensibly the protagonist, it is Alexander the narrator who truly comes alive. Which is fine. Because, really, this is as much about his personal growth as it is about anybody's.
          Alas, the characters' final realization about their families' pasts is less than awe-inspiring...if, perhaps, ironic. The phrase "Everything for Brod" appears early; it turns out that "everything for" means a deeply-held wish on the part of the older generation that their descendants be free and at peace, unburdened by the suffering of their forebears. While the younger generation pursues the past avidly, their elders would rather that the past were obliterated. In fact, they wish for nothing else. Uh-huh. Aw, c'mon. How narcissistic is it to assume that all our parents want is for us to be happy? Foer is young, indeed.
          Notes: trade paperback, movie tie-in edition, 1st printing
          Rating: 7/10 - An impressive debut work that hints at the author's great potential. Give him a couple of decades, and then he'll REALLY wow.
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