Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Just Finished: Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

This book is so good, I decided I had to take a picture once I'd finished it, to commemorate the moment. I jest not - this is one of the best books I have ever read and thoroughly deserves the high praise splashed all over the inside covers. This is why it's taken me so long to write this, I can't do it justice. But I've given up. I won't do it justice, but I have to write something. I have to recommend it!

Everything is Illuminated follows a Ukranian student called Alex. An American Jew named Jonathan is visiting the Ukraine to find the woman who saved his grandfather's life during the Nazi occupation. To help him find her, he's procured the services of Heritage Tours, Alex's fathers company; Alex will be his translator, and Alex's grandfather, their driver.

The story is split into three alternating arcs. One part is written by Jonathan; a novel he's working on describing the trials and tribulations in the lives of his Ukranian ancestors. He paints a colourful picture of life in the town of Trachimbrod from its foundation in the 1700s, right up to the Holocaust. These chapters are full of odd twists, turns and bizarre happenings and read a bit like Garcia Marquez; it's impossible to predict what's coming next. Foer has an amazing imagination, I wish I could think like that.

Whenever he finishes a chapter, Jonathan sends it to Alex, who responds with his thoughts or comments on it. These chapters are written in Alex's own special English - which he admits is less than 'premium' but his use of a thesaurus is second to none. As such, he will find things 'rigid' rather than difficult, and will 'repose' rather than sleep. His grandfather's guide dog is referred to as his 'seeing-eye bitch'. When I first started reading this, I didn't get it, but it doesn't take long to figure it out, and the humour Foer gets out of this really makes the book something special; I laughed on the Tube, a real hearty laugh I tell you - not just a mere snigger.

My tolerance of Alex's written English wasn't the only thing that changed; I initially hated Alex, finding him arrogant and boastful and uninteresting. However, with each chapter I read he became more and more impressive, and by the end I loved him. Loved.

After he comments on Jonathan's work, he'll then describe the events of their quest together; their search for Augustine, who saved his grandfather from the Nazi forces who occupied the Ukraine. As it's written by Alex, you sometimes have to read sentences twice to figure out what he's getting at; but again, this is one of the things that makes this book so good.

I don't want to say much about the story as I don't want to spoil it, but it's fantastic. It's funny, moving and at times completely off the wall - five stars from me :) My best book this year...
Next up: Amnesia Clinic by James Scudamore

1 comment:

  1. Excellent book. Foer really knows how to weave a generational story. I highly recommend his second novel, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. There's also a pretty decent movie of Everything Is Illuminated.