Jonathan Safran Foer – Everything is Illuminated

Everything is illuminated    Another one I chose because of the title. It seems silly and somehow I feel it goes against the rule “Don’t judge the book by its cover,” but I’ll let it go. After all, it’s not exactly the cover, but the choice of words the author decided to use to summarize the novel he/she wrote. So there, sometimes I choose books to read based solely on my like of its title. And that’s one of those. Also, if I was choosing based on the cover, I wouldn’t have chose this one for sure!

A young man, Jonathan Safran Foer – who’s a vegetarian and I had to write that! – comes to Ukraine to look for a woman who may or may not have saved his father from the Nazis. He has a yellowish photograph in this hand and an… interesting translator, Alex, to help him. The translator brings a grandfather, who’s haunted by memories from war, and the gransfather brings an enormous dog named Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior. Together they go for a journey looking for Jonathan’s grandfather’s savior through the devastated landscape, to find the past.

The book is divided into three ways of storytelling. One is told by Alex and is about the journey to Ukraine; what happened before, during and after. The other are letters written by Alex to Jonathan after the trip, and the last is a third-person-narration about the past, from the 1970ties to 1940ties. The parts are mixed together, which makes it hard to follow at first, but then you can get used to it – at least to some extent.

First chapter is Alex telling us how he came to work for Jonathan – and it’s a complete masterpiece for me. At least, the translator must have been a genius. I think it’s hard to write in a way that a person from Ukraine might be speaking Polish. I must read at least these parts in English! It was simply hilarious; as a vegetarian I especially liked the scene where Jonathan tries to have something to eat in a country that has never even heard the word “vegetarianism.” There were many other laugh-out-loud situations. I don’t laugh that much when reading books – for some reason I’d sooner cry than laugh, so that is a big accomplishment of the author that he made me laugh.

(NOTE: please don’t take me for a sad person, I truly am not, it’s just that it’s hard to make me laugh when I read. It’s easier in real life situations).

Anyway, the novel itself is sort of a journey to the past. When I was younger I guess I would rather go to the future, had I been given a choice. The older I become, the more tempting the past seems. I guess that says something about my nature, or the nature of humans. Since we cannot travel in time one way or another, the author gave us a journey in the past in form of a book. The past is Holocaust, the subject I have mixed feelings about. Sometimes I would read anything there is about it and over-analyze the subject. Sometimes, though, I feel tired with it and don’t want to hear another word about it. With this book, however, the subject seemed right and only made me wonder about the cruel and cowardice nature of humans. I can understand cowardice, since I am a coward often myself, but I’ve never been cruel, not even as a child.

Besides that, it’s a story about unlikely friendship, about fining oneself and one’s past, about how the past is tied to our lives. About weird travels. And about the passing of time. Despite the novel being funny, it also made me sad to the point of being depressed. There are a lot of stories within stories, and sometimes you can’t see the connection and you kind of wonder: “What does this have to do with anything? Can we move on?” Yet, it’s hard to put it down. So damn hard.

Most of all, it’s a story about memory. About remembering and how important it is.

It has a little weird ending, which I still haven’t understood completely. Towards the end it reminded me more and more of post-modernists with their ideas of not finishing the sentences and leaving the pages blank. I have some mixed feelings about it. For sure, it’s not for everyone. If you want a straight story from A to B, it’s not for you. If you want just entertainment, it’s also not for you. But if you want to be touched and made to think – “how the hell to tie it all and who the hell is Sasha?” – while having a good laugh in the meantime – then it IS for you for sure.

Or I’m just a sucker for books that have no clear endings.

PS At least with this one I didn’t even know there is a movie until after I read the book. So there!


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