This is just not a good book. billed as funny and original, I found it to be neither. Don't waste your money or time. The SNL wild and crazy guys dialogue is entertaining for a moment and clever enough and the Jewish history, eh. I am Jewish and I was bored.
This was the worst book I've ever read. I kept plodding through it, hoping that it would redeem itself. But it never did. The story was uninteresting and not at all humorous, although I do believe that it was supposed to be.
Also just a comment for Audible - this is introduced as "audible kids" and this is not a childrens' book! It threw me off at first.
People say I resemble my dog (and vice-versa). He can hear sounds I can't hear, but I'm the one who listens to audiobooks.
Two novels are being written side by side in Everything is Illuminated. Ukrainian translator Alex is writing his memoirs of working for a visiting American, a fictional author bearing the same name as real life author Jonathan Safran Foer. And the fictional Foer is writing a novel about his Jewish ancestors in Ukraine, from the 18th century through the Holocaust. Bridging the two are letters Alex writes Foer critiquing the most recent chapters Foer has sent to him and introducing his own new chapters.
But Alex doesn't call them chapters, he calls them "divisions". Because Alex is not the world's "most premium" translator. His command of English (or lack thereof) is based on looking words up in a thesaurus, so something hard to do is "rigid" because the thesaurus doesn't help him differentiate between physical hardness and difficulty. It sure must have been fun for Foer (the real life author) to write in Alex's voice and find the malapropisms that make his narration just that much fun.
It must have been commensurately difficult to write as his own alter ego, an exercise in magical realism that recreates Jewish shtetl life, focusing on three characters who are among Foer's ancestors. It must have been especially hard because it culminates in the Holocaust. And it is just as "rigid" to read, by which I don't mean difficult, but hard to enjoy. Two of Foer's ancestors have good stories, the third less so, but the passages that do not specifically follow them are literally unendurable (I wish someone had told me the exact times they start and end so I could skip them, as they add nothing to the story and are, simply, insufferable).
Magical realism was already as passe as the Y2K bug when Foer tried his hand at it, and he's not exactly a prime candidate to join Garcia Marques and Borges in the MR Hall of Fame. His application of magical realism to the holocaust never stands a chance of coming close to Life is Beautiful. And that is most especially true in the lengthy section about nine hours in when none of it makes any sense or is about anything (can you say "self-indulgent", or figure out how Alex would say that?).
In a criticism that I am loathe to make or belabor, his Holocaust story, even if it is indeed based on actual events, and tragic beyond imagination, are (I really hate to say this, being the son of holocaust survivors) not all that interesting compared to many of the other stories that have been told. It's not as interesting as my parents' own tragic stories, and I'm not sure their stories could support a novel, given the existing body of work that has already been told (although my father's testimony is available as part of the Shoah project).
Foer surely understood this, considering the way he turned much of the novel (the best parts), the parts that are not about the Holocaust, into a present-day comedy of how he, with the help of Alex, revisits the events of his family's past, with Alex's blind grandfather as their driver and his seeing eye dog Sammy Davis Jr., Jr. in the back seat passing gas and chewing her own tail. Liev Schreiber must have understood this as well in adapting the book into a movie, focusing on Alex's side of the story.
That part of the story is, however, worth the price of admission. It is priceless (which Alex may, if he had the chance, inadvertently translate as "without value", saying the opposite of what he actually means). If you recall Steve Martin's and Dan Aykroyd's Saturday Night Live skits about the wild and crazy guys, then you have a good idea of what Alex sounds like. It is even more charming because it is so guileless (as Alex signs his letters to Jonathan, mistaking "guilelessly yours" for "yours truly").
I don't know how Alex would come off in print, but in audio, Jeff Woodman totally nails it. I would give it more than five stars if I could, even with Scott Shina taking up half the narration with his fine but not otherwise noteworthy voicing of Foer's part of the story. Woodman is an audiobook treasure, to be sure. Of the books I've listened to, he does English accent throughout The Dog in the Night-Time, Indian in Life of Pi, a variety of petty New York characters in The Hot Rock, and now a Wild and Crazy Guy in this book. As I said, that alone is worth the price of admission.
Where do I start. The character from Ukraine, his version of English is so artificia; so many large words that a non-native speaker would never know but they made for more locker room humor. This was clearly written for boys.
see above comments
I think the narrator was fine
no, which was so disappointing because i found his other book, "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" beautiful and very moving,
I should have heeded the warnings of other reviewers.
This story was very original and and was good in theory. However, trying to listen to it for hours on end was a battle. If someone told me the story in a synopsis, even if I listened to a short excerpt, I would think that I would enjoy this book. However, I got so tired of listening to Alex, the Ukranian guide with a unique use of the English language. Also, I lost my appreciation of the stories from centuries ago as they were just very odd. The narrarator did a good job with the accents, etc. I just think the material got very old, very quickly. I did enjoy the sections of the modern journey that were written through the eyes of Jonathan, the American traveler. It probably would be better in print, as you could skim over some sections. I absolutely refuse to give up on a book, and the ending really was good. It just took quite a while to get there....
Our hero could have cut out the entire story about the lives of his ancestors in medieval Poland/Ukraine. The hero's own trip to Ukraine was interesting as a memoir, and the Ukrainian translator's English was clever. Also the story of the World War 2 - Nazi invasion, and the lives of the characters at that point could have made a good story on its own, but the book, especially the Jewish stettle storyline from 1730 till 1940 came to naught and really has no continuity, and quite frankly is not clever and is downright confusing. Essentially, don't waste your currency on this nod, comrade. Maybe he can rewrite the book with all of the interesting stuff and make it into a novel about Ukraine from WW2 to modern day. He could develop the Grandfather character's life, and it would be worth reading (listening to), I suggest a revision, or a new novel altogether. There is potential here, but this book is far from reaching it.
The story alternates between the modern-day search in Russia for the woman who saved the protaganist's grandfather, as told in Roget's Thesaurus English -- this story is funny, gripping, and wonderful to listen to -- and an imagined history of the protaganist's family, starting in the 1700's. These parts are just bad. At first I thought that they were a joke ... meant to be the protaganist's attempts at bad writing ... bt it goes on and on ... and after a while you realize that he's serious. If I were reading the book I could have skipped over those chapters, but listening, you are forced to go through them. That I did is a testament to how brilliant the modern-day journey part was.
I love literary fiction and I occasionally delve into non-fiction. I love books that are suspenseful and am really into well-told stories.
I don't care if I don't garner a lot of "helpful" reviews here... I just need to vent. JSF is nobody. I HATE his writing style and he doesn't get extra points for only being 25 when we published this. The story of Bume is lifted STRAIGHT out of the story of Remedious the Beauty from 100 Years of Solitude, and he even uses the same literary trick by naming everyone the same name (fortunately, they all have stupid nicknames). Man, what an awful book and I also hated the other one about 911, so it this brat makes you swoon, go for it... but I don't think he writes well, I don't think he is some sort of prodigy, i just think that he has a big thesaurus next to him and uses it too much! What a GAWD-awful book! Oh! And the rip off the the "Wild a Crazy Guys" that Steve Martin and Dan Ackroyd did 30 years ago ... they called... they want their characters back! Horrible, horrible horrible dreck.
I was looking for just a glimmer of hope for humanity, for a little bit of deliverance from the darkness and hopelessness of the story. I found none. Humanity is portrayed as an ugly, hopeless, cruel and all-together miserable lot. Life is viewed as a disappointing and hopeless experience with a sense of humor as its only deliverance. This is a very dark and depressing view and the book is not a good read for someone looking for a soul-soothing story.
The story portrays life as being hopeless, ugly, cruel. The story ends abruptly with no resolution. It also is very pessimistic, negative, dark - a hurtful read in many ways.
The terrible scene when the woman gets shut in her wumb
For anyone with a delicate and sensitive disposition: do not read.
The humor of the poor translator trying to keep up with the story is good for the first hour. The humor (?) in the distant family history relies too much on scatalogical and sexual humor, which wears thin almost immediately. The book doesn't get better as you go. I stopped after 2 hours.