Jonathan is a Jewish college student searching Europe for the one person he believes can explain his roots. Alex, a lover of all things American and unsurpassed butcher of the English language, is his lovable Ukrainian guide. On their quixotic quest, the two young men look for Augustine, a woman who might have saved Jonathan's grandfather from the Nazis. As past and present merge, hysterically funny moments collide with great tragedy, and an unforgettable story of one family's extraordinary history unfolds.
Don't miss Jonathan Safran Foer and Martin Amis at The New Yorker Festival.
©2002 Jonathan Safran Foer; (P)2002 Recorded Books, LLC
"An impressive, original debut." (Publishers Weekly)
"Nearly everything about this remarkable book is illuminated....Although there's plenty of lyrical acrobatics here, with exquisite magic realism intermingling with Alex's uproarious narration, it's the emotional depth of the characters that stands out." (Booklist)
"Read it, and you'll feel altered, chastened -- seared in the fire of something new." (The Washington Post)
As a debut, "Everything is Illuminated" deserves five stars. The story centers around Alex and "the Hero"-also named Jonathan Safran Foer-and their journey to discover the woman who possibly saved Jonathan's grandfather from the Nazis. The story takes shape by intertwining the correspondence of Alex and Jonathan as they each attempt to write a story, each ostensibly about the journey.
While Alex's story is playful and light, at times, it carries underneath the strongest cords of emotion in the book. Jonathan's story is sometimes annoying. It focuses on the history of his family in the Ukraine and has a magical reality feel to it. Though clever and generally funny, some of his digressions are too much and do not carry the story forward or add depth to the characters.
As the book progresses, your commitment to the characters and the journey is significant, and leaves you heartbroken by the end.
A note about the reading. This is one of the finest audio book productions I have come across. The readers have done an outstanding job, especially with the voice of Alex. Though I would love to check out Foer's second novel, "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," I don?t think that it will read well on audio format as it combines several experimental techniques to tell the story.
Excuse the alliteration, but this book has heart, history, and histerical moments. It is one of those books that leave me feeling like a different person.
This is told by two narrators-- the actual author and his Ukranian guide, both of whom take turns writing the story. An exciting element is that we also get to hear their letters to each other discussing the writing of the story. Malapropisms abound from the Ukranian, sometimes to an irritating degree, reminding me why Balky from 80's tv didn't stay famous long. However, the guide grows, learns and eventually becomes a more interesting writer than the author.
The author, a Jewish man seeking out the woman who rescued his grandfather from the Nazis, remakes the history of his grandfather in such a surreal manner it seems Biblical if is wasn't so devilishly playful-- and harsh. The guide describes the events he and the author have in their search, both being driven around the guide's own grandfather, an eccentric man who swears he is blind (remember, he is he driver) and needs his inept seeing-eye dog, Sammy Davis Junior Junior. Getting a sense of the tone?
I highly recommend this book-- one of those rarities where you learn history, love the characters and laugh all the way through (there goes the alliteration again... sorry).
This is a bold, complex and original novel filled with black humor and clever prose.The writer presents us with two interlocking stories: the first deals with a very amusing correspondance between Jonathan Safran Foer and his Ukranian translator (who is a kind of Borat type character with his atrocious but hilarious misuse of the English language). The second story is a mystical epic depicting the life and ultimate destruction by the Nazis of a Jewish shtetl in the Ukraine where the writer's ancestors lived.
The humor, clever prose and perfect use of two narrators to depict the different voices and accents make it a thoroughly enjoyable audiobook.
A word of warning: it took me a while to get used to the quick paced, multi layered style and at first I found myself having to relisten to certain parts to make sure I'd understood (particularly the magical happenings in the shtetl). So be sure to give this book a sufficient chance - when I did I thoroughly enjoyed it.
We first saw the movie which was excellent but in spite of this, the book was recommended by my son as it is very different from the cinema version.
The movie has been "cleaned up" in terms of language and much of the writer's polyphonic style simply didn't show up.
The book keeps all of the themes going at the same time - working from the present and working from the past and meeting in the nazi decimation of Jewish life in the Ukraine. Very powerful - yet Foer keeps an always, ever-slight humor embellishing the work.
The two narrators are simply fantasic and it makes the "reading" even easier to formulate pictures in one's mind.
I believe a reviewer should finish a book before submitting a review. What do you think?
I agree with other reviewers. Alex is so very funny I had to stifle my giggles when listening in public. And the other bits like previously mentioned were lacking and confusing and if edited out would have made a great book better. Overall I'm glad I listened.
I listened to this book on a long flight to Kyiv, Ukraine and found it very moving. Foer's comparisons of a young American looking for his family's history and an old Ukrainian trying to cope with his past perfectly describes the feelings surrounding Ukraine's current political and social situation. The narration was especially well done with two narrators, making the book even more personal and touching. This book really resonated with me while I was in Ukraine interacting with locals. I highly recommend it.
Though I really enjoyed the early sections of this book there was plenty in the middle that could and should have been omitted or heavily edited. I don't think the story would have suffered had some entire parts been halved. I also had many questions about details of the story that don't line up successfully. I saw the movie with hopes that some things would be Illuminated ... no such luck. Fortunately, the author's second book, 'Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close' is a superior product. Foer's imaginative skill and tale telling talent can only continue to improve and I look forward to his future work.
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.
Despite my 2-star rating, I enjoyed the book -- the Ukrainian side of the narrator role is hilarious in his consistent misuse of the English language, as if he learned to speak English by reading a thesaurus -- but the phrase that best describes the overall "ick" factor of the book would be "self-absorbed." It's really hard to separate the author of the novel from the protagonist, of the same name, and the latter isn't all that much likable.
The other thing that really annoys me about the book is the consistent overreaching for quotable moments. The way to manufacture these quotable moments, it seems, is to write a phrase and then reverse it. Or perhaps to reverse the phrase and then write it. You see what I mean. Let's try for a few more:
- Love is death, but only death is truly love
- I am my grandfather, and he is me.
- There are so many things to be said, and there is nothing to be said.
The book is FULL of these reversals, and it gets so that you just want the author to move past them and keep telling the darn story.
Anyway, I did like the story, but these two things -- the self-absorbed Jewish narrator/author and the cloying reversals -- disappointed
People sometimes ask me if I think that I'm missing out by not reading a book instead of listening. This audiobook convinced me that I'm not missing out. Not only could I feel and follow just how well constructed this novel is, but I would have missed out if I hadn't heard this fantastic reading. The accents and voices add so much to the story and really bring this wonderful book to life.
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