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text 2017-04-18 13:37
16th April 2017
Everything Is Illuminated - Jonathan Safran Foer

It was not the feeling of completeness I so needed, but the feeling of not being empty.

 

Jonathan Safran Foer

 

April 16, 2002: Jonathan Safran Foer's bestselling debut novel, Everything Is Illuminated, is published.

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review 2016-02-05 03:34
Review | Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
Everything Is Illuminated - Jonathan Safran Foer

With only a yellowing photograph in hand, a young man - also named Jonathan Safran Foer - sets out to find the woman who may or may not have saved his grandfather from the Nazis. Accompanied by an old man haunted by memories of the war; an amorous dog named Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior; and the unforgettable Alex, a young Ukrainian translator who speaks in a sublimely butchered English, Jonathan is led on a quixotic journey over a devastated landscape and into an unexpected past.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

This is one of those novels that I think I may have to read a number of times to really get everything. I know I loved it but I also know I wasn't always entirely clear on what exactly was going on. 

 

One thing that might throw readers is the fact that author Jonathan Safran Foer names one of the main characters Jonathan Safran Foer, but this is a novel, not an autobio. Who doesn't like a little semi-meta flavoring, right? ;-) Foer doesn't even say if this is inspired by anything in his own family's story. The character just happens to be named JFS. Even though the character Jonathan is one of the key characters, we only learn his story secondhand. The story is actually narrated by Ukrainian translator Alex. 

 

Alex speaks English in a very unique way -- it's a nod to when one learns a foreign language and ends up speaking it in an overly perfect, almost robotic way. Foer uses this idea but makes it even more comical, having Alex use odd phrasing such as "KGB on him" (spy) or "tardy at night / tardy at day" (late).  He also signs all his letters to Jonathan "Guilelessly, Alex", which I actually thought was a pretty cool way to close a letter :-) This way of speaking also ends up leading to some pretty poignant moments between Alex and Jonathan -- a couple of my favorites being "We are being very nomadic with the truth, yes? The both of us?" and "I do not think there are any limits to how excellent we could make life seem."

 

I know that I should have recognized the sound that was a little less than crying. It was Little Igor {Alex's little brother}...This made me a suffering person. I knew why he was a little less than crying. I knew very well, and I wanted to go to him and tell him that I had a little less than cried too, just like him, and that no matter how much it seemed like he would never grow up to be a premium person like me, with many girls and so many famous places to go, he would. He would be exactly like me. And look at me, Little Igor, the bruises go away, and so does how you hate, and so does the feeling that everything you receive in life is something you have earned.

~Alex walking in on his little brother after his brother was beaten by their father 

(damn you, Foer, for gut punching me for this one! lol)

 

So how are the stories of Alex and Jonathan connected? Well, after the death of his grandmother, Jonathan decides he wants to learn the story behind a photograph of his grandfather and a mystery woman, a woman Jonathan was told saved his grandfather from the Nazis during WW2. Jonathan decides to travel to the Ukraine to see if he can track down this woman or her family and find out what really happened. Jonathan hires Alex as his translator, Alex brings his own anti-Semitic grandfather along to serve as the driver on the roadtrip through these communities looking for this woman. 

 

I should also explain that the chapters alternate quite a bit (lending to some of the confusion while reading). The chapters written in more modern times are made from Alex's letters to Jonathan, after Jonathan returns to the States. The reader begins to see that Alex is in the process of trying to write a book around his travels with his grandfather and Jonathan, writing to Jonathan for clarification on some topics, permission to discuss others. Additionally, there are other chapters that go back in time, not only back to WW2 but also back to the late 18th century, introducing the reader to various memorable characters in Jonathan's family tree who all play a part in the story of Jonathan's grandfather. The chapters looking at the community of Trachimbrod in the 18th century were actually some of my favorite bits of the story -- I really liked the complexity of the relationship between Brod & the Kolker -- though Alex was also a pretty enjoyable character to get to know. 

 

He awoke each morning with the desire to do right, to be a good and meaningful person, to be, as simple as it sounded  and as impossible as it actually was, happy...By early afternoon he was overcome by the feeling that nothing was right, or nothing was right for him, and by the desire to be alone. By evening he was fulfilled: alone in the magnitude of his grief, alone in his aimless guilt, alone even in his loneliness. I am not sad, he would repeat to himself over and over, I am not sad. As if he might one day convince himself. Or fool himself. Or convince others -- the only thing worse than being sad is for others to know that you are sad. I am not sad. I am not sad. Because his life had unlimited potential for happiness, insofar as it was an empty white room. He was.. overcome with the desire to be somewhere else, someone else, someone else somewhere else. I am not sad.

 

It did take me a few chapters to really get into the story, but I think that's largely because there are so many layers here and it took time to find my footing within the story and figure out what was going on! Like I was saying, I think there was a good bit I didn't quite get on the first read so I definitely want to come back to this one in the future. While there are sad and painful moments written in (how can there not be when a character is investigating family history tied to Nazi attacks), there is also quite a bit of clever, blink-and-you-might-miss-it humor! 

 

If you like WW2 era novels or Jewish history novels in general, this one's not to be missed! 

 

 

POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: There are some scenes / descriptions of an intense sexual nature -- some are only mildly graphic while others are quite violent. There are also multiple suicides mentioned within the plot. 

 

_______

 

BONUS

 

Thoughts on movie adaptation:

 

Pretty cool to find out the movie adaptation was actually directed by actor Liev Schreiber! I loved his intrepretation. Not only is the film beautifully shot, but it has a quirkiness to it -- almost like a blend of the looks of films by Wes Anderson and the Coen Bros. 

 

Elijah gives an impressive performance as Jonathan, giving the character more life than he seemed to have in the novel. I think the real star though was Eugene Hutz (Ukranian himself) who, in my opinion, NAILED the characterization of Alex, which was no small task, what with Alex's somewhat awkward way of speaking! 

 

I would definitely recommend reading the book first because a lot of the novel was cut from the film (obvs) but the novel was so layered, I imagine some of it may have just been too difficult to translate well to screen. However, the background you get from the novel will help explain the film a lot better. All the scenes from the 18th century are almost entirely cut from the film's script, so if you were hoping to see how the relationship between Brod & the Kolker translated to screen, sorry to say it doesn't happen. 

 

Also fun, author Jonathan Safran Foer (the real one, lol) has an on-screen credit himself, as "Leaf Blower".

 

Also, a note on the trigger warning I put above -- one of the suicides written in the story IS brought to screen, and somewhat graphically so ... just a heads up on that. 

 

But yes, a beautifully done adaptation! 

 

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review 2015-03-18 22:55
Everything is Illuminated - A Very Premium Book
Everything Is Illuminated - Jonathan Safran Foer

“I’m looking for a book.” He told the Librarian, who had cared for the Trachimbrod novels since she was a girl, and was the only citizen to have read them all. “My Great-Grandfather wrote it.”

“What was his name?”

“Safranbrod, but I think he wrote it under a pseudonym.”

“What was the name of his book?”

“I can’t remember the name. He used to talk about it all the time. He’d tell me stories from it to put me to sleep.”

“What’s it about?” She asked.

“It’s about love.”

She laughed. “They’re all about love.”

 

Everything is Illuminated is a beautiful book. It’s told with such humour, wisdom and ingenuity that it rates as one of the best books I’ve ever read. Let me explain why.

 

Everything is Illuminated is told in three styles. The first is the account of a Ukrainian boy (Alex), describing himself and his grandfather working as translators/tour guides for a visiting Jewish author (Jonathan). Jonathan is looking for a legend within his family, the woman who helped his Grandfather escape the Nazis during the second world war.

 

The second is the story being written by the Jewish author describing the lives of his various ancestors and the small town they lived in.

 

The third takes the form of reaction letters written from Alex to Jonathan in response to Jonathan’s story.

 

The chapters written by Alex are told with an artful level of mistranslation that manages to be linguistically inventive and simultaneously entertaining and witty. He uses the English thesaurus without any true understanding of when different words are appropriate, and so often uses words that appear overly dramatic or unnecessarily precise. To quote Alex during one scene,

"I observed that the hero had small rivers descending his face, and I wanted to put my hand on his face, to be architecture for him."

These chapters become increasingly sincere and heartfelt as the book goes on, leading up to a satisfying conclusion. They also work as a wonderful compliment to the rest of the story.

 

The tale of the Shtetl is equal parts whimsy, tragedy, sadness, wisdom, humour, seriousness, love and not-love. The author mixes these elements together into a formula that’s powerful and deeply moving. These sections take on a certain magical-realism that gives the proceedings an almost metaphorical, fairy-tale like quality. This style plays meaningfully with the often tough subject matter of the plot. Depression, marital infidelity, the nature of love and the Jewish holocaust are all approached with a humorous, almost irreverent attitude; however instead of diminishing them, the intelligent manner of the writing does them justice in a way that will leave me thinking about this book and remembering passages from it for a long time.

 

As a whole, the plot is excellently constructed. The story elements aren’t all told in a strict chronology, but are told in a way that helps the book to build a world of it’s own. By the end, I was chuckling at in-jokes from earlier in the book, or noticing repeating elements and themes that took on more and more meaning. The prose was beautiful, and to be honest, I’m slightly awed at just how clever this book is.

 

Everything is Illuminated is a book I think everyone should read in their life. It works on so many levels that it literally made me laugh and cry. Get it, it’s a masterpiece, and I hope it affects you the way it affected me.

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text 2014-07-01 10:51
Jonathan Safran Foer and Our June Meeting

 

 

 

 

In June we were talking about Jonathan Safran Foer and his short story "A Primer for the Punctuation of Heart Disease". Since the story is really short and available for everyone online (http://www.pas.rochester.edu/~tobin/lj/2008/09/Foer.pdf), I will not focus here on the analysis – I would much rather prefer you sharing your thoughts on the subject with me.

 

Instead I will give you some background, the general info about Jonathan. And also I have a question for you: Do we need to know author's background to analyse his literary work? Please comment below or send me an email!

 

Jonathan Safran Foer is 37 years old and lives in Brooklyn, New York. Till June everyone thought that he shares house with his wife, also a writer Nicole Krauss (best know for “The History of Love”) and their 2 children, but Daily Mail just reported that the couple's representative announced their split up, after 10 years of marriage and that in fact they already didn't live together during last year.

 

He was born on Feb. 21, 1977 in Washington, D.C, to his lawyer father, Albert Foer, and his businesswoman mother, Polish-born Esther Safran Foer. Jonathan is a middle-child, younger brother of Franklin Foer, the former editor of the politics and culture magazine The New Republic, and older brother of Joshua, a freelance journalist.

 

He attemded Princeton University and studied Philosphy. As an undergraduate at Princeton University in the mid-1990s, Foer won the Creative Writing Thesis Prize. Joyce Carol Oates, noted author and Creative Writing professor at Princeton, encouraged Foer to pursue a professional writing career. She was a great influence on his final thesis project, which later became his first published novel, "Everything is Illuminated", about his maternal grandfather; Louis Safran who was a Holocaust survivor. Ironically, Foer had never met his grandfather. As he said: "She was the first person to ever make me think I should try to write in any sort of serious way. And my life really changed after that."

 

After graduation, he tried medicine studies, but quickly realised it was not for him and focused instead on his literary career. In 2001, he went to Ukraine to do further research and turned his thesis into a full novel. In 2002, “Everything Is Illuminated” was published by Houghton Miffin. He received for it the Jewish Book Award and the Guardian First Book Award. In 2005, Liev Schreiber wrote and direct a film-version of the book., starring Elijah Wood in the title role.

Also in 2005, Foer published his second novel “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”. It received very mixed reviews – from praise to complete condemnation. However, the novel sold well and in 2011, it was adapted for the screen, starring Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock. It was nominated for 2 Academy Awards (Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor) in 2013.

In 2008, Foer was hired as a professor of Creative Writing at Yale University. Next year, he suddenly published his first work of nonfiction “Eating Animals”. The book was, and still is, widely discussed. An actress, Natalie Portman, said that it was “Eating Animals” that changed her from a vegetarian to a vegan activist. Because of this book Foer was accused of being unmanly, inconsiderate, juvenile. But also many praised him. He himself says it was inspired by the birth of his first child, that he was rushed by the fact he “would have to make decisions on his behalf”.

 

His other noticeable work included a libretto written for an opera “Seven Attempted Escapes from Silence” and an artwork in the shape of a book “Tree of Codes” (2010) created with the words from his favourite book, “Street of Crocodiles” by Bruno Schulz. At present he is working on his new novel book “Escape from Children’s Hospital” due to release in 2014.

In June 2010, both Jonathan Safran Foer and his wife, Nicole Krauss, were included in The New Yorker magazine's once-a-decade “20 Under 40” list of most promising writers. Foer currently teachers Creative Writing at New York University. 

 

 

All the info comes from:

http://www.pas.rochester.edu/~tobin/lj/2008/09/Foer.pdf

http://jonathansafranfoer.blogspot.com.es/p/biography.html

http://www.famousauthors.org/jonathan-safran-foer

http://contemporarylit.about.com/od/authorprofiles/p/foer.htm

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2661701/Extremely-quiet-incredibly-amicable-Literary-power-couple-Jonathan-Safran-Foer-Nicole-Krauss-SPLIT-following-secret-year-long-separation.html

http://www.eatinganimals.com/

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text 2014-03-29 14:27
Saying Good Day to Some Books
Everything Is Illuminated - Jonathan Safran Foer

I always tell myself that 90% of what I have, book wise, will end back up at the second hand store I buy (most of them) at.  This is rarely ever a reality, however, seeing as I put books willy nilly all over my apartment and I have to gather them together to even see what I have available to sell.  Well, seeing as how I just had to ask nicely for some money to cover my school payment next month (*sigh*) I figured the least I could do would be to gather some of these unwanted strays to sell off.  I found about 21 such unwanted books, 19 of which I found that I have already read and have no desires to re-read, one was my copy of *The Shining* that got something spilled on its page edges and a copy of *2001: a Space Odyssey* I bought without realizing that I already have it.  Such is the danger of a large book collection.

 

I got a *whopping* $9 out of my endeavor.  Whoo eeh.  I'm not bitter, though.

 

I'm not one of those people who grouses the usually grouchy lady who appraises the books that are brought in that my obviously heavily read copy of a book that they see five walk in the doors every day is worth much, much more than she can offer.  My reasoning for this is that this store is where I buy my library from - I usually only cruise the Discount/Overstock/Nostalgia section, where every book I pick up is typically $1, but occasionally can get as high as $3.  And these books are not in bad condition, and nor are they awful books - I once got the entire Golden Compass collection in one massive book that was in like new condition for $3.  Their reason for having to put it in that section? - they did not have room for two of those huge-ass books in their cramped shelves.

 

So, actually, yes, $9 DOES go a while in this store.  I also took the chance while I was there to fill out a job application - I heard they're hiring, and I would LOVE to jump ship from a corporate bookstore that increasingly wants to be Wal-Mart/Target, where the books are all usually the staggeringly high list price to this place in particular.  Wish me luck!

 

It also didn't hurt that they've started giving out 10% off coupons that works on ANYTHING in the store, as long as you've brought something in to sell! 

 

So I cruised around and found that they were selling Everything is Illuminated, a book that a co-worker of mine gushed about, which they were selling at $3.   Using that coupon for that paltry little purchase, I managed to use the rest of what I earned to buy myself lunch.   Not bad, when I have as little hours at work as I now have to earn money.

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