According to Jonathan Safran Foer’s official Web site, his first novel, “Everything Is Illuminated,” was supposed to be a non-fiction account of his trip to the Ukraine. He set out to find the woman who saved his grandfather from the Holocaust, but failed.
So instead of writing about his real experiences, Foer created a fictional account of his trip and, in doing so, may have written a better book than his proposed work of non-fiction would have been.
“Everything is Illuminated” (Perennial, 2003) is a brilliantly written novel that explores the tragedy of the Holocaust and shows how it affected not only Jews but also the populations of the countries whose Jews were exterminated by the Nazis.
But it would be a mistake to assume that “Everything is Illuminated” is only a book about the Holocaust. While exploring the Holocaust, the novel also takes a serious and insightful look at love and at how people cover up the truth in order to live in worlds they have created for themselves.
Though only 276 pages long, “Everything is Illuminated” contains three different intertwining stories and takes place over two hundred years.
While the novel contains the book Foer is working on throughout the novel (postmodernism at its best, ladies and gentlemen), it also contains the fictional account of what happened to Foer during his trip to the Ukraine.
Foer uses his own name in the novel, but tells the story of his search for his past through Alex, a fictional Ukrainian boy his own age, who acts as Foer’s translator throughout his mission to find the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis.
Alex, who speaks and writes in broken English, is one of the most potent comic elements of the novel. Along with his grandfather and a dog named Sammy Davis Junior Junior, Alex and Foer travel to the landscapes of the Ukraine left empty and sad after the Nazis exterminated the Jews.
They only have the name of a town and an old photograph to work with but they hope to find Foer’s grandfather’s savior, a woman who may or may not be named Augustine.
Stylistically, Alex’s butchered English is the most notable aspect of the novel. As the novel progresses, the broken English does not become a barrier to understand the story but rather draws the reader further into the depths of the character’s struggle.
“Everything is Illuminated” shows how tragedy and comedy can be combined to explore an emotionally wrenching and profound experience.
Daniel Kristie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org