2002 Guardian First Book Award
A New York Times Notable Book for 2002
Everything Is Illuminated is Jonathan Safran Foer's remarkable debut
novel, the story of a young writer named Jonathan Safran Foer traveling
in Eastern Europe to find out more about his family's history and its
possible connection to (and escape from) the Holocaust. The stories are
the intertwining voices of Alex, Foer's Ukrainian translator, driver, and
general cultural companion, and Foer's novelization of the story of his
grandparents. Although Foer's story is moving and intriguing, blending
history and fable, Alex's hilarious voice (both archaically formal and
with pop culture idioms) steals the show. As the novel progresses, however,
Alex's rocky English steadily improves, just as his worldview matures
something more tragic and complex. A sharp, startling new voice from an
intelligent and passionate young writer, Everything Is Illuminated prompted
Adrienne Miller of Esquire to proclaim "One of the most impressive
first novels in a long time....[T]his book is, as its name implies,
brilliant." Jill, Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
Exuberant and wise, hysterically funny and deeply moving, Everything Is Illuminated
is an astonishing tour de force. In the summer after his junior year of college, a writer also named Jonathan Safran Foer journeys to the farmlands of eastern Europe. Armed with only a yellowing photograph, he sets out to find Augustine, the woman who might or might not be a link to the grandfather he never knew the woman who, he has been told, saved his grandfather from the Nazis.
Guided by the unforgettable Alex, his young Ukrainian translator, who writes in a sublimely butchered English, an amorous dog named Sammy Davis, Junior, and an old man haunted by his memories of the war, Jonathan is led on a quixotic search across a devastated landscape and back into an unexpected past. Braided into this story is the novel Jonathan is writing, a magical fable of his grandfather's village in Ukraine, a tapestry of startling symmetries that unite generations across time. In a counterpoint of voices blending high comedy and deep tragedy, the search moves back in time, the fantastical history moves forward, and they meet in a heart-stopping scene of extraordinary power.
Passionate, wildly inventive, and marked by an indelible humanity, Everything Is Illuminated mines the black holes of history and is ultimately a story about searching: for people and places that no longer exist, for the hidden truths that haunt every family, and for the delicate but necessary tales that link past and future.
"Comedy and pathos are braided together with extraordinary skill in a haunting debut." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"[A]n inventive but immature fictional excursion, sometimes pleasant, sometimes just pretentious....Much of the novel's humor derives from Alexander's fractured English and his posturing antics. That humor, though bought rather cheaply, is deft, but the too frequent flights of lyricism stink of affectation....[N]ot surprisingly, [the Holocaust] proves to be too big a subject for [Foer's] undeveloped talent." Brooke Allen, Atlantic Monthly
"One of the most impressive first novels in a long time....[T]his book is, as its name implies, brilliant." Adrienne Miller, Esquire
"It's hard to get through the first chapters of Everything Is Illuminated. The problem is, you keep laughing out loud, losing your place, starting again, then stopping because you're tempted to call your friends and read them long sections of Jonathan Safran Foer's assured, hilarious prose....Everything Is Illuminated is endearing, accomplished and (to quote Alex one last time) definitely premium." Francine Prose, The New York Times Book Review
"Generations become united across time in this fanciful tale, as Foer, the author, gives the reader a contemporary version of 19th-century Jewish drama one that blends laughter and tears." Library Journal
"Foer has written a glittering first novel...with great humor, sympathy, charm and daring. Every page is illuminated." Jeffrey Eugenides, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Middlesex
"Extraordinarily gifted...this young man also happens to possess something approaching wisdom. Don't just check him out. Read him." Russell Banks, author of The Sweet Hereafter
"A zestfully imagined novel of wonders both magical and mundane....He will win your admiration, and he will break your heart." Joyce Carol Oates, author of We Were the Mulvaneys
"Foer exquisitely executes the book's best jokes: the way that Jonathan's minor flaws his vanity, his American cluelessness, his tendency to patronize filter through Alex's admiring portrait of the young man he calls his 'most premium friend' and 'the hero.' As the novel shades inexorably into the tragic mode, and as Alex comes to be a much better writer than Jonathan, with both a finer sense of truth and a more urgent understanding of the need for happy endings, his stumbling English incandesces into eloquence. And that alone is worth the price of admission."
Laura Miller, Salon.com (read the entire Salon review)
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.
About the Author
Jonathan Safran Foer was born in 1977 in Washington, D.C. He is the editor of the anthology A Convergence of Birds: Original Fiction and Poetry Inspired by the Work of Joseph Cornell, a Book Sense 76 selection and a Boston Globe bestseller. His stories have been published in the Paris Review and Conjunctions. Jonathan traveled to the Ukraine four years ago to research his grandfather's life. This is his first novel, parts of which appeared in The New Yorker.