'To be truthful, some writers stop you dead in your tracks by making you see your own work in the most unflattering light. Each of us will meet a different harbinger of personal failure, some innocent genius chosen by us for reasons having to do with what we see as our own inadequacies.'
So there. This book made me feel so insignificant and talentless that I properly downed tools for a couple of days and started to wonder whether I have been completely wasting my time. I was quite overwhelmed by it because it is MIGHTY and ambitious and clever and funny, and made me feel quite stupid, actually, which is probably why it's taken me an age to get around to writing about it. In fact, I couldn't stop thinking about my age and the fact that I am already two years older than Safran Foer when this was published. He was 25.
The story is lead by the narrative of a young Jewish-American, handily called Jonathan Safran Foer, and his journey back to the Ukraine to explore his familial roots there and try and find the women who saved his grandfather life when his shtetl was destroyed by the Nazis in WWII. He is accompanied on his journey by Alexander Perchov, his Ukrainian translator, Alex's father, also called Alex, and a mangy, flatulent dog called Sammy Davis Jnr Jnr.
The narrative takes multiple strands:
1) Sections from Jonathan Safran Foer's (the character) own novel-in-progress, about past members of his family who lived in the Ukrainian shtetl a long time ago;
2) Narration from Alexander Perchov, the translator, who provides a running commentary on Jonathan Safran Foer's time in the Ukraine, in his own special brand of English;
3) Letters between Alexander and Jonathan after the event, which work well to tie all the strands together.
I feel a bit like something special was happening to me after reading this book and I'm intensely aware that I'm struggling to convey that in this review. I saw a review on Amazon which is basically 'THIS WAS AMAZING, OH MY GOD, I CAN'T TALK ABOUT IT', which echoes my thoughts well. Just read this book, if you haven't. I'll read it throughout my life I imagine, but maybe only when my own work is going well.
Title: Everything is Illuminated
Author: Jonathan Safran Foer
Publisher: Perennial, and imprint of HarperCollins
Format: Paperback, 276 pages, and it was very kindly given to me by Nicole at Book Lush.