Everything Is Illuminated
Front cover of hardcover edition.
|Author||Jonathan Safran Foer|
|Cover artist||Jon Gray (aka gray318)|
|April 16, 2002|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|ISBN||ISBN 0-618-17387-0 (hardcover)
ISBN 0-06-052970-9 (paperback)
|LC Class||PS3606.O38 E84 2002|
Jonathan Safran Foer, a young American Jew, journeys to Ukraine in search of Augustine, the woman who saved his grandfather's life during the Nazi liquidation of Trachimbrod, his family shtetl. Armed with maps, cigarettes and many copies of an old photograph of Augustine and his grandfather, Jonathan begins his adventure with Ukrainian native and soon-to-be good friend, Alexander "Alex" Perchov, who is Foer's age and very fond of American pop culture, albeit culture that is already out of date in the United States. Alex studied English at his university, and even though his knowledge of the language is not "first-rate", he becomes the translator. Alex's "blind" grandfather and his "deranged seeing-eye bitch," Sammy Davis, Jr., Jr., accompany them on their journey.
The book's writing and structure received critical acclaim for the manner in which it switches between two story arcs: (1) fragments of Foer-the-character's novel-in-progress, where he tells in highly literary English a quasi-magical story about the citizens of Trachimbrod; and (2) a straightforward narrative of searching for Trachimbrod (an invented name for the real village Trochenbrod), as told by Alex in broken English.
Literary significance and criticism
Upon its initial release the book received positive reviews. The Times review stated that the book was "a work of genius," that Foer had "staked his claim for literary greatness," and that "after it, things will never be the same."
In a Huffington Post article titled "The 15 Most Overrated Contemporary American Writers," Anis Shivani sees the work as "harmless multiculturalism for the perennially bored" and claims that "a more pretentious 'magical realist' novel was never written." A reviewer from The Prague Post laments that the book misrepresents the history of Jews in Ukraine and that the factual history of the massacre at Trachimbrod "...stands in a sharp contrast to claims made in the book." He finds particularly objectionable the fact that, in the novel, Foer described the Ukrainian treatment of Jews as "almost as bad as the Nazis," when in fact some Ukrainians helped the escape of the few Jewish survivors from Trochenbrod, and suffered brutal retaliation themselves as a result. Some American critics have interpreted the Prague Post's review of the book as a misread or an exaggeration. While in the book Jonathan says his grandmother told him that "they [the Jews] thought it [the Nazis' arrival] would be an improvement" relative to the Ukrainians, he never claims the Ukrainians' treatment of Jews was "almost as bad as the Nazis". As a result, some have speculated Jonathan simply wanted to portray his grandmother accurately.
Awards and honors
- 2001 National Jewish Book Award, winner
- 2002 Guardian First Book Award, winner
- 2002 New York Times Bestseller
- 2002 Amazon.com Best Books
- 2003 Young Lions Fiction Award, winner
- 2004 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize, co-winner
- 2007 Pajiba's Best Books of the Generation, no.8
- "Luminous talent in the spotlight". London: The Times. July 7, 2002. Retrieved July 12, 2007.
- Shivani, Anis. (August 7, 2010) "The 15 Most Overrated Contemporary American Writers." The Huffington Post. Accessed November 20, 2010.
- Katchanovski, Ivan. (October 7, 2004) "Not Everything Is Illuminated". The Prague Post. Accessed November 20, 2010.