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Everything is illuminated mostly takes place in Ukraine, The main character in my opinion is the translator Alex Perchov, The book is written as a collection of letters, Alex Perchov writing about what happened in Ukraine and commenting on his writing and commenting about the story written by Jonathan.
In the story Alex and his grandfather, who work for a company that shows Jews their heritage, they are tasked to pick up Jonathan from the airport and help him find the destroyed town of Trachimbrod and the girl who helped Jonathan's Grandfather escape whit the help of a picture
While the book starts funny whit Alex introducing himself it immediately becomes apparent he is not all that experienced whit English, this leads to some humorous sentences, while the start is funny and a bit absurd however once you progress into the book you learn more about the characters and their dreams and regrets, it becomes increasingly more sad as you realize their situations.
The book does an excellent job of making you experience a plethora of emotions, making people feel emotions trough words on paper is definitely an art and this book is an interesting read.
I have a feeling before I start that any description I try to make of this book will fail to do it full justice. And that by trying to pull apart the threads and give you some gist of what the story is wrapped around that I might spill more information than the author ever intends you to have as you open the first page and meet your narrator. But I will do my best to keep plot details to a minimum, and try instead to give you a flavour of this refreshingly unique novel. The jacket tells you nothing of the story, no brief synopsis, just a quote from the Times declaring it ?A work of genius. A new kind of novel ? after it things will never be the same again, it will blow you away?. And others have obviously agreed with this praise, because it won the Guardian First Book Award for 2002. It was on these merits that I purchased and bought the intriguing looking novel. And purely luck that it came to hand last week when I needed a new companion for the train. Sometimes it?s nice not to know what to expect. And what I got was a roller coaster ride, sometimes emotional, confusing, funny and incredibly sad. More than that, it avoids the clichés that the subject matter makes dangerously easy, and is well written from start to finish. Interested? On the first page we are greeted by our narrator, Alex. He starts off narrating in character, and he doesn?t finish to the very last page. He is a young Ukrainian man, impossibly ambitious and deliciously unique. His story is told in the mangled English of a foreigner, peppered with strange words dragged from a thesaurus, so deciphering him can be an amusing task. Alex introduces us to his family, three generations in the same house, and quickly cuts to the germ of the story to unfold: The American. The American is a young man, Jonathan Safran Foer, who is on a quest to discover more about his own family roots, embedded in rural Eastern Europe. Circumstances push he and Alex together, as searcher an
d inexperienced guide. The search becomes one that infuses both Alex and his grandfather, and brings to light details of hundreds of loves and lives. Past, present and future mix and mingle as three threads of story telling are begun. The first of these is Alex?s witty and endearing telling of the trip with Foer. Packed into an old car for hours on end, with the blind grandfather driving, Alex playing up to the American, and Foer himself being abused on the back seat by Sammy Davis Junior Junior, the stinking seeing-eye dog that he is utterly terrified of. Try not to laugh at her slobbery backseat antics (see title). Alex is narrator and translator. Through him we know everything, and see the gaps that the American struggles with. Parts of this narrative are genuinely hilarious, the misunderstandings and cultural differences make for warm and funny reading. Interspersed though this story are chunks of a history of a small village, where Foer?s family originate from. This tale, part fiction part fact, bounces along randomly from the discovery of a wagon crashed into the river in 1761, up to the second world war. Bits of it are delicious, the very early history taking on a kind of magical-realism in the text, the characters are brilliant, their lives painted with feeling and irony. I like a novel that can make the ridiculous seem perfectly believable, and this pleased me no end. The later parts of Foer?s grandfather are painful and yet still compelling to read. I loved the parts detailing the minutiae of everyday life in the Shetl. It is so frank and yet desperate for remembrance, for all tiny details to live in through the written word. The third thread binding the novel together are letters from Alex to Jonathan, which cover the period of the writing of the novel, after the trip. These are again warm and funny, with flashes of darkness and a better insight into the part in the story that Alex and his grandfather play. Foer dallies
around with present day anti-semitism, but without preaching. Through these letters we see pasts affecting futures, and to some extent Alex becoming a man before our eyes. The resulting novel is a delight to read, and with every page turned, new revelations bore into you, pieces falling into place in the confusion and overlapping webs of story. I found myself completely hooked, losing hours at a time lost in the misty past with a village of endearingly mad people, and with a part of myself falling in love with Alex as the tales unfold. This novel somehow manages to rise above the everyday, it?s so original and funny in composition, and even through the most gravely serious of events, it never loses that edge, never descends into easy cliché and emotional overkill. Everything from start to finish is done with a wash of irony, and an enviable balancing of comedy and tragedy. If you have, as I do, a weakness for great stories told with an even greater linguistic genius, then this is something you need to investigate. Everything is Illumiated by Jonathan Safran Foer, published by Penguin for a very reasonable £6.99