Everything is Illuminated
By Jonathan Safran Foer
Apologies. Not much time to write this one. I did my best.
Jonathan Safran Foer sure knows how to write a book. Or at least, he knows how to write two thirds of a book. Everything is Illuminated was like reading the literary equivalent of a M. Night Shyamalan movie. An absolutely spectacular setup with no possibility of a competent follow through.
Foer's debut novel is, if nothing else, ambitious. Foer lays out several story arcs within the novel, Each seem to inch closer and closer together as the story progresses, dragging the reader deeper into each story as they make their way toward ultimate illumination. Set in Ukraine, the arcs are an interesting exploration of humanity, love and heart-breaking tragedy. Each story is infused with a riveting blend of both dark humor and compassion for the characters involved.
The most interesting of all the story arches involves the correspondence letters from Alex, a young Ukrainian working for his father who is hired by Foer to act as translator when Foer visits in search of a long lost family secret. Alex, his grandfather and his grandfather's seeing-eye bitch accompany Jonathan on his travels to Trahimbrod, the village where his grandfather escaped Nazi atrocities.
As the arc progresses, the histories of Jonathan, Alex and his grandfather slowly begin to collapse upon themselves and the outcome is both inevitable and tragic. It is at this point where Foer should have stopped writing.
After what seems like the logical resolution to the entire novel comes a rambling chunk of experimental writing that, to me, served no particular purpose to the narrative whatsoever. What starts out so promising, devolves into a miasma of literary pettifogging. By the end of the novel I was rather unsure of what, exactly, i was supposed to take away from the novel aside from a furrowed brow and a distinct feeling of stupidity.
It's a shame, really. Until the moment the plot falls apart, I was ready to hail Foer as an emergent voice in the literary world (OK, I was ready to be yet another blogger/critic ready to voice such an opinion. I would not have been the vanguard in that respect, I admit). What could have been a novel every bit as relevant as Cloud Atlas or The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Instead it gets piled on high with other novels that could have/should have been better.
Maybe I just didn't get it.