Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
What would it sound like if a foreigner wrote a novel in broken English? Foer answers this question to marvelous effect in his inspired though uneven first novel. Much of the book is narrated by Ukrainian student Alex Perchov, whose hilarious and, in their own way, pitch-perfect malapropisms flourish under the influence of a thesaurus. Alex works for his family's travel agency, which caters to Jews who want to explore their ancestral shtetls. Jonathan Safran Foer, the novel's other hero, is such a Jew an American college student looking for the Ukrainian woman who hid his grandfather from the Nazis. He, Alex, Alex's depressive grandfather and his grandfather's "seeing-eye bitch" set out to find the elusive woman. Alex's descriptions of this "very rigid search" and his accompanying letters to Jonathan are interspersed with Jonathan's own mythical history of his grandfather's shtetl. Jonathan's great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Brod is the central figure in this history, which focuses mostly on the 18th and 19th centuries. Though there are some moments of demented genius here, on the whole the historical sections are less assured. There's a whiff of kitsch in Foer's jolly cast of pompous rabbis, cuckolded usurers and sharp-tongued widows, and the tone wavers between cozy ethnic humor, heady pontification and sentimental magic-realist whimsy. Nonetheless, Foer deftly handles the intricate story-within-a-story plot, and the layers of suspense build as the shtetl hurtles toward the devastation of the 20th century while Alex and Jonathan and Grandfather close in on the object of their search. An impressive, original debut. (Apr. 16) Forecast: Eagerly awaited since an excerpt was featured in the New Yorker's 2001 "Debut Fiction" issue, Everything Is Illuminated comes reasonably close to living up to the hype. Rights have so far been sold in 12 countries, the novel is a selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club and a main selection of Traditions Book Club, and Foer will embark on an author tour expect lively sales. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review
Comedy and pathos are braided together with extraordinary skill in a haunting debut, a tale that depicts, with riveting intensity and originality, a young Jewish American writer's search for his family's European roots. Three stories are told therein: that of 20-year-old college student Jonathan Safran Foer's journey (in 1997) to the Ukraine in search of "Augustine," the woman rumored to have saved his grandfather from the Nazis; Jonathan's novel-in-progress, a fictional history of Trachimbrod, the Polish shtetl where his ancestors settled in the late 18th century; and letters written to Foer by his Ukrainian guide and translator Alex Perchov, an imperturbable Americanophile who boasts that he's "fluid" in English (in fact, he mangles it as memorably as Mrs. Malaprop) and blithely rearranges all his employer's plans. The seriocomic, partly surreal picture of life in Trachimbrod begins in fine magical-realist form with the story of a newborn baby who inexplicably survives when her father's wagon tumbles into the Brod River (for which she'll be named) and he drowns. Thereafter, Foer keeps the reader both hooked and pleasingly disoriented, as the narrative careens between Jonathan's sedulous exploration of "the dream that we are our fathers" and Alex's ingenuous accounts of their travels, undertaken in the company of his bilious Grandfather and an amorous canine bitch called Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior. The aged Augustine is (or perhaps is not) found, horrific tales of Nazi atrocities and of a bitter legacy of apostasy, betrayal, and guilt gradually unfold-and "illumination"-is ironically achieved, as these several stories fuse together. Summary would mislead, as interlocking revelations are the story's core: suffice it to say that at its overpowering climax, the river where it all began "speaks"-before another voice adds an even more passionate, plaintive coda. Beauty from ashes. And a vibrant response to Jonathan's grim aphorism "The novel is the art form that burns most easily." Not this novel. First serial to the New Yorker, where Foer was featured as a 2001 Debut Fiction Writer; author tour
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