Hmm. How am I supposed to write a book which confused me all the more after I turned the last page? To be honest, I have to consult the internet about the book before I finally understood the whole story. I know, I know, I am such a loser when it comes to understanding difficult books. Haha. Yes, difficult is the word I will use to describe this book. It was difficult for me to understand the writing (of Alex). It was difficult for me (at first) to keep track of the characters’ names. It was difficult for me to piece all the three story arcs together. Good thing, Wikipedia summed it all up for me. 😀
Aside from being difficult, though, Everything Is Illuminated is for me a very amazing piece of literature. Since this is the first novel written by the author, it cannot be ignored that he has put in a lot of effort, and I mean really a lot, in trying to make his debut work different from all the others. And different indeed it is, for three reasons.
For one, it contains three story arcs: 1) the version of Alexander “Alexi-stop-spleening-me” Perchov about his adventures with his grandfather and Jonathan Safran Foer (yes, the name of the main character is like that of the author) in looking for the lost town of Trachimbrod; 2) the novel written by the main character, Foer, about what happened in the 1700s in Trachimbrod, beginning on the day the wagon of Trachim B fell or did not fall into the river, and; 3) the letters between Alex and Foer.
For two, the broken English used by Alex, who is a Ukrainian, in communicating with Jonathan, an American, is downright hilarious, I can’t help but laugh out loud while reading. I say broken in the sense that Alex seems to use words coming from the thesaurus, resulting to very hilarious sentences. His initial conversations with Foer are extremely funny, especially when it comes to his understanding of English idioms. Here is an excerpt of a conversation between Alex and Jonathan, with Alex narrating:
“Your train ride appeased you?” I asked. “Oh, God,” he said, “twenty-six hours, fucking unbelievable.” This girl Unbelievable must be very majestic, I thought. “You were able to Z Z Z Z Z?” I asked. “What?” “Did you manufacture any Z’s?” “I don’t understand.” “Repose.” “What?” “Did you repose?” “Oh. No,” he said, “didn’t repose at all.”
That, and many more of that you will find all throughout the book, especially when it comes to Alex’s version.
For three, I find it at first very narcissistic for the author to use his own name for his character. I mean, some authors even use pseudonyms to hide their true identities, but Foer, he likes his character to be named after him? However, after I read Wikipedia, I learned that the novel is actually based on a thesis done by the author about his Jewish ancestry, and somehow the events in the book are related to his real life story. So there, I think I finally get the need to use his name for the main character.
The author’s brilliance is more elaborated with the way he wrapped up the story. Although it was very humorous when it started, the story ended in a deep melancholic tone. However, I must say that too much effort to be original also has its limits. After several chapters of shifting from one POV to another, I found myself getting tired and confused. And this confusion continued until the second half of the book. If not for Wikipedia, as I’ve already said, I wouldn’t have been very enlightened with the turnabout in the story. Even after it ended, I felt that I still wasn’t able to get the story. I wasn’t illuminated at all. I got burned out, I guess?
Still, the good points outweigh the bad. If you want to read something funny and different, something original, you might want to give Everything Is Illuminated a try. If you had a good time reading it, well and good. If you got confused and tired, like me, don’t spleen me and say I didn’t warn you.