This post is part of the 2016 April A to Z Challenge.
Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer manages to be simultaneously hilariously funny and deep-reaching.
When it comes down to it, the story is about an American Jew travelling to Ukraine in search of the woman who saved his grandfather’s life during the Nazi liquidation of his family’s village. The American in question is called Jonathan Safran Foer, and knowing very little about Ukraine and the local language, he needs some local help to find the woman only known as Augustine.
This local help comes in the form of Alex, a young man who loves all things American and calls Jonathan “the hero.” Alex becomes Jonathan’s translator and friend – the only problem is that although he does speak English, he constantly malappropriates words as learners of English as a second language are wont to do, and his pop culture references are just this side of out-of-date.
Part of the book is told by Alex, the other by Jonathan, often in the form of letters between the two friends. Alex’ parts are written in the way he speaks. Anyone who has had to learn English as a foreign language will understand his hilarious struggles. The words are not wrong as such – just wrong in the context. So instead of spending money, Alex may “distribute currency.” It takes about 20 pages to get your head around his way of using the language, but once caught on, it becomes laugh out loud funny. Helping Alex and Jonathan, are Alex’ “blind” grandfather who serves as Heritage Touring Company’s guide and driver, and his supposed guide dog – or as Alex puts it “the deranged seeing-eye bitch”, which they call Sammy Davis Jr., Jr.
Everything is Illuminated is highly entertaining, despite the blatant self-insertion by the author. It handles a difficult subject beautifully, and shows the funny and extraordinary sides of every day things, like language, family, friends and love.
My Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥
Title: Everything is Illuminated
Author: Jonathan Safran Foer
Publisher: Penguin Group
Release Date: June 5, 2003