Everything Is Illuminated

By Martina - Saturday, April 28, 2018

The book I read this month has been on my to-be-read list for years. It's Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer.

*this post contains spoilers*

Foer is one of my favourite authors since Extremely Loud, Incredibly Close, so I had incredibly high expectations for this book.

Luckily I can tell you that it definitely lived up to the expectations. I love the plot, the way it is developed, the way Foer writes - especially the stream of consciusness bits around the end of the book - and the attention given to language and to every single word used. This book really shows off the writing skills of the author as he wrote all the chapters narrated by one of the characters in a non standard form of English, as that was not the character's first language. As a passionate English learner myself, I can tell you that I truly enjoyed reading those chapters, as I could understand the character's word choices, spelling mistakes or atypical structures and I know first hand how hard it is to learn the right collocations and vocabulary in a different language.

A great example of the author's ability to play with language is the title of the book itself. At first, Everything Is Illuminated sounded really deep to me, almost as if it had to be related to God or religion. I could imagine someone understanding the meaning of life or something along that way. While reading the book I realised that, though the deeper interpretation might still make sense in the book's context and the different levels of interpretations might overlap, it might actually be an atypical choice of words made by the character whose first language is not English, and that for him it might simply mean 'that's clear now, I understand.' Something like a literal translation from his language to English.

The other thing I really love about Foer's style (and that is shared by another author I truly appreciate, Jonas Jonasson) is the way he manages to merge reality and nonsensical fiction (like the fact that one of the characters was hit in the head by a blade and managed to live for years and years with a blade stuck in his head, and his wife would polish it for him and so on) in a way that leads you to believe what is being narrated is totally likely to happen and makes sense in the plot, but also sort of teaches you something in between the lines. It's like a big metaphor with multiple layers of meanings, if that makes sense.

I was positively surprised by the ending, not by the conclusion of the story itself but by the way the author left it hanging half-sentence, it was the best way I could have imagined to end a novel like this, so dense in characters and plot lines and twists.

Another thing I find fascinating is that one of the main characters is the author himself, and this story has a certain degree of truth hidden in between the made up scenes and unlikely events. There's no clear distinction between what actually happened in real life and what was made up.

I also really like that Foer has managed to integrate lots of details about the jewish culture and mentality here, as I find their culture, history, traditions and religion really interesting and unique.

The only detail I'm not too keen on is the abundance of sexual references, description and scenes. I understand that they made sense in the context they were described, but I didn't find them necessary and I think I could have lived without them.

Martina x

PS. Please appreciate the effort I put into drawing some sort of eucalyptus crop next to the book and don't pay attention to the low quality of the image itself - hahah. I'm still learning how to use my iPad properly and have messed up a bit with this one.

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