Summary and book reviews of Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

Everything Is Illuminated

by Jonathan Safran Foer

Everything Is Illuminated
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2002, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2003, 276 pages

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About this Book

Book Summary

Lit by passion, fear, guilt, memory, and hope, the characters in Everything Is Illuminated mine the black holes of history in this exuberant and wise, hysterically funny and deeply moving debut.

With only a yellowing photograph in hand, a young man - also named Jonathan Safran Foer - sets out to find the woman who might or might not have saved his grandfather from the Nazis. Accompanied by an old man haunted by memories of the war, an amorous dog named Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior and the unforgettable Alex, a young Ukrainian translator who speaks in a sublimely butchered English, Jonathan is led on a quixotic journey over a devastated landscape and into an unexpected past. As their adventure unfolds, Jonathan imagines the history of his grandfather's village, conjuring a magical fable of startling symmetries that unite generations across time. Lit by passion, fear, guilt, memory, and hope, the characters in Everything Is Illuminated mine the black holes of history. As the search moves back in time, the fantastical history moves forward, until reality collides with fiction in a heart-stopping scene of extraordinary power. An arresting blend of high comedy and great tragedy, this is a story about searching for people and places that no longer exist, for the hidden truths that haunt every family, and for the delicate but necessary tales that link past and future. Exuberant and wise, hysterically funny and deeply moving, Everything is Illuminated is an astonishing debut.

2002 Publishers Weekly Best Books of the Year
2003 Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist
2003 Saroyan Writing Prize
2004 PEN/Robert Bingham Award
2002 National Jewish Book Award
2003 New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award
2003 Reform Judaism Prize for Jewish Fiction Finalist

1
An Overture to the Commencement of a Very Rigid Journey

My legal name is Alexander Perchov. But all of my many friends dub me Alex, because that is a more flaccid-to-utter version of my legal name. Mother dubs me Alexi-stop-spleening-me!, because I am always spleening her. If you want to know why I am always spleening her, it is because I am always elsewhere with friends, and disseminating so much currency, and performing so many things that can spleen a mother. Father used to dub me Shapka, for the fur hat I would don even in the summer month. He ceased dubbing me that because I ordered him to cease dubbing me that. It sounded boyish to me, and I have always thought of myself as very potent and generative. I have many many girls, believe me, and they all have a different name for me. One dubs me Baby, not because I am a baby, but because she attends to me. Another dubs me All Night. Do you want to know why? I have a girl who dubs me Currency, because...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
We hope the following questions will stimulate discussion for reading groups and provide a deeper understanding of Everything Is Illuminated for every reader.
  1. Everything Is Illuminated is a novel written in two voices: Alex's account of the fictional character Jonathan Safran Foer's journey to Ukraine, and Jonathan's magical history of the village of his ancestors. How would you describe these two voices? How is the language different? In what ways do the two narratives intersect or diverge? Why do you think the author chose to write the novel in this way?

  2. On page 1, Alex refers to Jonathan Safran Foer as "the hero of this story." Is he the hero? Why do you think the author Jonathan Safran...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

New York Times Book Review - Francine Prose

Not since Anthony Burgess' novel A Clockwork Orange has the English language been simultaneously mauled and energized with such brilliance and such brio.

Kirkus Reviews

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.

Publishers Weekly

An impressive, original debut. 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.

Library Journal - Molly Abramowitz

Generations become united across time in this fanciful tale, as Foer, the author, gives the reader a contemporary version of 19th-century Jewish drama one that blends laughter and tears. Recommended for all libraries.

Booklist - John Green

It may be a pretentious title for a 24-year-old's first novel, but nearly everything about this remarkable book is illuminated. Jonathan. Foer...may be young, but he's no pretender.

New York Magazine - Daniel Mendelsohn

A book that illuminates so much with such odd and original beauty.

Newsday - Dan Cryer

[An] enormously impressive first novel . . . Everything is illuminated, indeed, by this talented artist's furious, glorious starburst of prose.

The Washington Post

Read it, and you'll feel altered, chastened -- seared in the fire of something new.

Time Magazine

A certified wunderkind at 25 . . .a funny, moving...deeply felt novel about the dangers of confronting the past and the redemption that comes with laughing at it, even when that seems all but impossible.

Reader Reviews

solveig steinhardt

amazing, surprising and surrealistic
Sometimes it made me laugh and sometimes it made me cry. I loved the way it's written, the surreality of the story, the numerous surprises in every chapter. Did not love the ending... it's not as authentic as the rest. But i think everyone should ...   Read More

Cloggie Downunder

clever, even if it is a bit pretentious
Everything Is Illuminated is the first novel by American author, Jonathan Safran Foer. This novel is written in three “voices”. The story of Jonathan Safran Foer’s search, in the Ukraine, for the family who rescued his grandfather from the Nazis ...   Read More

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