It was tense, but finally we have a winner :) And the winner is:
Jonathan Safran Foer: Everything Is Illuminated (2002)
Foer's novel won the Guardian ﬁrst book award and praise from John Updike and Joyce Carol Oates. Others have been deeply irritated by this story of a young American Jew who visits Ukraine in search of the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis. What do they hate so much? Chieﬂy the American's local guide (and co-narrator) Alex, whose already shaky English is dangerously loosened by the gift of a thesaurus. "In Russian," as Alex puts it, "my ideas are asserted abnormally well, but my second tongue is not so premium." Oh, and there's a farting dog.
The simplest thing would be to describe Everything is Illuminated, Jonathan Safran Foer's accomplished debut, as a novel about the Holocaust. It is, but that really fails to do justice to the sheer ambition of this book. The main story is a grimly familiar one. A young Jewish-American--who just happens to be called Jonathan Safran Foer--travels to the Ukraine in the hope of finding the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis. He is aided in his search by Alex Perchov, a naïve Ukrainian translator, Alex's grandfather (also called Alex) and a flatulent mongrel bitch, named Sammy Davis JR JR. On their journey through Eastern Europe's obliterated landscape they unearth facts about the Nazi atrocities and the extent of Ukrainian complicity that have implications for Perchov as well as Safran Foer. This narrative is not, however, recounted from (the character) Jonathan Safran Foer's perspective. It is relayed through a series of letters that Alex sends to Foer. These are written in the kind of broken Russo-English normally reserved for Bond villains and Latka from the US television series Taxi. (Sentences such as "It is mammoth honour for me write for a writer, especially when he is American writer, like Ernest Hemingway"; "It is bad and popular habit for people in Ukraine to take things without asking" are the norm.) Interspersed between these letters are fragments of a novel by "Safran Foer"--a wonderfully imagined, almost magical realist, account of life in the Shetl before the Nazis destroyed it. These are in turn commented on by Alex creating an additional metafictional angle to the tale.
If all this sounds a little daunting don't be put off; Safran Foer is an extremely funny as well as intelligent writer. Admittedly he has an annoying habit of capitalising great chunks of text, but minor typographical nuances are easy to ignore in a book that combines some of the best Jewish folk yarns since Isaac Bashevis Singer with a quite heartbreaking meditation on love, friendship and loss. --Travis Elborough --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
'An astonishing feat' The Times
About the Author
Jonathan Safran Foer was born in 1977 and lives in Queens, New York. He is the editor of the anthology A CONVERGENCE OF BIRDS, which Hamish Hamilton will publish in 2004 alongside his second novel, THE ZELNIK MUSEUM.