Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Everything Is Illuminated

Posted by nliakos on August 21, 2006

by Jonathan Safran Foer, 2002 (Recorded Books)

I tried reading this  once before for a book group but did not get very far.  Partly, I was put off by the fractured English of one of the book’s narrators, Alex, who loves to use his thesaurus and as a result says things like “This was very rigid,” when he means it was difficult.  (In my job as an ESL teacher, I encounter this sort of word choice problem all the time, so I was not anxious to find more exanples.)  Partly, I was put off by the other narrator’s story of a shtetl in Ukraine a couple of hundred years ago.  But several people had recommended the book to me, so I tried again with an audiobook, this time finishing it.  I have to admit, although I did not like everything about it, I am glad I read it.

On the surface, the book is about two young men (an American Jew named Jonathan Safran Foer–not the author–and his Ukrainian guide and “translator”, Alex/Sasha) who go on a quest to find the woman who may (or may not) have saved Jonathan’s grandfather from the Nazis during World War II.  The format alternates between Alex’s letters to Jonathan recounting the quest (on which they are accompanied by Alex’s “blind” grandfather, who serves as their driver, and their dog, Sammy Davis Junior Junior)and Jonathan’s narration of the shtetl history, which seems like pure fantasy.

There are some very funny moments and also tragic descriptions of the holocaust as experienced by the people of the shtetl which left me horrified.

I also enjoyed listening to an interview with the young author on the last tape.

The audiobook features two different readers: Jeff Woodman and Scott Shina.  Unfortunately, Recorded Books does not tell us which one reads which character.  I particularly enjoyed Alex’s “accent” (maybe Jeff Woodman?), but both readers did an excellent job.

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