January 18, 2007
Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything Is Illuminated
I did not find this novel as engaging and exhilarating as Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close--not as a whole, anyway, though it was impossible to resist the Ukrainian translator's brilliantly comic and touching narrative. I think it would help me to read some commentaries by other reviewers about the fable-like story that accompanies the fictionalized Jonathan's quest: I became impatient with its elaborate artifice and tired of trying to grasp what it was saying about the history of Jewish communities. I did discern (I think!) that it offers a kind of allegorical account of the way a community builds meaning around tradition, myth, and relationships; and I felt that perhaps the element of disbelief it evokes in readers (or in this reader, anyway) was related to the inability of the inhabitants of the fabulous village to understand the direction of their own history and, ultimately, the fate that awaits them. Here it seemed interestingly linked to other Holocaust stories (such as Night) that similarly rely on dramatic irony to generate tension and mourning in their readers: we know, or imagine, only too well what lies in the characters' futures. Here as in his second novel, Foer seems preoccupied with the proximity of love to grief and suffering. If there's a redemptive message in either book, I'd say it is that the pain becomes worthwhile (if you can say that) because it is a measure of love. Suffering seems in both books to be what makes love most tangible: if this perspective is essentially a tragic one, I suppose that is the consequence of setting these books around human catastrophes.