Goodness me, what an arduous read Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer was! The story of an American author who travels to the Ukraine to try to track down the people who helped save his grandfather during the second world war, it’s told in three formats. Firstly, there is the story of the journey told by Alex, the young Ukranian man who acts as guide and translator for the author, and these sections are written as if Alex had written them himself in his broken English translation. In addition, Alex also writes letters to the author that accompany his chapters as he sends them to America. Finally, we are also told the story of the authors ancestors are told from the eighteen century onwards.
I found the “translated” sections very hard going, and made slow progress as I was constantly trying to unravel the sentences and translate them into proper English myself. Having said that, at times they were in turns charming, funny and heartbreaking, but initially, I did have to force myself to keep reading as I waded through these chapters.
On the other hand, I loved reading the historical chapters. Full of beauty and melancholy, I was able to slow down and savour these chapter, all the time guessing that it was likely to build to some tragedy at the end.
Having said that, the final chapter is possibly my favourite of the book despite being another translated letter, and while sad to read, left me with a feeling of hope for the future of the characters, and felt like a fitting end to the book.
I’m glad I read it, as it’s one I’ve been meaning to read for a while, but I have to say, I read his second book, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close a few years ago, and for me, it was a much more satisfying book to read, even though it had a similarly quirkiness to its style and language. Definitely an author I will look to read again in the future.