Posts Tagged: Jewish culture

Everything is illuminated by Foer

Everything is illuminated - Jonathan Safran Foer

I started to read ‘Everything is illuminated’ on the train on my way to uni last semester. I just realized that I haven’t read a lot of contemporary American literature, and this (in my humble opinion) is not a bad introduction. I had not heard about Foer before, and actually bought it because I thought it was a very thought-provoking title, so sure of itself. It starts like this:

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.

Fantastic!! I was hooked right from the start by the lingo, and people on the train thought I was totally off the deep end. I was laughing out loud, chuckling, and I swear, at one point a tear ran down my cheek. I felt sorry for the people around me that they couldn’t join in on it. The whole book is written with a deep embedded humor playing on the border between surrealism and familiarity.

The core of the story is the town of Trachimbrod in Ukraine. From this place, and because of this place, the novel jumps in time between 1791 and present time. In present time, Alex’ father has set him the task of acting the guide to an American Jew (whom Alex dubs ‘the hero’- a.k.a. Jonathan Safran Foer) coming to Ukraine to seek out his grandfathers past in Europe and to find a town that no longer exists. With them on the journey through the Ukrainian landscape is Alex’ own grandfather and a ‘Seeing Eye bitch’. Pure candy for my fantasy setup 🙂
Alongside this story is the tale of Trachimbrod’s inhabitants (divided into two groups: the goers to the Upright Synagogue and the Slouchers) at a time when Trachimbrod still existed, narrated in a magic realism style. In 1791 a wagon drives into the lake Brod and a baby girl is found in the water. After being ‘won’ in a lottery she grows up with Yankel who loves her unconditionally and respectfully.

Yankel made every effort to prevent Brod from feeling like a stranger, from being aware of their age difference, their genders. He would leave the door open when he urinated (always sitting down, always wiping himself after), and would sometimes spill water on his pants and say, Look, it also happens to me, unaware that it was Brod who spilled water on her pants to comfort him. When Brod fell from the swing in the park, Yankel scraped his own knees against the sandpaper floor of his bathtub and said, I too have fallen. When she started to grow breasts, he pulled up his shirt to reveal his old, dropped chest and said, It’s not only you.

The mood in the novel is like this all the way, even in the sad and horrible parts.

I would suspect that the story is also permeated with Jewish culture and thought, but I am not well enough versed in this area that I would make a claim of any sorts. It reminds me a bit about home, the Faroe’s, and the mentality seems to correlate on many levels.
Either way, I am so happy it had a catchy title that caught my eye while surfing the web. His narrative style appeals to me, and I hope that he soon completes one of his stories, so I will have yet another excuse to frighten my fellow passengers with my out-of-control-laughter. Until then I might have a little cry with his ‘Extremely loud and incredibly close’, which he read a passage of when he attended the National Library’s International Author’s Stage. But that’s a whole other story which deserves its own place.