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Cannonball Read 2 #38: Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

Everything Is Illuminated is ostensibly the story of a character named Jonathan Safran Foer who travels from his home in America to the Ukraine to try and trace back the roots of his family and find Augustine, the woman who rescued his grandfather from the Nazis. However, it is mostly told through the eyes of Alex, a young Ukrainian whom Jonathan hires to be his translator for his trip. Alex writes up a description of their journey together (along with Alex's blind grandfather who is their driver and the "Seeing-Eye Bitch" Sammy Davis Jr. Jr) through the Ukrainian countryside. Alex's portions are written in the style of a person for whom English is a second language and the thesaurus is a dear friend--they are stylistically hilarious, and (particularly in the beginning when he first starts writing) I laughed aloud at some of his descriptions. Intermingled with Alex's travelogue are snippets from the novel Jonathan is writing about his Ukrainian ancestors and their lives in the village of Trachimbrod (which is all very whimsical and fantastical, rather than historical), and Alex's letters to Jonathan, discussing Jonathan's critiques of his sections and Alex's ideas about Jonathan's.

I loved this book despite myself. When I first started reading it, I found myself thinking "I know this is going to get sad and profound and whatever at some point, but it is SO HILARIOUS that I just don't care!" And I enjoyed it, not noticing at first when the tone started to change. However, it did start to get darker and sadder toward the end, and by the ending it completely broke my heart.

From reading comments on GoodReads, I suspect that this is a book one either loves or hates. If you are a person who wants things to be literal and linear and realistic, you should probably avoid this. However, if you like books that are a little more whimsical and weird and funny and sad, I highly recommend it.

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