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Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Safran Foer’

How to write a novel about 9/11?  It’s a tough ask.  Get it wrong and people attack you for riding the gravy train of grief.  Get it right, though, and you might just have a classic. 

Extremely Loud is the story of emotionally troubled Oskar Schell, a (very) precocious nine year old boy, whose father was killed in the attack on the Twin Towers.  ‘Heavy boots’ is Oskar’s term for sadness, one which he has occasion to repeat throughout the story.  He is very close to his grandma who lives across the street; they talk to each other at all hours by walkie-talkie.  After ‘the worst day’, Oskar finds a blue vase in his father’s closet and inside that an envelope with the name “Black” written on it.  Inside the envelope is a key and Oskar wants to find out what it opens, in part because it’s a puzzle, in part because it keeps him close to his father.  So begins a quest to find the right Black who might know.  In the midst of this search he finds one-hundred year old Mr Black who lives in the same apartment building who helps Oskar find and interview all the other Blacks in the five boroughs of New York City.  Oskar offers his card to everyone he meets, on which it explains that he is an “inventor, jewellery designer, jewellery fabricator, amatuer entomologist, francophile, vegan, origamist, pacifist, percussionist, amateur astronomer, amatuer archeologist, collector of: rare coins, butterflies that died natural deaths, miniature cacti, Beatles memorabilia, semiprecious stones, and other things.”  (Phew!)  Along the way he has another idea: to dig up the empty coffin of his father. 

This is Safran Foer’s second novel after his prominent debut, Everything is Illuminated, which I quite liked (see my review here).  You know what you’re getting when you open one of his books: enough pyrotechnics to put New Year’s Eve in Sydney to shame.  Extremely Loud has so many tricks that it would be impossible to list them, but it includes blank pages (curtesy of Oskar’s grandma’s attempt to write her autobiography using a typewriter with no ink ribbon); pages with one line of text; other pages in which Oskar’s grandfather, writing letters to his estranged son, runs out of paper and begins to write over the text he’s already written; photographs of things that Oskar pastes into his book of ‘Things that Happened to Me’ – including a haunting image of someone falling from one of the Twin Towers; and so on.  On paper these additions are compelling inventions, things that possibly extend what the novel can do.  They worked for me, though they won’t for everyone.

The story is littered with Oskar’s inventions, an almost obsessive compulsive trait, many of which are whimsical, but many of which stem from his sense of loss, such as this one, [p259]: “skyscrapers made with moving parts, so they could rearrange themselves when they had to, and even open holes in their middles for planes to fly through”. 

Alongside Oskar’s quest we have the dual narratives of his grandparents, in alternating chapters.  His grandma is writing letters to Oskar.  His estranged grandfather, Thomas, is writing letters to his lost son.  Even in these chapters there are tricks and magical-realist tendencies.  Both survived the Allied bombing of Dresden in WWII.  There are some odd things in these chapters.  Thomas was going to marry Anna, Grandma’s sister, who was expecting their child, only for Anna to die in the war.  Years later, Grandma sees Thomas in New York and asks him to marry her.  He has been much damaged by the Dresden bombing and is now unable to speak, writing all his conversations out in blank notebooks.  They do indeed marry, but have such strange rules and weird constructs that they live a very peculiar existence.  For example they divide their apartment into ‘Something’ and ‘Nothing’ zones.  If they want to disappear for a while they go into a Nothing Zone, but there become so many Nothing Zones that they fear going from one Something Zone to another, just in case they walk into a Nothing Zone!  Some of this I just didn’t get.  In the end, Thomas leaves, after she becomes pregnant with Oskar’s father.      

Oskar has a difficult relationship with his mother who is a lawyer.  He believes she doesn’t love him.  He is upset that she has a friend called Ron over all time and that they laugh a lot when he is crying.  In an outburst, he even tells her that she wished she had died and not his father, who told him all sorts of stories and loved him very much.  

There is also a moving vignette that focuses on an interview with a survivor of the attack on Hiroshima.  Says the interviewee: [p189]:

When I heard your organization was recording testimonies, I knew I had to come.  [My daughter] died in my arms, saying, “I don’t want to die.”  That is what death is like.  It doesn’t matter what uniforms the soldiers are wearing.  It doesn’t matter how good the weapons are.  I thought if everyone could see what I saw, we would never have war anymore.

And when he meets his elderly neighbour, Mr Black tells him the story of his (long) life.  His bed was made out of wood he sourced from cutting down a tree inCentral Park.  He had spent many years as a war reporter.  Oskar asks him which was his last war and he replies, [p161]:

Cutting down that tree was my last war!  I asked him who won, which I thought was a nice question, because it would let him say that he won, and feel proud.  He said, “The axe won!  It’s always that way!” 

Never was a truer word said about war. 

These unembellished accounts of war are the most compelling aspects of the novel.  Included in these are the voicemails Oskar’s father leaves on 9/11 after the plane struck the building he was in—and what Oskar does in order to cover them up.  The calls are so traumatising for him he replaces the message machine with a new one, keeping the old machine in his closet.  He doesn’t want his mother to hear them, although he has another motive for this obfuscation too.

Elsewhere, however, some of the tricks fall a little flat and rob the story of emotional depth.  The story’s set-up is so good that you root for Oskar and wonder how the relationship of his grandparents works itself out.  But part of the problem is that Oskar is so intelligent he comes across as being much, much older, an extension of the author in fact.  Safran Foer is at pains to have Oskar occasionally ask what a word means, but he knows so many other facts and is so literate that it seems a bit forced.  Why does he know one thing or erudite word and not another?  It’s symptomatic of the underlying problem: he’s just a little too ‘old’.  What we get is a character we should have enormous sympathy for, but can’t quite believe in.  It’s a real shame. 

Also, the stories of real emotional punch, like Thomas’s recounting of the Dresden bombing, get lost within the Something-Nothing world and the other tricks in these chapters.  I understand that war has broken these people in ways that seem bizarre to those of us lucky enough to live at arm’s length from such terrible things, but it seems Safran Foer can’t help himself.  Perhaps if there was less ‘narrative explosions’ we’d be able to see the dazzling fireworks of the story itself.  

This is an anti-war novel, and there’s a reason Oskar Schell is named Oskar.  Gunter Grass’s much acclaimed The Tin Drum, which I loved, has a rather unique protagonist also named Oskar.  Grass’s Oskar beats away at his tin drum in response to the horrors of Nazi Germany in WWII.  In Safran Foer’s novel, Oskar (occasionally) shakes his tambourine, though that’s perhaps where the similarities end.  The linkages between Oskar Schell and the WWII generation of his grandparents work well in underlining the fact that, sadly, humanity hasn’t learnt enough in the last 60 years.  

I love the fact that Safran Foer had the gumption to take on another weighty topic.  (His debut focussed on the Holocaust.  It, too, had a man on a quest and a dual-generation narrative structure.)  Extremely Loud is dazzling in many respects, and most of the questions raised are very well resolved, including why Oskar’s mother lets him go off to meet all these strangers, who the mysterious ‘renter’ in grandma’s apartment is, and what Oskar does when he digs up the empty coffin of his father—a particularly moving scene.  But I wonder just how great it could have been if there was a little more restraint and if Oskar had been just a little more sympathetic.  It could have been a classic.    

You’ll hear more about this book in the coming months.  It has been made into a movie starring Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, John Goodman and others.  (Hanks is an ironic choice considering he’s mentioned in the novel itself when Oskar goes to the Empire State Building!)  It’ll be interesting to see what Hollywood leaves in, takes out, (and puts in!), particularly with regard to the grandparents’ stories. 

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

Penguin

2005

ISBN: 9780141012698

326 pages

Source: the bookshelf rainbow

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Every time a new Tim Winton novel comes out I somehow find myself thinking, Ah, another story set in a coastal town in Western Australia, with a small cast of off-beat, earthy (yet never quirky), and slightly ‘broken’ characters, many of whom are known by their nickname, written in trademark ‘muscular’ prose with warm humour, and always, always the use of the word ‘saurian’ – an ever-present friend that has become so much of a trademark that it borders on a tic*.  Oh, and, of course, the Miles Franklin Award sticker on the front cover!  Perhaps this is why it has taken me some time to come around to reading the wonderful Breath.  That pretty much sums him up doesn’t it?  Well, the answer, as it turns out, is both yes and no.

Reading Winton is an engaging, physical experience.  You not only see the environment and people he depicts, you feel them.  In the Miles Franklin Award-winning (I warned you!) Breath, the prose is pared back to raw essentials – and what wonderful essentials they are.  There are no bells and whistles here; this is the antidote to those who dislike (or are at least a little weary of) the pyrotechnics of Dave Eggers, Junot Diaz, Jonathan Safran Foer and their ilk.  Instead, there is a precise economy.  The result?  Writing that reaches a new-found power.

It is fair to say that it ‘sings’ – and I use that word deliberately, because I relished the way in which the senses are so engaged, particularly sound.  Breath is such an aural experience, perhaps no surprise for a writer whose last novel (also a Miles Franklin winner) was entitled Dirt Music – if you can make music out of dirt, then think of the music you can make out of everything else!  The earth ‘hums’, oars creak in their rowlocks, wattlebirds ‘buzz’, kids’ bikes ‘whirr and clatter’, styrofoam surfboards ‘squeak’.  And then there is the ocean, the roaring surf, whose repeated descriptions over the course of a book might veer toward sameness in lesser hands, but Winton sustains the dynamism of the seascapes beautifully.  We get an early taste, and, like Bruce Pike, out narrator, we are hooked (p27):

Waves ground around the headland, line upon line of them, smooth and turquoise, reeling across the bay to spend themselves in a final mauling rush against the bar at the rivermouth.  The air seethed with noise and salt; I was giddy with it.

Later, Bruce tells of the first time he surfed ‘Old Smoky’ – the offshore giants that only get going in huge storm swells, (p113):

… the sight of the thing pitching out across the bommie drove a blade of fear right through me.  Just the sound of spray hissing back off the crest inspired terror; it was the sound of sheetmetal shearing itself to pieces.  The wave drove onto the shoal and the report cannoned across the water and slapped against my chest.

There is such energy in these passages; the writing whizzes us forward as if we are on (or watching!) those waves too.  And even when Winton does not describe the sound of something, such as the dour local baker’s ‘loaves like house bricks’, you still hear them in your head, clunking down onto the shop counter with supreme finality.  Elsewhere, Pikelet remembers (p67) coming home “at dusk with my ears ringing from the quiet.”  Music, it seems, is everywhere.

We first meet Bruce as a 50-year-old paramedic when he’s called out to what looks like an apparent teenage suicide.  But he sees through the dressed up situation to the truth that the mother wants hidden and his paramedic partner cannot see.  We then return to Bruce’s childhood growing up in Sawyer, a sleepy coastal town (I warned you!), where he is known as ‘Pikelet’ by his daring sidekick Loonie.  Pikelet and Loonie make fun by diving into the river and holding their breath, holding onto the ‘saurian’ tree roots (bingo!) on the bottom.  They also hold their breath and hyperventilate until their vision becomes tunnelled and they see stars.  But it is the surf that enthrals them and soon they find themselves in awe of ‘Sando’, a mid-30’s surfer dude married to the moody Eva.  They learn to surf and see Sando, a man who rides the biggest waves, as a God; and they become his disciples.  Sando soon takes them to offshore and distant breaks which, by turns, get larger, more thrilling, and more dangerous.  They become addicted to the thrill, obsessed by it.  For Pikelet, there is in surfing “the outlaw feeling of doing something graceful, as if dancing on water was the best and bravest thing a man could do.” (p29).

Interestingly, in these opening pages of Bruce’s childhood, we see Loonie much more clearly.  Loonie takes centre stage, “greedy about risk”, whilst Pikelet is slightly more circumspect and unsure of himself.  I enjoyed this slow revealing of our narrator – we get to know him far more gradually than we do Loonie who bursts onto the scene and demands attention.  The most we get on Pikelet is his reminiscences of his very first – and unforgettable – wave (p40):

And though I’ve lived to be an old man with my own share of happiness for all the mess I made, I still judge every joyous moment, every victory and revelation against those few seconds of living.

Indeed, Bruce goes onto think that (p50):

More than once since then I’ve wondered whether the life-threatening high-jinks that Loonie and I and Sando and Eva got up to … were anything more than a rebellion against the monotony of drawing breath.

We follow Pikelet as he experiences the to-ing and fro-ing of the triangular relationship that he shares with Sando and Loonie.  Both Pikelet and Loonie in turn experience moments of intimacy with Sando.  When Loonie breaks his arm, Pikelet is taken out big-wave hunting by Sando; then Loonie travels to Bali with Sando and Pikelet is left behind, commiserating with Eva as she recovers from yet another knee operation.  These alternating moments of intimacy with their cult-leader are like the ins and outs of the tide, with Pikelet and Loonie increasingly at polar ends as a space opens up between them that cannot be filled.  Pikelet’s obsession needs a new home whilst Sando is away and it finds an unexpected outlet.

I’ve made much of the sound of this story, but Winton engages every sense fully.  Pikelet’s chief memory of high school is the bus ride (p44):

… the smells of vinyl and diesel and toothpaste, corrugated iron shelters out by the highway, rain-soaked farmkids, the funk of wet wool and greasy scalps, the staccato rattle of the perspex emergency window, the silent feuds and the low-gear labouring behind pig trucks, the spidery handwriting of homework done in your lap, and the heartbreaking winter dusk that greeted you as the bus rolled back across the bridge into Sawyer. 

But, quelle horreur, not content with his trademark ‘saurian’, Winton has to tread on my territory, finding a place in his pared-back prose for the dilettante (p217) as we find out more about Eva’s past aerial skiing – she turns out to be every bit the adrenalin junkie that the boys are.  All I can say is: ‘Back off Winton – dilettante is mine!’  (Ah, but the sad truth is I admire him even more now than I did before, damn him!)

‘Breath’ is, of course, a recurring motif, but it is not over-used.  There is the hyper-ventilating Loonie and Pikelet, the holding of breath beneath pummelling waves, the stop-start snoring of Pikelet’s father, the briny breath of the sea, and the unravelling obsession of characters’ relationship with breath and breathing.  We know Bruce is a broken man, but he eventually finds an outlet for his thrill-seeking in his job as a paramedic.  Others are not so fortunate.

Breath has strong autobiographical undertones – Winton nearly drowned as a youth and was always scaring himself surfing big waves.  But it seems its author is anything but broken.  This book ticks all the Winton boxes and therefore seems ripe to be characterised as ‘just another Winton’.  Yes, it is these things, but it somehow seems more than them too.  Breath’s raw energy and pared-back essence is masterful and it deserves all the praise it has garnered to-date.  I’m already looking forward to the next time I pick up a book and see the word ‘saurian’…

* Saurian: of, relating to, or resembling a lizard.

Breath by Tim Winton

Penguin

ISBN: 9780143009580

265 pages

Source: The Bookshelf Rainbow, (aka: Personal Library).

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The two-page preface to The History of the Siege of Lisbon (1989) outlines José Saramago’s contention that “history and fiction are constantly overlapping” – something that is quite topical with novels such as Wolf Hall spurring a recent swathe of historical fiction. But this is not a historical novel like Mantel’s Booker Prize winner, but rather a story ‘inserted into history.’  Its fictional siblings therefore include speculative ‘alternate histories’, such as Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America (2004).  However, Roth takes a point in US history, (where he has FDR defeated by Charles Lindbergh in the 1940 Presidential election), and goes off on a tangent, writing a totally new history, whereas Saramago alters how a particular historical event occurs and who is involved, but there is no splintering off into some altered path of history which leads to an altered present.

The novel is constructed with two story arcs, one of which is historical, and the other in the present.  There are the events set in the twelfth century including our protagonist Raimundo Silva’s alternate history of the siege of Lisbon, and there is the life of Raimundo in the twentieth century.  It raises questions over how accurate the historical record can be and whether we can ever truly know the emotions or thoughts of characters whose history we interpret many years later.  How accurate can we be about History?

Saramago won the Nobel Prize in 1998.  This is the third book of his I’ve read.  The Stone Raft, in which the Iberian peninsula breaks off from Europe and floats around the Atlantic(!), and The Gospel According to Jesus Christ are the other two I’ve read.  The later is also an alternative history in the same vein as the Siege of Lisbon.  Both are excellent reads and are highly recommended.

In much of Saramago’s work, characters regularly have trouble connecting with others, and his novels regularly feature the theme of urban dislocation.  They also regularly feature magic realist elements.  The theme of historical accuracy and the framework of magic realism – right up my street! – so I was looking forward to another fine read from the Nobel Prize winning author.

Reading Saramago has its challenges.  He only uses commas and periods.  There is no other punctuation.  So, no question marks, exclamation marks, or dialogue quotation marks.  Dialogue is subsumed within the prose, marked only by a commencing capital letter and conversations are strung along with commas being the only separator between characters’ words.  His view is that the prose itself should make it clear as to who is speaking and also whether there is a question or exclamation involved.  One thus has to concentrate to keep up with things.  Close reading is a must.

This means that we get great slabs of prose, made only larger by his penchant for interminably long sentences and paragraphs, full of what I would call ‘narrative deviations’ in which the narrator goes off on some tangent to explore an idea or make a witty aside.  For example: (p63):

a traditional Portuguese meal of fried fish and rice with tomato sauce and salad, and with any luck, the tender leaves of a lettuce heart, where, something not many people know, nestles the incomparable freshness of the morning, the dew and mist, which are one and the same, but warrant repetition for the simple pleasure of writing both words and savouring the sound.

… It’s lovely writing, with lovely images, but there’s just too much meandering.  It is in some way reminiscent of Garcia Marquez’s excellent (and challenging) The Autumn of the Patriarch, (see my review), and provides a stark contrast to the pyrotechnics of a Dave Eggers or Jonathan Safran Foer for example.

Yet for all the promise of the story’s idea and the sometimes beautiful writing, for some reason only the modern arc of Raimundo’s life worked well for me.  Raimundo is a proof-reader and one day we see him insert a ‘not’ into a historical text entitled The History of the Siege of Lisbon – on purpose!  The deliberate mistake is only noticed after the book has been printed, but not before it is distributed.  The publisher’s decide to insert an errata notice rather than republish.  They also bring in a new woman, Maria Sara, to oversee all of the firm’s proof-readers’ work.  Needless to say, the meeting between Raimundo and his new boss is a tense affair!

After the meeting, Raimundo’s mind is filled with questions over the brusque nature of the woman.  Sometime later, he realises he has feelings for her.  Maria tells him that he should write the fictional history of the siege of Lisbon, one in which the crusaders decline to help the Portuguese evict the Moors from the fortified city.  After some silent rubbishing of this task, Raimundo finds himself drawn further and further into the lives of both Moor and Christian.  The fact that he himself lives in the fortified section of the city’s walls adds further intrigue – he can see battles and events from the distant past as if they are happening.  These historical scenes didn’t really capture my imagination.  Sometimes Saramago’s interminably long sentences with all their ‘nods’ and ‘winks’ and witty asides bored me.  It was all too ponderous.  So we have a wonderful premise for a story, but a structural problem with the dual arcs, one of which lacks bight.

It is only when the relationship between Raimundo and Maria Sara takes off that things move along nicely.  Here there are some wonderful moments, where an older single man falls in love with a woman fifteen-odd years his junior, who, we learn, liked him from their first meeting.

This is one of Saramago’s books that is one the 1,001, Must Read list.  I will certainly read other books by him, but just felt part of this novel didn’t work as well as it might have, which is a shame because the theme of the intersection between history and fiction is wonderful, one that is always worth exploring.

The History of the Siege of Lisbon by José Saramago

The Harvill Press, London

ISBN: 9781860467226

312 pages

Source: Personal Bookshelf Rainbow

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Jonathan Safran Foer took an introductory writing course whilst a freshman at Princeton ran by Joyce Carol Oates who took an interest in his writing, saying he had: “that most important of writerly qualities, energy”.  This observation is spot on – and for those readers who enjoy narrative pyrotechnics and manic energy in the style of Dave Eggers, Everything is Illuminated is most definitely the book for you.  Published in 2002, and winner of that year’s Guardian First Book Award, the story traces the journey of a Jew named Jonathan Safran Foer to the Ukraine, in search of Augustine, the woman who saved his grandfather’s life during the Nazi destruction of his family’s shtetl – or township, named Trachimbrod – during WWII.  The search is facilitated by his local interpreter, Alexander, Alexander’s supposedly blind grandfather, and ‘Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior’ – the grandfather’s supposed guide dog – or “Seeing Eye bitch”.

The story is constructed in two arcs, with Jonathan Safran Foer’s high-energy magical-realist novel-in-progress – which tells the story of the people of the imaginary Trachimbrod in Ukraine where his forebears are from – and a straightforward, but equally humorous account of their travels, written by his interpreter Alexander, whose interpreting skills are not up-to-scratch.  He boasts that he is ‘fluid’ in English and each sentence is littered with wild attempts at writing good English, but they betray the use of a ‘fatigued’ thesaurus without any real, first-hand experience of English.  He is excited by the chance to work: “… I was so effervescent to go to Lutsk and translate for Jonathan Safran Foer.  It would be unordinary.”

There is much ‘reposing’ (sleeping), things are often ‘rigid’ (hard or difficult), ‘currency’ is used instead of money, and things are not so much wonderful as they are ‘majestic’.  Good things and people are ‘premium’.  And Alex signs his letters ‘guilelessly’ rather than faithfully.  And this is not even the ice atop the iceberg of translation transgressions.  This comical translation yields a great deal of fun, where absolutely nothing is ‘unordinary’, but some will find that Alex doesn’t quite ring true – a real person trying to learn English might make mistakes of tense and quickly ape any English they hear with their ear.  ‘Reality’ is sacrificed here for the sake of comedy, which I enjoyed, but others may not.

Meanwhile, Safran Foer’s story arc captures the hilarious and odd townsfolk of Trachimbrod, where there is a balance between the Jewish Quarter and the ‘Human Three Quarters’.  This arc commences with the death of Trachim B, in 1791, whose wagon has rolled on top of him in the river, pinning him to the bottom.  There is much debate amongst the people as to whether to proclaim anything – it seems proclamations are very important – the candy-maker saying they need a proclamation … “not if the shtetl proclaims otherwise” corrects another(!)  In amongst the wagon’s rising detritus a baby is found – none other than Safran Foer’s great-times-five-grandmother.

The two story arcs move in opposite directions: Safran Foer’s starts way back in 1791 and moves forward, whereas Alex’s begins in the present day and travels backward to find out the truth of what his grandfather did in WWII.  This structure and interplay works well and is one of the successes of the book.  Like Dave Egger’s A Staggering Work of Heartbreaking Genius, Safran Foer’s narrative bristles with verve, energy and wit.  Reading Safran Foer is like having a marching band trump through your room with symbols clashing and trumpets blaring.  No-one can deny the brash, brute-force energy of it and its willingness to test the limits.

Laughter is never far away when Jonathan arrives in Lvov on the train to be met by Alexander, who describes the meeting:

“Your train ride appeased you?” I asked.  “Oh, God,” he said, “twenty-six hours, fucking unbelievable.”  This girl Unbelievable must be very majestic, I thought.

The knowing and wink-wink letters from the ‘guileless’ Alex to the ‘hero’ are rife with suggestions on how to make the story better, as well as questions over whether the story should be so funny given the sad events it depicts.  Alex writes:

“We are being very nomadic with the truth, yes?  The both of us?  Do you think that this is acceptable when we are writing about things that occurred?” … and after suggesting alternatives, he adds: “I do not think that there are any limits to how excellent we could make life seem.”

But the life of the story is not going to be easy or ‘excellent’.  When they arrive where Trachimbrod once stood, in the dark of night, Augustine says: “It is always like this, always dark”.  It is as if they are physically stepping into the dark past and the end of the shtetl.

Some sense greatness in Safran Foer’s style, whilst others point to a overuse of devices and pretension.  And yet others will sit somewhere in between, enjoy and go along with it to spot all the styles and cues of authors past – such as Garcia Marquez’s magical realism, Dave Egger’s narrative exuberance and pyrotechnics, and Günter Grass’s wonderful The Tin Drum whose protagonist Oskar hides beneath a relative’s skirt – just like a character in Safran Foer’s novel.  I find myself in the later camp, and whilst budding authors naturally tend to echo the styles of authors they in turn admire or borrow ideas or images to suit their own story, I’m less convinced of other reviewers’ claims of Safran Foer’s ‘startling originality’ and statements to the effect ‘that the novel will never be the same again’.  The Dilettante eschews such over-exuberance!  That said, there is much to admire, and given that Garcia Marquez and Günter Grass are two of my favourite authors, reading something excellently written, humorous and poignant that also reminds me of them was a very enjoyable experience.

It is a hard task to sustain such energy for the duration of a whole novel, but Safran Foer manages it.  His climactic remembrance of past evil is well executed, and the memory of it will live long, although others have pointed out that it reminds them of Sophie’s Choice but lacking its emotional knockout punch.  What does ring true is that whilst this is a story of Jewish history and the ‘Final Solution’ inflicted by the Germans upon European Jews in WWII, Alex’s grandfather rightly states at the beginning of this scene: “Just because I was not a Jew, it does not mean that it did not happen to me.”  For the truth is that when Evil occurs, it occurs to us all.

For a gushing review, see: The Times’ (UK): Luminous Talent in the Spotlight.

For a more balanced review, see one of the Guardian’s reviews.

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

Penguin

ISBN: 9780141008257

276 pages

Source: Personal Library, aka: ‘Bookshelf Rainbow’.

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A couple of spoiler-free sentences, (not-so-) randomly chosen from my current read: Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer, p32:

“Your train ride appeased you?” I asked.  “Oh God,” he said, “twenty-six hours, fucking unbelievable.”  This girl Unbelievable must be very majestic, I thought. 

It’s a very funny read…

What are you reading?

The D!

PS: Teaser Tuesday is a bookish meme hosted by shouldbereading.

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