- Urbino, Italy - I already knew Jonathan Safran Foer. Despite this being his very first novel, for me everything started with "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" (2005) and it had already impressed me.
It is kind of strange that my, I would say, "relationship" with Foer has always been a little controversial - which is something that rarely happens with other authors. I've often come to a halt while reading both of these books. With "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," it had been a very passionate reading and then, I don't know why, all of a sudden I couldn't go on and then re-started from where I had left after a while. With "Everything is Illuminated," the trouble was at the very beginning.
I had to re-start reading this novel three times, waiting for whole months before trying again, and finally succeded in reading it all. And this didn't happen because of it being clumsy in its exposition, or not engaging. It's just that this novel is tough. It needs a lot of trust from its reader, expecially at the beginning, precisely, because Foer is capable at maneuvering his own writing, capable at maneuvering writing styles, but initially it's very hard to figure everything out from chapter to chapter.
When I mention "trust," it's probably the Literature student in me who is talking, or simply someone who is, at this point, used to contemporary literature, where you're often finding such transitional style - with lots of time changes and thought-like writing. You just have to keep a closer eye on these first chapters, understand that there's something of value, that the kid is good at it, and go on. And you'll be surprised.
What in the first place may look bizarre and abstruse becomes, with the book's developing, a moment of innocent poetry, and this very thing is probably the best of this young writer's distinctive features. Foer is no Baricco, whose every period is a brushwork, nor is he any a Hornby, who would possess consistent and coherent. As you're reading, you suddenly find a phrase, an expression with spotless revelations, moments when you're allowed to get in touch with the character.
The book is about roots, a theme that appears to be dear to Foer's heart. Roots, knowing one's roots, and reconciling with them are all things I personally love reading about, and these are tied to the Olocaust tragedy here. Foer seems to have the urgency of connecting his fiction with these relevant issues of topical interest - in "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" we had the 9/11 massacre.
The book’s main character here is Foer himself, traveling from the USA to Ukraine to find the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis. In his journey, his guides are a boy and his own grandfather, whose family owns a little, awkward company specialized in such tours.
Not everything figures in the end. What I mean is, don't look for total coherence, don't think the net will eventually close, because that won't happen. It's all part of the trust.
This is why this probably isn't a book for everyone. Some people don't like, or don't get, these kind of things. This novel needs acute sensibility, otherwise many things may just look ridiculous or out of place to you and that would be a waste.
When I'm reading a book, or I have just finished one, I like reading comments made on them on popular e-bookshops. And sometimes, when the book is the same type as "Everything is Illuminated" (but could you really classify it into a type?), and those comments describe it as incoherent, meaningless, I can't help but smile and be a little sad at the same time, because I'd like more people to be able to understand this little story.