First of all – I can say that I concur with Anis Shivani’s opinion expressed in the “The 15 Most Overrated Contemporary American Writers” Huffington Post article. In my opinion, this book did not deserve such acclaim.
Everything is Illuminated follows the author’s journey to finding the woman who helped his grandfather escape the Nazi’s. Almost autobiographical in its nature, Safran Foer did not even bother to change the character’s name. Even if a novel is based on an experience you had taken into the literary world and played with a bit, it is a bit of an egotistical indulgence in my opinion.
It was so difficult for me to get absorbed in this muddled structure of a book. I think it is nice when a historical novel has some grounds in earlier history, but frankly I bought the book for the story, and maybe even less than half of it was the story promised in the blurb. Whilst the development of a shtetl would have no doubt been an interesting read – it had minimal place within a novel already trying to straddle the 1940’s and the present day of Jonathan as a 20 year old visiting Ukraine. It could have been a lovely little prequel to Jonathan’s adventures looking into his family history.
The second half of the book begins to contain some sort of composure and coherent structure, with more of a focus on what we were hoping for – the 1940’s events and how they intertwine with the present day. But I’m afraid it was too little too late for Everything is Illuminated and I was already in a bad mood with it.
While I’m at it, it is also frankly unnecessary to keep evoking grandfather Safran as some sort of sexual gods gift to women, with sometimes alarming detail which detracted from the book. It would have been enough to say that he was known for being a bit of a player and a heartbreaker – not how he was a stud at 10 and detail on him screwing women in the 52 positions on a pack of Kamasutra playing cards.
Overall, so much about this book that frustrated me. The blurb gave so much promise that the story simply did not deliver.