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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Book Review

So. I finally got around to reading the book that had been breathlessly recommended by so many people in my life (about two years ago, mind you - I know, I know, the movie's already been out for ages), and... it fell flat. Maybe my expectations were raised by all the hyping of it. Maybe it just isn't my style. Whatever the reason, I found Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer to be a chore to make my way through. Now, I am a voracious reader. I can finish a good, engrossing book in one sitting. I avidly read books from many different authors and genres. At times, I am up at all hours of the night, working my way through the stacks of books I keep around. So I was more than excited to wade into this book that seemed to be found so extraordinary by everyone who read it. I'll tell you this: I may have waded in, but I had to plow my way out. The book left me a bit cold.

The book is touted as a book about the Holocaust. But I can honestly say that to me, the Holocaust was nothing more than one of the many plot devices that Safran Foer used throughout the book. Maybe that sounds unecessarily harsh, but there were so many distractions throughout the narrative, that by the time I got to the end of the book and the sad account of Holocaust-era atrocities that affected some of the main character's (named Jonathan Safran Foer, after the author) forebears, I was too mentally exhausted to care. I have read books about the Holocaust that have brought me to tears. This was not one of them. The mangled English of Ukranian teen Alex, who is acting as a translator to Foer on his trip through the Ukraine, started off amusing, but got old fast. The constant flipping back in history to the daily life of Foer's ancestors' shtetl is interesting, but it's recounted a bit like life in Chelm, with lots of sex. By the time the final, pivotal scenes are played out, in the final chapters of the book, not only are they anticlimactic, the implausibility raised by the coincidences that come in to play left me scratching my head.

All in all, I didn't love this book. It certainly held my interest, I wouldn't call it anything close to a complete waste of time, and Foer is clearly a very talented writer. But in my opinion, this book was too uneven to live up the huge hype that preceded it. Agree? Disagree? Put it in comments.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great synopsis, OM. I felt the same way about it, but not only was I too afraid to admit it at the time, I'm not even brave enough to put this comment under my usual 'handle', as all the 'smart' people loved the book. Then again, that's what they thought about me.

11:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh sorry orthomom, I often agree with you, but I thought it was really brilliant. I read it a long time ago though.

I thought the accenting was amazing and it was so creative. Hard to imagine young guy in his early 20's producing it.

4:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon: why the embarrassment? If anyone questions your opinion just say "orthomom hated it too".

9:12 AM  
Blogger Shifra said...

I read this book not so long ago - of the people I know who read it there seem to be two camps- the people who focused on the story in the past and the people who focused on the one taking place in the present. OM you are the former and I am the latter. I found the story in the past confusing and sholom alechem like in it's depiction of the foolish religious Jews yore. I did, however totally dig the story in the present and how the two wrapped together. Sasha's hillarious writing never got old to me and the parts about the grandfather and the dog and JSF's vegetarianism had me cracking up!

I found the writing very clever and ambitious for a first book from such a young author.

10:06 AM  
Blogger Another meshugannah mommy said...

Our book group chose this for our first selection. Almost everyone had the same reaction as you. There's no question that it was quite an accomplishment for such a young author, but we also found the reading to be a "chore."

11:30 AM  
Blogger miriam beetle said...

i think safran foer has a lot of potential for storytelling, but i found the book too much "hey, look at me!" & not enough heart.

9:21 PM  
Blogger Anshel's Wife said...

I also read voraciously. I finish one book and immediately go on to the next. I finish all of them, too. Except for the book you are talking about. I enjoyed it because it was so different from anything else I had read, but, yet, the novelty wore off and I just couldn't finish it. I'm thinking that maybe I should try to go back and pick up where I left off so that when I rent the movie, I can point out to my husband all the discrepencies.

8:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Slow to comment, but I feel better that someone else isn't giving this book a flowering rave review either. I finished "Extremely Loud and Extremely Close" first, probably only because I took it out from the library on a one week loan. I then went back and waded through "Everything is Illuminated". I finished it. I said it was ok, a good sit and read for ages book (aka have nothing else to do). I will not wait with baited breath for the next one. Yes, he is a unique writer (I like his website), but I do not think it was as good as the hype. But then again, I can't finish "The Life of Pi" which was highly touted either.

9:17 PM  

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