"This book was conceived as a way to bring almost two hundred authors and artists together to promote progressive causes in the November 2004 election. The book is an imagining of what a dictionary might look like about thirty years hence, when all or most of the world's problems are solved and our current president is a distant memory. The book is by turns funny, outraged, utopian, and dyspeptic." Every cent of the proceeds from this book will go to progressive organizations working on the 2004 election. ...
"This book was conceived as a way to bring almost two hundred authors and artists together to promote progressive causes in the November 2004 election. The book is an imagining of what a dictionary might look like about thirty years hence, when all or most of the world's problems are solved and our current president is a distant memory. The book is by turns funny, outraged, utopian, and dyspeptic." Every cent of the proceeds from this book will go to progressive organizations working on the 2004 election.
The author of one of the most buzzed-about debut novels of 2002, Everything Is Illuminated, Jonathan Safran Foer brings philosophy, philanthropy, and a talent for turning language inside out to the literary table.
Recent literary history is rife with auspicious debuts, and Jonathan Safran Foer's arrival was one of 2002's brightest and most media-friendly. After all, the backstory was publicist-ready: Everything Is Illuminated began as a thesis at Princeton under advisers Joyce Carol Oates and Jeffrey Eugenides, and Houghton Mifflin reportedly paid somewhere around half a million dollars for the rights.
Foer achieved a fresh, creative approach to the English language by viewing it through the eyes of his foreign narrator, a young Ukranian man named Alex who works in a family tour operating business targeted toward American Jews seeking their family roots. Alex's comical, dictionary-aided writing consists of not-quite-right sentences such as "He is always promenading into things. It was only four days previous that he made his eye blue from a mismanagement with a brick wall." Alex's client, an American Jew named Jonathan Safran Foer, wants to find a woman who hid his grandfather from the Nazis. The two set out -- with an old picture, and the name Augustine -- to find the woman, bringing Alex's grandfather and an odiferous seeing-eye dog.
The story unfolds both through Alex's eyes and in a later correspondence with Jonathan, who reveals chapters of a fictionalized version of Augustine's story. Despite the novel's decidedly earnest and serious themes, what's most striking about it is its strange, resonant humor. Publishers Weekly saw "demented genius" in it; and Francine Prose, who also used the adjective "demented" for Foer's writing, noted in the New York Times Book Review, "The problem [with the book] is, you keep laughing out loud, losing your place, starting again, then stopping because you're tempted to call your friends and read them long sections of Jonathan Safran Foer's assured, hilarious prose."
Since Foer admitted to doing little research (although he did take a trip similar to the fictional Foer's, inspiring the book), and the historical fiction sections earned some critical gripes for being uneven (Salon called them "dime-store García Márquez"), the chief strength of Everything Is Illuminated lies in a scope and wit that are stunning from an author who was still finishing up college at the time he began it. The paperback rights for Everything Is Illuminated later went for reportedly close to $1 million.
Foer has had an undergrad's dream experience when it comes to consorting with eminent forbears: Russell Banks -- a professor in Foer's senior year -- came to his aid when he assembled A Convergence of Birds: Original Fiction and Poetry Inspired by the Work of Joseph Cornell, which was published in 2001.
If Foer follows in the footsteps of fellow critical debut darlings Eugenides and Donna Tartt, it will be another ten years before we see a second novel. Fans will hope that instead he follows Oates's more prolific example.
Good To Know
According to a Princeton publication, Foer has been a "math tutor, archivist, ghost writer, farm sitter, advertising consultant and receptionist."
One of the many projects on Foer's "Project Museum" Web site is the Empty Page Project, a collection of blank paper from various authors -- the paper they normally use to write (anything) on. Nothing is on display yet, but according to a Guardian article, Foer has acquired pages from Paul Auster, Susan Sontag and Isaac Bashevis Singer.
Both of Foer's brothers are editorial types: Franklin is an editor at the New Republic, and Joshua is a recent Yale grad and a contributor to Slate.