About the Author
JONATHAN SAFRAN FOER is the author of the novels Everything Is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and a work of nonfiction, Eating Animals. His books have won numerous awards and have been translated into thirty-six languages. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Hometown:New York, New York
Date of Birth:February 21, 1977
Place of Birth:Washington, D.C.
Education:B.A. in Philosophy, Princeton University, 1999
Read an Excerpt
1 An Overture to the Commencement of a Very Rigid Journey
My legal name is Alexander Perchov. But all of my many friends dub me Alex, because that is a more flaccid-to-utter version of my legal name. Mother dubs me Alexi-stop-spleening-me!, because I am always spleening her. If you want to know why I am always spleening her, it is because I am always elsewhere with friends, and disseminating so much currency, and performing so many things that can spleen a mother. Father used to dub me Shapka, for the fur hat I would don even in the summer month. He ceased dubbing me that because I ordered him to cease dubbing me that. It sounded boyish to me, and I have always thought of myself as very potent and generative. I have many many girls, believe me, and they all have a different name for me. One dubs me Baby, not because I am a baby, but because she attends to me. Another dubs me All Night. Do you want to know why? I have a girl who dubs me Currency, because I disseminate so much currency around her. She licks my chops for it. I have a miniature brother who dubs me Alli. I do not dig this name very much, but I dig him very much, so OK, I permit him to dub me Alli. As for his name, it is Little Igor, but Father dubs him Clumsy One, because 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. If you’re wondering what my bitch’s name is, it is Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior. She has this name because Sammy Davis, Junior was Grandfather’s beloved singer, and the bitch is his, not mine, because I am not the one who thinks he is blind.
As for me, I was sired in 1977, the same year as the hero of this story. In truth, my life has been very ordinary. As I mentioned before, I do many good things with myself and others, but they are ordinary things. I dig American movies. I dig Negroes, particularly Michael Jackson. I dig to disseminate very much currency at famous nightclubs in Odessa. Lamborghini Countaches are excellent, and so are cappuccinos. Many girls want to be carnal with me in many good arrangements, notwithstanding the Inebriated Kangaroo, the Gorky Tickle, and the Unyielding Zookeeper. If you want to know why so many girls want to be with me, it is because I am a very premium person to be with. I am homely, and also severely funny, and these are winning things. But nonetheless, I know many people who dig rapid cars and famous discotheques. There are so many who perform the Sputnik Bosom Dalliance—which is always terminated with a slimy underface—that I cannot tally them on all of my hands. There are even many people named Alex. (Three in my house alone!) That is why I was so effervescent to go to Lutsk and translate for Jonathan Safran Foer. It would be unordinary.
I had performed recklessly well in my second year of English at university. This was a very majestic thing I did because my instructor was having shit between his brains. Mother was so proud of me, she said, “Alexi-stop-spleening-me! You have made me so proud of you.” I inquired her to purchase me leather pants, but she said no. “Shorts?” “No.” Father was also so proud. He said, “Shapka,” and I said, “Do not dub me that,” and he said, “Alex, you have made Mother so proud.”
Mother is a humble woman. Very, very humble. She toils at a small café one hour distance from our home. She presents food and drink to customers there, and says to me, “I mount the autobus for an hour to work all day doing things I hate. You want to know why? It is for you, Alexi-stop-spleening-me! One day you will do things for me that you hate. That is what it means to be a family.” What she does not clutch is that I already do things for her that I hate. I listen to her when she talks to me. I resist complaining about my pygmy allowance. And did I mention that I do not spleen her nearly so much as I desire to? But I do not do these things because we are a family. I do them because they are common decencies. That is an idiom that the hero taught me. I do them because I am not a big fucking asshole. That is another idiom that the hero taught me.
Father toils for a travel agency, denominated Heritage Touring. It is for Jewish people, like the hero, who have cravings to leave that ennobled country America and visit humble towns in Poland and Ukraine. Father’s agency scores a translator, guide, and driver for the Jews, who try to unearth places where their families once existed. OK, I had never met a Jewish person until the voyage. But this was their fault, not mine, as I had always been willing, and one might even write lukewarm, to meet one. I will be truthful again and mention that before the voyagge I had the opinion that Jewish people were having shit between their brains. This is because all I knew of Jewish people was that they paid Father veryyyyy much currency in order to make vacations from America to Ukraine. But then I met Jonathan Safran Foer, and I will tell you, he is not having shit between his brains. He is an ingenious Jew.
So as for the Clumsy One, who I never ever dub the Clumsy One but always Little Igor, he is a first-rate boy. It is now evident to me that he will become a very potent and generative man, and that his brain will have many muscles. We do not speak in volumes, because he is such a silent person, but I am certain that we are friends, and I do not think I would be lying if I wrote that we are paramount friends. I have tutored Little Igor to be a man of this world. For an example, I exhibited him a smutty magazine three days yore, so that he should be appraised of the many positions in which I am carnal. “This is the sixty-nine,” I told him, presenting the magazine in front of him. I put my fingers—two of them—on the action, so that he would not overlook it. “Why is it dubbed sixty-nine?” he asked, because he is a person hot on fire with curiosity. “It was invented in 1969. My friend Gregory knows a friend of the nephew of the inventor.” “What did people do before 1969?” “Merely blowjobs and masticating box, but never in chorus.” He will be made a VIP if I have a thing to do with it.
This is where the story begins.
But first I am burdened to recite my good appearance. I am unequivocally tall. I do not know any women who are taller than me. The women I know who are taller than me are lesbians, for whom 1969 was a very momentous year. I have handsome hairs, which are split in the middle. This is because Mother used to split them on the side when I was a boy, and to spleen her I split them in the middle. “Alexi-stop-spleening-me!,” she said, “you appear mentally unbalanced with your hairs split like that.” She did not intend it, I know. Very often Mother utters things that I know she does not intend. I have an aristocratic smile and like to punch people. My stomach is very strong, although it presently lacks muscles. Father is a fat man, and Mother is also. This does not disquiet me, because my stomach is very strong, even if it appears very fat. I will describe my eyes and then begin the story. My eyes are blue and resplendent. Now I will begin the story.
Father obtained a telephone call from the American office of Heritage Touring. They required a driver, guide, and translator for a young man who would be in Lutsk at the dawn of the month of July. This was a troublesome supplication, because at the dawn of July, Ukraine was to celebrate the first birthday of its ultramodern constitution, which makes us feel very nationalistic, and so many people would be on vacation in foreign places. It was an impossible situation, like the 1984 Olympics. But Father is an overawing man who always obtains what he desires. “Shapka,” he said on the phone to me, who was at home enjoying the greatest of all documentary movies, The Making of “Thriller,” “what was the language you studied this year at school?” “Do not dub me Shapka,” I said. “Alex,” he said, “what was the language you studied this year at school?” “The language of English,” I told him. “Are you good and fine at it?” he asked me. “I am fluid,” I told him, hoping I might make him proud enough to buy me the zebra-skin seat coverings of my dreams. “Excellent, Shapka,” he said. “Do not dub me that,” I said. “Excellent, Alex. Excellent. You must nullify any plans you possess for the first week of the month of July.” “I do not possess any plans,” I said to him. “Yes you do,” he said.
Now is a befitting time to mention Grandfather, who is also fat, but yet more fat than my parents. OK, I will mention him. He has gold teeth and cultivates ample hairs on his face to comb by the dusk of every day. He toiled for fifty years at many employments, primarily farming, and later machine manipulating. His final employment was at Heritage Touring, where he commenced to toil in the 1950s and persevered until of late. But now he is retarded and lives on our street. My grandmother died two years yore of a cancer in her brain, and Grandfather became very melancholy, and also, he says, blind. Father does not believe him, but purchased Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior for him nonetheless, because a Seeing Eye bitch is not only for blind people but for people who pine for the negative of loneliness. (I should not have used “purchased,” because in truth Father did not purchase Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior, but only received her from the home for forgetful dogs. Because of this, she is not a real Seeing Eye bitch, and is also mentally deranged.) Grandfather disperses most of the day at our house, viewing television. He yells at me often. “Sasha!” he yells. “Sasha, do not be so lazy! Do not be so worthless! Do something! Do something worthy!” I never rejoinder him, and never spleen him with intentions, and never understand what worthy means. He did not have the unappetizing habit of yelling at Little Igor and me before Grandmother died. That is how we are certain that he does not intend it, and that is why we can forgive him. I discovered him crying once, in front of the television. (Jonathan, this part about Grandfather must remain amid you and me, yes?) The weather report was exhibiting, so I was certain that it was not something melancholy on the television that made him cry. I never mentioned it, because it was a common decency to not mention it.
Grandfather’s name is also Alexander. Supplementally is Father’s. We are all the primogenitory children in our families, which brings us tremendous honor, on the scale of the sport of baseball, which was invented in Ukraine. I will dub my first child Alexander. If you want to know what will occur if my first child is a girl, I will tell you. He will not be a girl. Grandfather was sired in Odessa in 1918. He has never departed Ukraine. The remotest he ever traveled was Kiev, and that was for when my uncle wedded The Cow. When I was a boy, Grandfather would tutor that Odessa is the most beautiful city in the world, because the vodka is cheap, and so are the women. He would manufacture funnies with Grandmother before she died about how he was in love with other women who were not her. She knew it was only funnies because she would laugh in volumes. “Anna,” he would say, “I am going to marry that one with the pink hat.” And she would say, “To whom are you going to marry her?” And he would say, “To me.” I would laugh very much in the back seat, and she would say to him, “But you are no priest.” And he would say, “I am today.” And she would say, “Today you believe in God?” And he would say, “Today I believe in love.” Father commanded me never to mention Grandmother to Grandfather. “It will make him melancholy, Shapka,” Father said. “Do not dub me that,” I said. “It will make him melancholy, Alex, and it will make him think he is more blind. Let him forget.” So I never mention her, because unless I do not want to, I do what Father tells me to do. Also, he is a first-rate puncher.
After telephoning me, Father telephoned Grandfather to inform him that he would be the driver of our journey. If you want to know who would be the guide, the answer is there would be no guide. Father said that a guide was not an indispensable thing, because Grandfather knew a beefy amount from all of his years at Heritage Touring. Father dubbed him an expert. (At the time when he said this, it seemed like a very reasonable thing to say. But how does this make you feel, Jonathan, in the luminescence of everything that occurred?)
When the three of us, the three men named Alex, gathered in Father’s house that night to converse the journey, Grandfather said, “I do not want to do it. I am retarded, and I did not become a retarded person in order to have to perform shit such as this. I am done with it.” “I do not care what you want,” Father told him. Grandfather punched the table with much violence and shouted, “Do not forget who is who!” I thought that that would be the end of the conversation. But Father said something queer. “Please.” And then he said something even queerer. He said, “Father.” I must confess that there is so much I do not understand. Grandfather returned to his chair and said, “This is the final one. I will never do it again.”
So we made schemes to procure the hero at the Lvov train station on 2 July, at 1500 of the afternoon. Then we would be for two days in the area of Lutsk. “Lutsk?” Grandfather said. “You did not say it was Lutsk.” “It is Lutsk,” Father said. Grandfather became in thought. “He is looking for the town his grandfather came from,” Father said, “and someone, Augustine he calls her, who salvaged his grandfather from the war. He desires to write a book about his grandfather’s village.” “Oh,” I said, “so he is intelligent?” “No,” Father corrected. “He has low-grade brains. The American office informs me that he telephones them every day and manufactures numerous half-witted queries about finding suitable food.” “There will certainly be sausage,” I said. “Of course,” Father said. “He is only half-witted.” Here I will repeat that the hero is a very ingenious Jew. “Where is the town?” I asked. “The name of the town is Trachimbrod.” “Trachimbrod?” Grandfather asked. “It is near 50 kilometers from Lutsk,” Father said. “He possesses a map and is sanguine of the coordinates. It should be simple.”
Grandfather and I viewed television for several hours after Father reposed. We are both people who remain conscious very tardy. (I was near-at-hand to writing that we both relish to remain conscious tardy, but that is not faithful.) We viewed an American television program that had the words in Russian at the bottom of the screen. It was about a Chinaman who was resourceful with a bazooka. We also viewed the weather report. The weatherman said that the weather would be very abnormal the next day, but that the next day after that would be normal. Amid Grandfather and I was a silence you could cut with a scimitar. The only time that either of us spoke was when he rotated to me during an advertisement for McDonald’s McPorkburgers and said, “I do not want to drive ten hours to an ugly city to attend to a very spoiled Jew.”
Copyright © 2002 by Jonathan Safran Foer. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.
What People are Saying About This
"Not since Anthony Burgess's novel 'A Clockwork Orange' has the English language been simultaneously mauled and energized with such brilliance and such brio."Francine Prose, New York Times Book Review New York Times Book Review Notable Book
"Read it, and you'll feel altered, chastenedseared in the fire of something new."Washington Post The Washington Post
"Comedy and pathos are braided together with extraordinary skill in a haunting debut. . .riveting intensity and originality." (Starred) Kirkus Reviews
"A certified wunderkind at 25 . . .a funny, moving...deeply felt novel about the dangers of confronting the past and the redemption that comes with laughing at it, even when that seems all but impossible."Time Time Magazine
"It's wonderful to think that the very young Jonathan Safran Foer...can be writing so well and with such lofty aspriation. It will be wonderful if he writes many more books."Adam Begley, The New York Observer Observer
"A book that illuminates so much with such odd and original beauty."Daniel Mendelsohn, New York New York Magazine
[A] dazzling literary high-wire act . . . brilliant . . . The payoff is extraordinary: a fearless, acrobatic, ultimately haunting effort"Janet Maslin, New York Times The New York Times
"[An] enormously impressive first novel . . . Everything is illuminated, indeed, by this talented artist's furious, glorious starburst of prose."Dan Cryer, Newsday (New York) Newsday
"Maybe two or three times in a lifetime, a book transcends its genre to become experience. Everything Is Illuminated is an event of this order."Dorothea Strauss, Baltimore Sun About.com
"A zestfully imagined novel of wonders both magical and mundane. . .He will win your admiration, and he will break your heart."Joyce Carol Oates
"Extraordinarily gifted. . .this young man also happens to possess something approaching wisdom. Don't just check him out. Read him."Russell Banks
"It is one of the best novels I've ever been fortunate enough to hold in my hands."Dale Peck
"One of the most impressive first novels in a long time . . .this book is, as its name implies, brilliant."Adrienne Miller, Esquire
"Madcap virtuosity...takes big risks but reaps big rewards, affirming the human spirit in such profoundly triumphant fashion...."Don McCleese, MSNBC.com
"J.S. Foer's Everything Is Illuminated is a novel intricate in structure, fantastical in its story, and irreverent in 100 different ways."Nathan Englander
"A writer of magnificent energy and obvious talent."Newark Star-Ledger
"Everything Is Illuminated is often brilliant."San Francisco Chronicle
"[A] stunning debut . . . So put off your plans to write the next Great American NovelFoer's beaten you to it."Maxim
"Without a doubt, Jonathan Safran Foer's first novel, Everything Is Illuminated, establishes him as one of the best young novelists around . . . A generosity of vision that is one of the true marks of a great writer."Time Out (New York)
"Have you ever found, after finishing a completely awesome book, that you have so many competing impulses about what to do next that you become frozen by excitement? That is how I feel right now. One thing I want to do. . .is tell every single one of my friends that I have just finished reading Everything Is Illuminated, an amazingly funny, adventuruous and powerful novel. . .I was dumbstruck with amazement and joy."Vancouver Sun
"He has given us a deeply resonant work that could only be the first great American Jewish novel of the 21st century."The Forward
"Foer has written a glittering first novel. . .with great humor, sympathy, charm and daring. Every page is illuminated."Jeffrey Eugenides
"Everything is Illuminated is not only an extraordinary addition to novels about the Holocaust, but also the most impressive first novel I've read in years."Sanford Pinsker, Hadassah Magazine
"A rambunctious tour de force of inventive and intelligent storytelling . . . Foer can place his reader's hand on the heart of human experience, the transcendent beauty of human connections. Read, you can feel the life beating."Philadelphia Inquirer
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