Jonathan Safran Foer's first book is a dazzling display of
linguistic virtuosity; at times confusing, occasionally irritating
in its self-consciousness, this is a challenging, exciting novel
from an exhilarating young writer. It consists of disparate strands
which are skilfully woven together to create a work of intense
richness. The main storyline is young Jonathan Safran Foer's search
for the mysterious Augustine, a woman rumoured to have rescued his
grandfather from the Nazis. All Jonathan has to go on is a crumpled
photograph and some fragmentary maps. Foer is helped in his search
by his Ukrainian guide and translator, Alex Perchov, who
accompanies Jonathan on his quest, but also brings with him his
perpetually 'reposing' grandfather and a flatulent bitch by the
outlandish name of Sammy Davies Junior Junior. Alex is obsessed by
the English language, and an early present of a thesaurus plays
havoc with his conversational skills. He not only mauls the
language, he positively tortures it, with the enthusiasm of a
modern-day Mrs Malaprop, giving rise to such expressions as
'between a rock and a rigid (hard) place' and 'it captured (took)
five very long hours'. Jonathan is also in the process of writing
the historical account of what happened to his ancestors in the
little shtetl of Trachimbrod. His history begins with the bizarre
circumstances of his great-great-great-great-great grandmother's
birth; her parents were drowned in the river Brod at the very
moment she was born. The historical sections have an air of
stereotypical Jewish humour about them, and there is even an air of
Swiftian influence with the two rival religious factions, the
Slouchers and the Uprights, recalling the Big-Endian/Little-Endian
dispute in Gulliver's Travels. The illumination of the title is
horrifyingly and graphically revealed, as the historical search
seems set on a collision course with the 20th century. The truth
about the Nazi atrocities in Trachimbrod is shocking, and the
images Foer conjures up will remain etched on every reader's
subconscious. Foer sets himself the unenviable task of creating a
work where the style is as important as the substance. It is an
indication of his power that he only rarely becomes swamped by the
language to the detriment of his plot. This is a stirring debut
from an exciting new voice. (Kirkus UK)
A young man arrives in the Ukraine, clutching in his hand a tattered photograph. He is searching for the woman who fifty years ago saved his grandfather from the Nazis. Unfortunately, however, he is aided in his quest by Alex, a translator with an uncanny ability to mangle English into bizarre new forms; a ‘blind’ old man haunted by memories of the war; and an undersexed guide dog named Sammy Davis Jr, Jr. What they are looking for seems elusive – a truth hidden behind veils of time, language and the horrors of war. What they find turns all their worlds upside down …
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