Sentimental Journey

The most heartbreaking work by a staggeringly genius postmodern twentysomething since, well, you know.


by Jonathan Safran Foer (Houghton Mifflin Co., $25) A YOUNG MAN from America travels to the Ukraine in search of a woman who may or may not have saved his grandfather from the Nazis. This young man's name is Jonathan Safran Foer. (As it happens, the real Jonathan Safran Foer, the one who wrote this book, undertook a similar expedition years ago.) Our hero—that's how he's referred to—has culled together precious few resources for this adventure: a picture of a woman who may (or may not) be the woman he's looking for; 17th-century maps that include the name of the town where his grandfather lived but which now, since the war, no longer exists; and a Ukrainian translator named Alexander Perchov, or simply Alex as his friends call him, because that is "a more flaccid-to-utter" version of his legal name. Alex carries most of the novel, narrating in hilariously butchered English: "Obligated" is confused with "oblongated." Small talk is "miniature talk." Full sentences come out like this: "I observed that the hero had small rivers descending his face, and I wanted to put my hand on his face to be architecture for him." Alex, after his Ukrainian adventure with Jonathan Safran Foer, is writing a novel about what happened, and it is by reading passages of Alex's novel-in-progress that we learn what transpired. Jonathan Safran Foer, also inspired by the trip, is similarly at work on a book, although Jonathan's book is a richly imagined and fantastical account of the life of his great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather. Taken together, these two stories— one set as recently as weeks ago, the other hundreds of years back—argue against the facts of history in favor of feeling, intuition, and conviction. Everything Is Illuminated is an appreciation of the unknown, and yet at the same time it's resonant, instructive, and—yes—illuminating. Christopher Frizzelle

comments powered by Disqus

Friends to Follow