Everything is Illuminated
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.
These are the first words by one of the narrators of Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel Everything is Illuminated (2002).
It is a curious novel, told partly by Alex, either in monologues such as this, or in his letters to Jonathan, around whom the story centres. Jonathan goes to the Ukraine to attempt to track down a woman who fifty years earlier saved his grandfather from the Nazis. Alex, his grandfather and their bitch (as in dog!), Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior. Alex provides much of the humour throughout the novel, with his bizarre twisting of the English language through his, often very direct, translations from his mother tongue – but despite the humourous style, the story is very touching, as are the characters.
Interspersed between their search for the mystery woman are chapters set in a Jewish village in the 1790s, and these are equally hilarious and emotional, with wonderfully eccentric characters and occasionally heartbreaking scenes.
The novel was filmed by Liev Schreiber in 2005 and starred Elijah Wood.
Although the film is lovely in its own way, the novel is far more intriguing (as is usually the case) and I really recommend it.