Book Review: Everything Is Illuminated, By Jonathan Safran Foer
There are only a few fictional books which seem connected to EFL; Everything Is Illuminated is not only an enjoyable read for English teachers (and, well, everyone else), but is an excellen piece of literature in its own, non-EFL-related right.
A couple of different characters and stories converge here: the story of Jonathan, a young Jewish American vegetarian who travels to Ukraine to trace his family’s roots; Alex, a Ukrainian student of English whose friends “dub him Alex because that is a more flaccid-to-utter version of his legal name (Alexander)”, and life decades back in the town of Jonathan’s grandfather, which was basically wiped off the map during the Second World War.
As you can imagine, not every moment is light and fluffy; the combination of humor and tragedy is striking though.
Aside from its quality as literature, Alex’s word choice is hilarious, perhaps even more so for EFL teachers; he is, as he puts it, “a premium person to be with”. His mother “mounts the autobus for an hour to get to work every day” to help feed the family, and his grandfather, who happens to be the driver on Jonathan’s tour, has a “seeing-eye bitch named Sammy Davis Jr. Jr.” That’s right. A seeing eye dog for the driver. One of Alex’s girlfriends “dubs him Currency because he disseminates so much currency around her.”
There is also a film featuring Elijah Wood, a good-looking guy with a Slavic accent, and moving music (much contributed by the band of the good-looking guy with a Slavic accent): what more could you ask for? I read the book a while ago and know that the film departs at least somewhat from the book, but both are still very worth your time. Watch the trailer and “no meat?”.
One final note: I was reminded of this book hearing that one teacher of a very advanced group gave sections of Alex’s narration to her class to correct – I think this would be very challenging but potentially interesting. If you try it, let the TEFL Logue know! If you’re looking for reading recommendations, also check out the Business Travel Logue’s review of The Kite Runner.