Author: Jonathan Safran Foer
Publication Date: 2002
Number of Pages: 276
Part of a Series: No
- Americans -- Ukraine – Fiction
- Grandfather and child
- Grandfathers -- Fiction
- Guilt in men
- Holocaust, Jewish (1933-1945)
- Holocaust survivors
- Humorous fiction
- Jewish-Americans in Ukraine
- Novelists -- Fiction
- Novels within novels
- World War II
- World War, 1939-1945 -- Ukraine – Fiction
- Young men -- Fiction
Note: Bildungsromane: A novel mainly about the moral, psychological, and/or intellectual development of a protagonist, typically a young adult (see wiktionary.org)
Geographical Setting/ Time Period: United States and Ukraine; 1997
Jonathan Safran Foer- a young, Jewish-American college student who has a penchant for collecting strange items
Alex Perchov- a young Ukrainian translator, his knowledge of American culture is at least a decade out of date
Grandfather- Alex’s disgruntled grandfather, a taxi driver who claims to be blind and insists his “deranged seeing-eye bitch,” Sammie Davis Jr., Jr., go everywhere with him.
Plot Summary: Jonathan, a fictitious writer who happens to share the author’s name, goes to the Ukraine armed only with a photograph and a story in search of Augustine, the woman who saved Jonathan’s grandfather during the Nazi invasion of Ukraine. Jonathan’s translator, Alex, along with Alex’s grandfather guide Jonathan across the Ukrainian countryside in search of the lost story of his grandfather’s youth.
Appeal: The language style is unique. The story is told through both Jonathan and Alex, a young Ukrainian man who speaks in a combination of Ukrainian-taught broken English heavily influenced by American pop culture. The story unfolds slowly, interspersed with comedic moments that result from Alex’s use of English and the interactions between the three main characters. The characters themselves, even minor ones, are interesting, richly developed, and unique. While not suspenseful, the story Foer travels across the world to uncover is engaging. The frame, Ukraine from the 1700s to the present, and the details of Jewish life are essential to the story development. The emotions and experiences of the main characters will resonate with readers as they experience the truth unfold through Alex’s words and Jonathan’s retelling of his family history. The telling is very straightforward, so there are some references to sex and explicit descriptions of the human body. It is important to note that the ending is somewhat open and the narrative ends abruptly.
Brief quote: “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.” (page 3-4)
Prizes or Awards:
- 2002 National Jewish Book Award,
- 2003 William Saroyan International Prize for Writing
- The 2002 Guardian First Book Award.
- Kirkus & Publishers Weekly starred reviews.
- Movie adaptation released in 2005, starring Elijah Wood.
Similar Works: The History of Love by Nicole Krauss (Novels within novels; translators; Holocaust survivors)
Reviewer’s Name: Lori Chatman
Adapted from Saricks, Joyce G. and Nancy Brown. Readers= Advisory Service in the Public Library 2nd. Chicago: ALA, 1997.