Sunday, August 1, 2010

Indeed, Everthing IS Illuminated

Everything is Illuminated is the best book I have ever read. I could end this post there, but allow me to continue (hopefully without spoiling too much of it for you) and share the personal implications of its epicness. I have not read all that many books, though I have read some of the literary greats. Not since 1984 (my second best book to date) or Three Cups of Tea (my fave non-fiction book) has one had this kind of impact on me. The kind that makes you think on it long after you complete it.

I have never guffawed as many times or cried so hard three times -- the grievous kind of deep mourning and sympathy -- because of any other story. Even now, I pause to weep and cry again at the memory of its details. So much so that I write this review of sorts in an isolated room with shades drawn hoping to mourn alone in peace; out of embarrassment that I could cry so much over a book. A testament to how much this story comes to life. One where, throughout the several character lines that are so well intertwined, I could be at any given time and all at the same: Brod, Yankel, Safran, the gypsy girl, Jonathan, Alex, Lista and grandfather (Alex). 

This story (to the best of my knowledge, though I cannot know for sure because it seems so real) is fictional; and I hope to God that it is. However, knowing that the event it centers upon -- in a way where every account prefigures it and then everything after points back to it -- is one very true and horific period of our modern history, I am certain that this heartbreaking homage is a pale shadow of the harsh realities of the actual occurances of the holocaust.

One line that stands out in particular is: We were stupid because we believed in things. And then again it is expanded upon later with:
'They hadn't forgotten but accommodated... So nothing was done... Nothing. They waited like fools, they sat on their hands like fools, and spoke, like fools... They waited to die, and we cannot blame them, because we would do the same and we do do the same. They laughed and joked. They thought about birthday candles and waited to die, and we must forgive them.'
I can relate to the first part about believing in things and I wonder if I (personally) or we (collectively, as a society, as a nation, as a world) are in store for another repeat in history. There have been atrocities since WWII that we are only now uncovering as documents are being declassified. And, there are atrocities happening right now, this day, in secluded corners of the world that we are completely sheltered from and oblivious to that we will learn about years from now. I wonder when our protective bubble of 'self' in this land that is a relative safe-haven, an island secured on either side by two vast oceans, will have it's turn? As everyone, eventually, has their turn.

It's not the most pleasant of thoughts to ponder upon. But, I'm also sure that these thoughts will pass quickly, like those who thought them several hundreds of times before me, and be replaced by the daily triteness that consumes us and causes us to be otherwise blissfully unaware in going about our lives.

When any writer makes me think and ponder and question as Jonathan Safran Foer has done, I always welcome and relish in the opportunity. When any writer such as Foer or Orwell or Dostoevesky also influences my internal monologue in a way that it takes on a similar prose so that I can write in a way that is somewhat out of character for me, like in this post, I consider it a gift.

As an aside, I find it coincidentally appropriate that this song, Goodbye, I! by mewithoutYou, was simultaneously stuck in my head and playing on internal repeat quite loudly as I read the final 30 pages of Everthing is Illuminated. Particulary the verse/chorus: ...with a peacefullness that proved that there's movement in our stillness and however much we move we're bound to stand completely still; stand completely still. Let's stand completely still, stand completely still; Let us all stand completely still, let's stand completely still.

One final note that may shed light on this reflective, introspective post: I was involved in a minor car accident on Thursday evening. I am okay, the other driver is okay and our vehicles are repairable. Thankfully, my life did not end that night and the worst thing that I have physically to remind me of it is a krank neck this morning as I write.

I'm sure it's common for events like these, those unplanned and unwanted inconveniences, to stop us promptly in our tracks/busyness in the realization of how fragile and fleeting our lives really are. My appreciation for being spared yet again is overwhelming. I hope that this experience has positive, permanent effects on me emotionally, mentally and beyond in the present moment as well as far into my future.

I hope that this realization makes me think more seriously about all my decisions, to choose wisely and ensure that my passions (those things I invest my time and energy into) are truly worthwhile; and to utilize the time I have remaining -- however long that is -- to have as much positive impact as possible on as many people as possible.

Maybe that's the meaning of life... for right now, it's what it means to me anyway.


  1. I know, right? I watched the movie 2 years ago -- I think like 6 times in a row:) It does the book justice, I'm pleased to say. There's just much more back story than the movie is able to squeeze into two hours.

    I particularly enjoyed that Sasha's voice (played by Eugene Hütz of Gogol Bordello in the movie) is a perfect match from the book. Those were the parts that I laughed out loud at each time I read his humorous dialog.

    That movie is also how I discovered Gogol Bordello which has been a musical obsession ever since. Thanks to Amazon deals, I own pretty much the entire collection. I've been transforming little by little to gypsy punk -- about 75% complete. It's such a fascinating, creative and passionate culture.