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Jonathan Safran Foer
288 Pages
Publisher: Penguin Books (June 2003)
ISBN: 0141008253
Price: S$23.10 (Available in Borders)





The synopsis printed at the back of the book tells us that this New York Times bestseller is about Jonathan Safran Foer (incidentally, that’s the author’s name, which makes us wonder whether this novel is a semi-autobiography) journey to find the woman who may or may not saved his grandfather’s life during the Holocaust. That sure sounds like it’s going to be an intense and emotional read.

The first chapter introduces us to a translator named Alex Perchov who will bring Jonathan on this journey. Written in imperfect English with grammatical errors popping up in every other line, it disturbed us quite a bit. But the content, oh the content, is so ludicrously hilarious that it kept us flipping every page with anticipation. The Ukrainian tells us about his love for all things American, his love for Michael Jackson (read the choice excerpt below!), and his dysfunctional family members, and a blind dog named Sammy Davis Junior, Junior (no typo error here!).

As we read on, it struck us that the entire novel is going to be written from Alex’s point of view. So we’d better get used to this style of writing.

Then we remembered the synopsis we read earlier – where is this potentially tear-jerking story the book promised us?

When Jonathan is finally introduced in the book, he seems to be playing second fiddle to the amusing Alex. But never mind Jonathan, because the book still moves with an entertaining pace which features varying writing styles in forms of letters, poems, screenplays, and even mind-maps.

Talk about being innovative.

With such rich material, it is no wonder Liev Schreiber adapted this novel into a feature film starring Elijah Wood as Jonathan and a very enjoyable Eugene Hutz as Alex.

Before you think that this novel is all about fun with no heart, you’d be affected by the turn of events somewhere in the middle of the book. While the writing remains highly witty, the tone of the story marks a moving illumination in each character’s life. And that’s where you feel illuminated by – (we really hate to use profound words like this, but it seems to be the most apt ones) “the wonders of life”.


"In truth, my life has been very ordinary. As I mentioned before, I do many good things with myself and others. But they are ordinary things. I dig American movies. I dig Negroes, particularly Michael Jackson. I dig to disseminate very much currency at famous nightclubs in Odessa. Lamborghini Countaches are are excellent, and so are cappuccinos. Many girls want to be carnal with me in many good arrangements, notwithstanding the Inebriated Kangaroo, the Gorky Tickle and the Unyielding Zookeeper."


The original novel may be a little difficult to get used to initially, but the delightful writing will hook your attention. Within those antics is a deeply moving story about, yes, here we go again – “the wonders of life”.

Review by John Li


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This book review is made possible with the kind sponsor of BORDERS


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