This is the book that I thought might be magnificent enough to blot ‘Me Talk Pretty’ from my consciousness. I saw amusement and promise in those first few pages, but, while the novel was quite good, it wasn’t as blisteringly hilarious as I had hoped/feared.
Jonathan Safron Foer does not say a single word on his own behalf from start to finish. This is surprising, not only because he is the author, but also because he is the main character. Instead, he allows the voice of Alex, a heavily-thesaurused young Ukrainian, to speak for him. We hear Alex tell of the time Jonathan came to find the woman who had saved his grandfather’s life during WWII. It appears that Alex sends snippets of his story to Jonathan for critique, and we hear Jonathan’s thoughts on them second-hand through Alex’s reply letters. Finally, we hear Jonathan most directly in a tale he is spinning about his progenitors, built piece by piece upon the information he gleans on his trip.
The three separate pieces of the novel operate separately, but feed on each other and (as they are wont to do) come together in the end. The light-hearted amusement provided by Alex’s speech (here is a man who is not quite fluent in English, and who has obviously gone through a thesaurus to find just the right word, coming up, of course, with just the wrong one. If something is too hard to do, he’ll say it is too ‘rigid.’ He refers to things ‘in luminescence of all that has occured.’ ) helps to balance the occasionally heavy material. There are a few too many characters for my liking, and they all have Ukrainian names, and I get all confused. This is also why I hate Russian novels, with their constantly referring to each other by first or last names or diminutives of first or last names. Also because I’m racist.
Long story short, the novel was endearing. It contained a seeing eye dog named Sammy Davis Jr., Jr. for a man who was not blind, and that joke never got old.