LCJC BOOK CLUB
BOOK GROUP DISCUSSION
WEDNESDAY, JULY 5
2:00 PM – ZOOM
Comedy and pathos are braided together with extraordinary skill in a haunting debut, a tale that depicts, with riveting intensity and originality, a young Jewish American writer’s search for his family’s European roots.
Three stories are told therein: that of 20-year-old college student Jonathan Safran Foer’s journey (in 1997) to the Ukraine in search of “Augustine,” the woman rumored to have saved his grandfather from the Nazis; Jonathan’s novel-in-progress, a fictional history of Trachimbrod, the Polish shtetl where his ancestors settled in the late 18th century; and letters written to Foer by his Ukrainian guide and translator Alex Perchov, an imperturbable Americanophile who boasts that he’s “fluid” in English (in fact, he mangles it as memorably as Mrs. Malaprop) and blithely rearranges all his employer’s plans. The seriocomic, partly surreal picture of life in Trachimbrod begins in fine magical-realist form with the story of a newborn baby who inexplicably survives when her father’s wagon tumbles into the Brod River (for which she’ll be named) and he drowns. Thereafter, Foer keeps the reader both hooked and pleasingly disoriented, as the narrative careens between Jonathan’s sedulous exploration of “the dream that we are our fathers” and Alex’s ingenuous accounts of their travels, undertaken in the company of his bilious Grandfather and an amorous canine bitch called Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior. The aged Augustine is (or perhaps is not) found, horrific tales of Nazi atrocities and of a bitter legacy of apostasy, betrayal, and guilt gradually unfold—and “illumination”—is ironically achieved, as these several stories fuse together. Summary would mislead, as interlocking revelations are the story’s core: suffice it to say that at its overpowering climax, the river where it all began “speaks”—before another voice adds an even more passionate, plaintive coda. — KIRKUS REVIEWS
I want to pick at this book, to poke at holes and make fun, but I simply can’t. This riveting, hilarious, deeply disturbing and sad book is not like anything I’ve ever read. I don’t know higher praise. Yes, it is precocious and agile. . . . but it is something all of its own, and although reviews may try to describe it, the only way to capture what is great about it is to read it. You can believe the reviews that say it tells two stories, intertwined, and that that they eventually converge in surprising ways. But that doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of the achievement here, and I can’t adequately encourage the serious reader to dive into every dense paragraph and find all the delights that are there. This is not an easy read, but it is so rewarding, both in its comic highs and tragic lows, that to miss it is to miss out. I just closed it, and couldn’t wait to let anybody who might care know that they should rush to it; it is worth the rush.
Everything is relative
Yes, it has been over-hyped. Yes, Foer is the boy wonder du jour, and no, this is not a novel that will make him immortal. Yes, it is derivative, puerile, self-indulgent and even tedious. No, it is not boring, nor is it literary theft as some claim.
Forget the hype, and just sit back and read. You will laugh and you will cry, and you will come away having gained some significant insight. What more can be asked of any novelist, let alone a first timer?
This novel has haunted my thoughts and my soul since I read it. As the daughter-in-law of a survivor, I found it compelling reading. As a woman, I found the pain in all the characters impossible to forget. Everyone needs to read this book because we are all damaged by hate; we are all disfigured by hateful acts. Those who survived the Holocaust believed they were given the mandate to tell their story so that the world would never forget what was done to them. As their children, each of us must determine whether or not we can forgive; however, no one must ever forget.
To join us on Zoom:
Personal Meeting ID: 421 741 8546
Personal Room Passcode: 9VUQ5q