Thursday 11 August 2011

Everything is Illuminated

Jonathan Safran Foer wrote his first novel Everything is Illuminated  (2002) when he was only 25.

Some quotes from the book:
1. But first I am burdened to recite my good appearance. p. 3
2. … because unless I do not want to, I do what Father tells me to do. Also, he is a first-rate puncher. p. 6
3. Dead as he was before his parents met. Or deader, maybe, for then he was at least a bullet in his father’s cock and an emptiness in his mother’s belly. p. 10
4. Thank you for the reproduction of the photograph of Augustine with her family. I have thought without end of what you said about falling in love with her. In truth, I never fathomed it when you uttered it in Ukraine. But I am certain that I fathom it now. I examine her once when it is morning, and once before I manufacture Z’s, and on every instance I see something new, some manner in which her hairs produce shadows, or her lips summarise angels. p. 24
5. I am doing something I hate for you. This is what it means to be in love. p. 27
6. In my family, father is the world champion at ending conversations. p. 27
7. “A Jewish word?” “Yiddish. Like schmuck.” “What does it mean schmuck?” ”Someone who does something that you don’t agree with is a schmuck.” “Teach me another.” “Putz.” “What does that mean?” “It’s like schmuck.” “Teach me another.” ”Schmendrink.” “What does that mean?” “It’s also like schmuck.” “Do you know any words that are not like schmuck?” He pondered for a moment. “Shalom,” he said, ”which is actually three words, but that’s Hebrew, not Yiddish. Everything I can think of is basically schmuck. The Eskimos have four hundred words for snow, and the Jews have four hundred for schmuck.” p. 60
8. Is God sad?
He would have to exist to be sad, wouldn’t He? I know, she said, giving his shoulder a little slap. That’s why I was asking, so I might finally know if you believed! Well, let me leave it at this: if God does exist, He would have a great deal to be sad about. And if He doesn’t exist, then that too would make Him quite sad, I imagine. So to answer your question, God must be sad. p. 78-79
9. Brod’s life was a slow realization that the world was not for her, and that for whatever reason, she would never be happy and honest at the same time. She felt as if she was brimming, always producing and hoarding more love inside her. But there was no release. p. 79
10. Love me, because love doesn’t exist, and I have tried everything that does. p. 82
11. ...”Deep down, the young are lonelier than the old” I read that in a book somewhere and it’s stuck in my head. Maybe it’s true. Maybe it’s not true. More likely, the young and old are lonely in different ways, in their own ways… p. 87
12. From space, astronauts can see people making love as a tiny speck of light. Not light, exactly, but a glow that could be mistaken for light — a coital radiance that takes generations to pour like honey through the darkness to the astronaut’s eyes. In about one and a half centuries — after the lovers who made the glow will have long since been laid permanently on their backs — metropolises will be seen from space. They will glow all year. Smaller cities will also be seen, but with great difficulty. Shtetls will be virtually impossible to spot. Individual couples, invisible. p. 95
13. Sentences became words became sighs became groans became grunts became light. p. 97
14. “But it’s only 6:30.” “Yes, but it will not be 6:30 forever. Look,” p. 106
15. This is love, she thought, isn’t it? When you notice someone’s absence and hate that absence more than anything? More, even, than you love his presence? p. 121
16. She loved her new vocabulary of simply loving someone more than she loved her love for that thing, and the vulnerability that went along with living in a the primary world. p. 122
17. The Kolker was trapped in his body — like a love note in an unbreakable bottle, whose script never fades or smudges, and is never read by the eyes of the intended lover — forced to hurt the one with whom he wanted most to be gentle. p. 130
18. They had never seen one another from afar. They had never known the deepest intimacy, that closeness attainable only with distance. She went to the hole and looked at him for several silent minutes. Then she backed away from the hole. He went to it and looked at her for several more silent minutes. In the silence they attained another intimacy, that of words without talking. p. 134
19. They lived with the hole The absence that defined it became a presence that defined them. Life was a small negative space cut out of the eternal solidity, and for the first time, it felt precious — not like all of the words that had come to mean nothing, but like the last breath of a drowning victim. p. 135
20. So they strung their minutes like pearls on an hour-string. p. 137
21. With writing, we have second chances. p. 144
22. Everything is the way it is because everything was the way it was. p. 145
23. First, I must describe that Augustine had a very unusual walk, which went from here to there with heaviness. She could not move any faster than slow. p. 146
24. He knew that I love you also means I love you more than anyone loves you, or has loved you, or will love you, and also, I love you in a way that no one loves you, or has loved you, or will love you, and also, I love you in a way that I love no one else, and never have loved anyone else, and never will love anyone else. He knew that it is, by love’s definition, impossible to love two people. p. 170
25. My grandfather was in love with the smell of women. He carried their scents around on his fingers like rings, and on the end of his tongue like words — unfamiliar combinations of familiar odors. In this way, Lista held a special place in his memory — although she was hardly unique in being a virgin, or a one-episode lover — as being the only partner to inspire him to bathe. p. 172
26. Jews Have Six Senses
Tough, taste, sight, smell, hearing … memory. While Gentiles experience and process the world through the traditional senses, and use memory only as a second-order means of interpreting events, for Jews memory is no less primary than the prick of a pin, or its silver glimmer,or the taste of the blood it pulls from the finger. The Jew is pricked by a pin and remembers other pins. It is only by tracing the pinprick back to other pinpricks — when his mother tried to fix his sleeve while his arm was still in it, when his grandfather’s fingers fell asleep from stroking his great-grandfather’s damp forehead, when Abraham tested the knife point to be sure Isaac would feel no pain — that th Jew is able to know why it hurts.
When a Jew encounters a pin, he asks: What does it remember like? p. 198-199
27. Art
Art is that thing having to do only with itself–the product of a successful attempt to make a work of art. Unfortunately, there are no examples of art, nor good reasons to think that it will ever exist. (Everything that has been made has been made with a purpose, everything with an end that exists outside that thing, i.e., I want to sell this or I want this to make me famous and loved, or I want this to make me whole, or worse, I want this to make others whole.) And yet we continue to write, paint, sculpt, and compose. Is this foolish of us? p. 202
28. God loves the plagiarist. And so it is written, “God created humankind in His image, in the image of God He created them.” God is the original plagiarizer. p. 206
29. The end of the world has come often, and continues to come. Unforgiving, unrelenting, bringing darkness upon darkness, the end of the world is something we have become well acquainted with, habitualized, made into a ritual. It is our religion to try to forget it in its absence, make peace with it when it is undeniable, and return its embrace when it finally comes for us, as it always does. p. 210
30. SADNESS OF THE INTELLECT: Sadness of being misunderstood [sic]; Humor sadness; Sadness of love wit[hou]t release; Sadne[ss of be]ing smart; Sadness of not knowing enough words to [express what you mean]; Sadness of having options; Sadness of wanting sadness; Sadness of confusion; Sadness of domes[tic]ated birds; Sadness of fini[shi]ing a book; Sadness of remembering; Sadness of forgetting; Anxiety sadness … p. 211-212
31. Not one of his friends — if it could be said that he had any other friends — knew about the Gypsy girl, and none of his other women knew about the Gypsy Girl, and his parents, of course, didn’t know about the Gypsy girl. She was such a tightly kept secret that sometimes he felt that not even he was privy to his relationship with her. She knew of his efforts to conceal her from the rest of his world, to keep her cloistered in a private chamber reachable only by a secret passage, to put her behind a wall. She knew that even if he thought he loved her, he did not love her. p. 232
32. Do not change. p. 234
33. To feel alone is to be alone. That’s what it is. p. 237
34. (You do not have to be shamed in my closeness. Family are the people who must never make you feel ashamed.)
(You are wrong. Family are the people who must make you feel ashamed when you are deserving of shame.) p. 245
35. The only thing more painful than being an active forgetter is to be an inert rememberer. p. 260


  1. The is an amazing book, full of the unexpected, I found it impossible to put down. In fact I may well read it again.

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  2. This book causes visceral reactions-- I'm a fairly cynical reader, yet I found myself misty-eyed in a coffee shop yesterday and laughing aloud on the subway the day before. I surprised myself, or perhaps more accurately, the damningly young author surprised me. For lack of a less-cliched phrase, JSF gets under your skin. Believe it. If this isn't a stroke of genius, then I have no idea what is.

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