This article argues that Jonathan Safran Foer's postmodern Holocaust novel Everything Is Illuminated constitutes a fictional Jewish memorial book. Earlier critics have emphasized the magical realist elements of Everything Is Illuminated but have overlooked the influence of the Jewish memorial book, a literary genre both testimonial and folkloric, on Foer's depiction of shtetl life and its destruction during the Holocaust. Jewish memorial books, encyclopedic record books composed by Holocaust survivors, memorialize, with deep nostalgic longing, the lost inhabitants and culture of their annihilated ancestral villages. Foer's inventive adaptation of the genre exemplifies and problematizes the efforts of survivors' descendants to memorialize a culture they never experienced firsthand. Through the novel's superlative and even absurd representations of the shtetl, Foer tests the ability of fiction to function as an imaginative form of testimony. To traverse the spatial and temporal distance between the Holocaust descendant and the buried shtetl life, Foer's fictional Jewish memorial book represents time as fluid and history as provisional: in Everything Is Illuminated the past is as open-ended and unresolved as the future. This provisional sense of history creates spaces where the descendant-writer can gain a limited imaginative access to the past.
Research Article| December 01 2012
Heidi E. Bollinger; “The Persnicketiness of Memory”: Jonathan Safran Foer's Audaciously Imaginative Jewish Memorial Book. Genre 1 December 2012; 45 (3): 443–469. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00166928-1630565
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