Wonder Boy's Book

Reviews of "Everything Is Illuminated," by Jonathan Safran Foer, are unanimously breathless--almost every U.S. critic connects the title with the 25-year-old author's brilliance. One reason for the accolades--Foer's creation of the linguistically exuberant Alex, a young Ukrainian who narrates half the book in a hilarious dialect of English all his own. The book may be a true challenge for translators, but they seem up to the task. It has already appeared in Britain and the Netherlands, and is slated for publication in Italy, Spain and Finland in October. newsweek's Susannah Meadows talked with Foer:

Your book is difficult to describe, so could you do it?
Daniel Mendelsohn [in New York Magazine] said it's a book that pretends to be about a young man's trip to Eastern Europe, but it's really about everything else. I liked that. Any useful description sounds like a book I wouldn't want to read.

Is it easier to write a book when you're young because you don't know enough to be intimidated?
So much of writing my book was writing out of ignorance, willful ignorance. I have so little interest in writing a book people would say is writerly. All that makes me want to barf. Books are kind of like cars. They can get you from one place to another. Some people become interested in the car and want Porsches. I'm more interested in a Volvo station wagon to transport important items to another place. I told [my story] this way because it was the only way I could think to tell it. I didn't mean to be experimental at all.

Is there a particular person you wish would read your book?
I like being surprised. I did a radio show and a caller said, "You told my story as well. I'm a 35-year-old black guy."

Is the character named Jonathan Safran Foer you?
I tried to use other names. I did one of those search-and-replaces, [but] it didn't feel genuine. This is how I am honest, by beginning with the life of my circumstances. You learn all these things you never could have known. My God, I was interested in Jewish things? I had no idea! Here's a piece of evidence of what I actually was. It's like looking at a picture of yourself and realizing you were pudgier than you thought.