Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel Everything Is Illuminated tells of a fictional character named Jonathan Safran Foer’s trip to Ukraine, a voyage loosely based on one the author took. The fictional character’s attempt to locate the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis to give her money fails due to inaccurate memories, absences, and language barriers. While some have criticized Foer’s use of fiction for testimonial purposes as undercutting the immediacy of witness literature, I argue that we should see this distancing as one of the novel’s strengths, for it allows Foer to speak to the gaps and ever-shifting nature of experiences postmemory testifiers must confront when bearing witness. Moreover, fiction makes it possible for Foer to present these challenges from the perspectives of the descendants of concentration camp prisoners and the camp’s perpetrators, both of whom exhibit similar signs of trauma. In so doing, it illustrates how the trauma of an event can reach across cultures as well as re-write one’s understanding of the past.


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pp. 93-108
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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