Abstract

Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated (2002) follows the two protagonists and narrators of the novel, American descendent of Holocaust survivors Jonathan and Alexander Perchov, his Ukrainian translator and collaborator on the story that constitutes the book itself. This article analyzes a heretofore unconsidered element of the novel: the potential to read Alex as queer. The book’s possible queer narrative is tragic, bittersweet at best, and overlooked by critics. This article illustrates how the character of Alex articulates what might be understood as a queer desire for Jonathan and considers new interpretive insights that might obtain within such a reading. In particular, it reconsiders the relationship between the men, as well as a critical stance that construes the novel’s concluding chapters as Jonathan’s rejection of cross-cultural friendship and collaboration. More important is the insight that a queer understanding of Everything Is Illuminated may provide with regard to the recent turn to the intersections between Jewish Studies and gender and LGBTQ+ theory. Understanding the potentially queer modes of Alex’s expression enables us to consider how Foer disrupts binary identity categories while also highlighting the dangers inherent in positing a reductive likeness between Alex and Jonathan—or between queer and Jewish identities.

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