Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Foer)

Author Bio 
Where—Washington, D.C., USA
Education—B.A., Princeton University
Currently—lives in New York City

Jonathan Safran Foer was born in 1977 in Washington, D.C. He is the editor of the anthology A Convergence of Birds: Original Fiction and Poetry Inspired by the Work of Joseph Cornell, a Boston Globe bestseller. His stories have been published in the Paris Review, The New Yorker and Conjunctions. He lives in Queens, New York.

Recent literary history is rife with auspicious debuts, and Jonathan Safran Foer's arrival was one of 2002's brightest and most media-friendly. After all, the backstory was publicist-ready: Everything Is Illuminated began as a thesis at Princeton under advisers Joyce Carol Oates and Jeffrey Eugenides, and Houghton Mifflin reportedly paid somewhere around half a million dollars for the rights.

Foer achieved a fresh, creative approach to the English language by viewing it through the eyes of his foreign narrator, a young Ukranian man named Alex who works in a family tour operating business targeted toward American Jews seeking their family roots. Alex's comical, dictionary-aided writing consists of not-quite-right sentences such as "He is always promenading into things. It was only four days previous that he made his eye blue from a mismanagement with a brick wall." Alex's client, an American Jew named Jonathan Safran Foer, wants to find a woman who hid his grandfather from the Nazis. The two set out—with an old picture, and the name Augustine—to find the woman, bringing Alex's grandfather and an odiferous seeing-eye dog.

The story unfolds both through Alex's eyes and in a later correspondence with Jonathan, who reveals chapters of a fictionalized version of Augustine's story. Despite the novel's decidedly earnest and serious themes, what's most striking about it is its strange, resonant humor. Publishers Weekly saw "demented genius" in it; and Francine Prose, who also used the adjective "demented" for Foer's writing, noted in the New York Times Book Review, "The problem [with the book] is, you keep laughing out loud, losing your place, starting again, then stopping because you're tempted to call your friends and read them long sections of Jonathan Safran Foer's assured, hilarious prose."

Since Foer admitted to doing little research (although he did take a trip similar to the fictional Foer's, inspiring the book), and the historical fiction sections earned some critical gripes for being uneven (Salon called them "dime-store García Márquez"), the chief strength of Everything Is Illuminated lies in a scope and wit that are stunning from an author who was still finishing up college at the time he began it. The paperback rights for Everything Is Illuminated later went for reportedly close to $1 million. The book was adapted to film in 2005 with Elijah Wood in the lead role. (From Barnes and Noble.)

In his second novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, published in 2005, Foer uses 9/11 as a backdrop for the story of 9-year-old Oskar Schell learning to deal with the death of his father in the World Trade Center. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close utilizes many nontraditional writing techniques. It follows multiple but interconnected storylines, is peppered with photographs of doorknobs and other such oddities, and ends with a 12-page flipbook.

Foer's utilization of these techniques resulted in both glowing praise and harsh censure from critics. Despite diverse criticism, the novel sold briskly and was translated into several languages.

• A vegetarian since the age of 10, Foer recorded the narration for "If This Is Kosher..." (2006), a harsh exposé of the kosher certification process that advocates vegetarianism and also includes Rabbi David Wolpe and Rabbi Irving Greenberg.

• Foer is the middle child of three sons. His older brother, Franklin, is the editor of The New Republic. His younger brother, Joshua, is a freelance journalist specializing in science writing. Foer married Nicole Krauss in June 2004. Their first child, Sasha, was born in February 2006.

• In the spring of 2008 he taught writing for the first time, as a visiting professor of intermediate fiction at Yale University. ("More" and "Extras" from Wikipedia.)

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