Foer’s novel ‘Everything is illuminated’ can easily be seen as your typical postmodern novel. It consists of three text forms: the narrative itself, a one-sided letter correspondence, and a kind of magical realistic narrative that is the product of a character called Jonathan Safran Foer. Also, the main narrative is constantly altered by information you get from the one-sided letter correspondence, in which the protagonist Alex also discusses the content of the magical realistic narrative. So there’s a lot of dialogue between the different text forms and a lot of self-reflexivity about the process of storytelling. However, I would argue that Foer also employs several post-postmodern strategies.
I would localize these fresh approaches to narrativity in his depiction of the novel`s protagonist: Alexander Perchov, called Alex, born 1977, an Ukrainian self-made tourist guide, who is marked by a very exceptional use of English. He must have learned English from a cheap dictionary without example sentences, because he often mixes colloquial with high English, applies phrases inappropriately, and uses words one might never use in spoken contemporary English. This all results in a sense of out-of-placeness. In his first letter to the character Jonathan (Safran Foer) he writes, for example:
I hanker for this letter to be good. Like you know, I am not first rate with English. In Russian my ideas are asserted abnormally well, but my second tongue is not so premium. I undertaked to input the things you counseled me to, and I fatigued the thesaurus you presented me […]
He has made up a very unique form of the English language. One could argue that this is exactly what postmodernism does; it plays with language. But as postmodern critic Brian McHale argues, this serves a very definitive purpose: to foreground the materiality of language and to create a distance towards the content, so that the reader will be profoundly irritated by the form. Words that turn into material tend also to turn against the reader, as McHale notes: ‘(Reaching for our dictionaries to look up ‘nicilosities’, we may well wonder what Barthelme`s language hast against us.)’
Things like this do not happen in ‘Everything is illuminated’. Although some words are odd, they still are comprehensible and one gets used to them pretty quickly. The use of language provides a sense of transparency, even. In fact, you are very intrigued by Alex because he seems so predictable. He reveals himself, involuntarily, it seems.
But language in this novel still is ambiguous and offers no direct path towards the truth. Alex reveals himself to be much more insightful than the reader would have given him credit for, especially because of his limited possibilities. He is not shallow; he is quite reflective in his own way. On Jonathan’s magical realistic narrative he remarks: ‘Why are the painful things always electromagnets?’ and ‘Love, in your writing is the immovability of truth.’ These insights are surprising, because they pop up in-between the most banal, humorous paragraphs of his letters.
Language here is installed as a limitation that is breached. Indeed, the boundaries language has set up for Alex are overcome by him. Moreover, only because Alex seems so ‘limited’ by his language at first, we can perceive his observations in this surprising light. Therefore language has lost its controlling character Pynchon, Rushdie or Auster are constantly arguing for in their novels. There’s a certain kind of relaxedness now in dealing with language. It does not possess that over-dominating power postmodernism attributed to it, rather its powers and the limitations it produces are accepted pain-free. In addition, these limitations are openly displayed by introducing a unique use of language that proofs that language’s overall purpose – to communicate – is still intact:
‘We are talking now, Jonathan, together, and not apart. We are with each other, working on the same story, and I am certain that you can also feel it.’
One has to admit, that Foer’s novel is full of language-confusion (and that this confusion is quite humorously portrayed), but one cannot deny the overall outcome of the novel: the strong connection between Alex and Jonathan, that is created by dealing with and talking about language and by assembling different text forms together. Language then, is a welcoming problem, because once overcome it unites rather than diffuses. Whereas in postmodern literature language’ s ability is subverted, meaning is deconstructed and truth is ever-displaced, Foer seems to seek strategies to overcome the limitations of language, while not ignoring them.
 Foer, Jonathan Safran (2002): Everything is illuminated, London: Penguin Books, p. 23
 McHale, Brian (2003) : Postmodernist Fiction, London and New York: Routledge, p. 170
 Foer (2002: 104)
 ibid, p. 103
 ibid., p. 214