Jonathan Safran Foer

Jonathan Safran Foer

Born to an affluent and observant Jewish family in Washington, D.C., the son of a Polish immigrant and a non-practicing lawyer father who opted to work as a jeweler instead, Foer dates his birth as a writer not to a certain book or teacher but to a traumatic accident that occurred when he was a child: "It made me a person" (New York Times Magazine, February 21, 2005). The Explosion, as Foer called it, occurred at a summer program in chemistry when a sparkler experiment went wrong and several children were critically injured. Foer suffered second-degree burns-he might have been injured more badly, as his best friend was, had he not been returning from getting a drink of water-and described himself as traumatized for years afterward, frightened of going to school, regressing in his toilet training and unable to speak publicly.Following his recovery, Foer attended the prestigious Georgetown Day School and was admitted to Princeton University where he took his first creative writing class with author Joyce Carol Oates. Oates was impressed with his talent and was his senior thesis advisor for the book that eventually became Everything Is Illuminated (2002). Critical and popular reactions to the book, which dealt with a fictional Jonathan Safran Foer seeking his ancestry in the Ukraine just as the real Foer did, in search of a woman he'd been told saved his grandfather from the Nazis, were divided between declaring him a pretentious fraud or a genius. Foer's audacious style, his choices of ambitious subject matter and themes and his seemingly effortless success seem to leave him particularly vulnerable to attacks; among contemporary American literary novelists, perhaps only Rick Moody and Jonathan Franzen evoke similar degrees of antipathy.In 2004, Foer wed novelist Nicole Krauss, and the two successful writers moved into an expensive Park Slope house and had two children, further fostering a sense of his life as a charmed one somehow devoid of the usual dues-paying and struggle of other writers-Foer's own agent has remarked on the frustration of seeing the jealousy her client has faced. And his second novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2005), went on to be a huge commercial hit just as his first one had been. The film adaptation of Everything Is Illuminated (2005) was less successful with both critics and audiences. That same year, the opera "Seven Attempted Escapes from Silence" (2005), with a libretto written by Foer, debuted in Berlin. Foer's literary success continued undaunted, with his nonfiction book examining slaughterhouses and the meat industry and advocating for vegetarianism, Eating Animals (2009), once again topping the best-seller lists. By this point it was clear that, however controversial Foer might be, he also has the rare ability to blend literary prestige with popular success.Foer's next book, however, would prove a challenge even for his loyal readers: a cut-up version of his favorite novel, The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz. Foer went through the book and removed most of the words to create a new story of only a few thousand words, Tree of Codes (2010), and its publisher, Visual Editions, located a Belgian printer that agreed to work with them to produce a book in which each page had a different die-cut. The result received strong reviews, but some critics wondered if the book might be something of a stunt, a "boost to his wobbly critical standing" (The Guardian, 18 December 2010), which took another drubbing with the release of the critically panned film adaptation "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" (2011). However, the continued critical controversy surrounding his work did not prevent his being named one of the best novelists under the age of 40 in 2010 by The New Yorker, along with his wife and a host of other young novelists including Karen Russell and Gary Shteyngart. Foer went on to edit a new translation of The Haggadah (2012), an account of the Jews' flight from Egypt intended to be read at Passover. In 2013, President Barack Obama was instrumental in getting Foer appointed to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council. Foer's next novel, Escape from Children's Hospital (2014), continues in the semi-autobiographical vein of Everything Is Illuminated and deals directly with The Explosion, fictionalizing the accident and its effects on him and his best friend.