MILWAUKEE – There’s so much to know about celebrated author Jonathan Safran Foer, who will speak at Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s 2019 Annual Campaign Kick-Off Celebration, it’s dizzying.
The Chronicle is here to make the motion stop. What you need is a quick field guide. Here are seven things to know about Foer:
- He started his first (blockbuster) book in college.
His 2002 debut novel, published in his mid-20s, was “Everything Is Illuminated.” He’s stated in interviews that he started writing it while still an undergraduate at Princeton University.
At the time, the Washington Post raved: “Imagine a novel as verbally cunning as ‘Clockwork Orange,’ as harrowing as ‘Painted Bird’ … a book that, despite its slenderness, straddles two centuries, rattles from here to the other side of the planet and back again, and manages to tell an old story in an original way, with equal doses of burlesque and heartbreak.”
In the book, with only a yellowing photograph in hand, a young man – also named Jonathan Safran Foer – sets out to find the woman who may or may not have saved his grandfather from the Nazis.
The book was made into a movie, starring Elijah Wood.
- He wrote a book about an Israeli earthquake.
Foer’s first novel in 11 years, “Here I Am,” was published last year.
The book is about an Israeli earthquake, but it’s really not about the earthquake. “Here I Am” is the story of a fracturing family in a moment of crisis. As Jacob and Julia Bloch and their three sons are forced to confront the distances between the lives they think they want and the lives they are living, a catastrophic earthquake sets in motion a quickly escalating conflict in the Middle East.
The novel impliedly asks questions: How do we fulfill our conflicting duties as father, husband, and son; wife and mother; child and adult? Jew and American? How can we claim our own identities when our lives are linked so closely to others’?
- He writes because of a need to read it.
“Both the Holocaust and 9/11 were events that demanded retellings,” Foer told the New York Times. “The accepted versions didn’t make sense for me. I always write out of a need to read something, rather than a need to write something. With 9/11, in particular, I needed to read something that wasn’t politicized or commercialized, something with no message, something human.”
- He grew up lighting Shabbat candles.
Foer grew up in a redbrick house in northwest Washington, D.C., in a Jewish household where Shabbat candles were lighted on most Friday evenings, according to the New York Times.
- He’s a passionate vegetarian.
He created and narrated a documentary alleging inappropriate conditions at a large glatt kosher slaughterhouse.
“Having been raised in a Jewish household, I believed that kosher meat was distinguished by its treatment of animals, thereby removing the discomfort that many people, especially children, feel about eating meat,” he says on the video. He became a vegetarian and says he makes this dietary choice anew with each meal. “When I choose not to eat meat, I feel that I am choosing life, not death.”
Foer drives home the point in his 2010 non-fiction book, “Eating Animals.”
- He edited and published a Haggadah.
The Haggadah, published in 2010, features a new translation of the traditional text and, according to marketing materials, includes “provocative commentary by major Jewish writers and thinkers Jeffrey Goldberg, Lemony Snicket, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, and Nathaniel Deutsch.”
- He’s on some amazing lists.
Oh my, where to start? The New Yorker magazine named him to “20 under 40 Fiction” in 2010, calling him one of “twenty young writers who capture the inventiveness and the vitality of contemporary American fiction.”
Foer was one of Rolling Stone’s “People of the Year,” an Esquire “Best and Brightest,” and The Forward named him to the Forward50.
“At its heart, his work, which has a heterogeneous audience, engages with a scope of Jewish culture, history and practice and gives American Jews an insight into a part of their community,” states The Forward. “It also introduces each of those categories to a broader audience. It’s impossible to talk about contemporary American Jewish literature without talking about Foer, and for that, he deserves recognition.”
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How to go
What: Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s 2019 Annual Campaign Kick-Off Celebration.
Where: The Pfister Hotel’s Imperial Ballroom, 424 E. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee.
When: Thursday, Sept. 27, 6:30 p.m.
Cost: $18 includes dessert reception, with dietary laws observed.
RSVP by Sept. 21 at MilwaukeeJewish.org/Kickoff