whatevermortal: (nathanwuornos)
[personal profile] whatevermortal
You know, I was thinking about Everything is Illuminated again today & how weird it is to me that Alexander Perchov is so rarely read as queer. I mean, I know it probably comes down to being queer myself and in fandom, but every time I pick up the book I get baffled all over again that so few people even questioned it? That it never came up in interviews with Safran Foer or has really received any attention elsewhere?

Someone on the TVTropes page labels him as ambiguously gay, but the only examples they give are 1) that he reveals that he lies to his family about going clubbing (he actually goes to the beach alone) and meeting women (all fictional), and 2) that he questions Jonathan about America and asks if there are homosexual accountants there.

The first comes from this passage on page 52, from Alex's letter on September 23rd, 1997:

I did not yearn to mention this, but I will. Soon I will possess enough currency to purchase a plane voucher to America. Father does not know this. He thinks I disseminate everything I possess at famous discotheques, but as proxy for I often go to the beach and roost for many hours, so I do not have to disseminate currency. When I roost at the beach I think about how lucky you are.

And his 17th November letter, on page 144:

I must inform you something now. This is a thing I have never informed anyone, and you must promise that you will not inform it to one soul. I have never been carnal with a girl. I know. I know. You cannot believe it, but all the stories that I told you about my girls who dub me All Night, Baby, and Currency were all not-truths, and they were not befitting not-truths. I think I manufacture these not-truths because it makes me feel like a premium person. Father asks me very often about girls, and which girls I am being carnal with, and in what arrangements we are carnal. He likes to like with me about it, especially late at night when he is full of vodka. I know that it would disappoint him very much if he knew what I am really like.

Tangent: I love the film, but I think one of the most disappointing changes they made was this. In the film, Alex isn't lying about clubbing, he isn't lying about meeting women, and he isn't lying about being tall. Film!Alex is maybe more thoughtful than he'd have anyone believe, but he doesn't have to lie to his family about who he is. It's almost as if the film was written from Alex's chapters about their search for Augustine without any reference to his letters to Jonathan between them where he refutes much of the information he gives about himself ("And thank you, I feel indebted to utter, for not mentioning the not-truth about how I am tall. I thought it might appear superior if I was tall").

Alex presents himself as much like the image of the All-American man as he can in his early chapters and, piece by piece, strips it away until he reveals the truth of himself, and I think it's a bit sad that the film chooses to simplify him so much. It does the same to Jonathan, although in a different way. Jonathan's character is turned into a quirky, obsessive collector (he's a writer in the novel), but I think I understand that decision better. Jonathan is incredibly absent from the novel; he is only present through Alex's perspective of him during the search, through Alex's responses to his letters. His own chapters are all his own semi-fictionalised writing about his family's past. We never see him through the lens of his own perspective (which is an interesting choice for a character named for and somewhat based upon his author). /tangent

The second points comes from a section on page 70:

"And if I may partake in a different theme: how much currency would an accountant receive in America?" "I'm not sure. A lot, I imagine, in he or she is good." "She!" "Or he." "Are there N*gro accountants?" "There are African-American accountants. You don't want to use that word, though, Alex." "And homosexual accountants?" "There are homosexual everythings. There are homosexual garbage men." "How much currency would a N*gro homosexual accountant receive?" "You shouldn't use that word."

Alex's dream is to move to America and work as an accountant, so it's particularly telling that he's asking if homosexual accountants exist. I think he's trying to find out not only whether his dream is feasible, if he could come out in America and still succeed, but also how Jonathan will respond to the topic of homosexuality. He buries it by asking first about black accountants; it creates plausible deniability if Jonathan reacts poorly. And, I think, Jonathan's blase reaction is part of what helps Alex open up to him later on.

But these are far from the only passages that lend to the reading of Alex as queer and, honestly, they're two of the more subtle. It becomes increasingly clear as the story progresses that Alex is queer and, in my opinion, falling in love with Jonathan.

Little Igor wanted me to utter hello to you from him. He does not know you, of course, but I have informed him very much about you. I informed him about how you are so funny, and so intelligent, and also how we can speak about momentous matters as well as farts. I even informed him about how you made bags of dirt when we were in Trachimbrod. Everything I could remember about you I informed him, because I want him to know you, and because it makes it feel that you are yet near, that you did not go away.

This passage comes from Alex's letter on October 28th, page 102. Alex makes it incredibly clear that Little Igor is the most important person in his life, that everything he wants from life he wants even more for his younger brother--he desperately wants to bring Igor with him to America, and the few times he really stands up to his father are usually to protect him. The fact that he wants Jonathan and Little Igor to like each other, to feel that they know each other, even if it is only through him, says how important Jonathan has also become. (Also, this isn't the first time Alex mourns Jonathan leaving Ukraine. he tells Jonathan earlier that he is sad to finish his letters because it's the closest thing he has to talking in person.)

On the 24th December, Alex writes,

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. Do you know that I am the G*psy girl and you are Safran, and that I am Kolker and you are Brod, and that I am your grandmother and you are Grandfather, and that I am Alex and you are you, and that I am you and you are me? Do you not comprehend that we can bring each other safety and peace? When we were under the stars in Trachimbrod, did you not feel it then? Do not present not-truths to me. Not to me.

He casts himself as Jonathan's lover: the G*psy girl and the grandmother, who were both in love with Safran (Jonathan's grandfather); and Kolker who was Brod's husband. This letter is the first time he is anything close to blunt; on the next page, he talks about having gone to the beach again:

The beach was beautiful last night, but this did not surprise me. [...] I have attempted to think about America in regard to where I am on the beach. I imagine a line, a white line, painted on the sand and on the ocean, from me to you.

I was sitting on the edge of the water, thinking about you, and us, when I heard a thing.

And, toward the end of it,

This is about choosing. Can you understand? Please attempt to. You are the only person who has understood even a whisper of me, and I will tell you that I am the only person who has understood even a whisper of you.

The comparisons of the G*psy girl and Safran, Kolker and Brod, and Alex and Jonathan, I think become the most telling with how desperately Alex wants them to be happy. He begs Jonathan to let Brod be happy and, when Jonathan moves on to Safran's story, Alex is furious that, again, Jonathan chooses for his characters/ancestors to be unhappy:

I could hate you! Why will you not permit your grandfather to be in love with the G*psy girl, and show her his love? Who is ordering you to write in such a manner? We have such chances to do good, and yet again and again you insist on evil. [...]

I must make a simple question, which is what is wrong with you? If your grandfather loves the G*psy girl, and I am certain that he does, who does he not leave with her? She could make him so happy. And yet he declines happiness. This is not reasonable, Jonathan, and it is not good.

(26 january, 1998)

Allowing Safran to be a stand-in for Jonathan, it makes Alex's explosive reaction to the story more understandable. I don't think he would call Jonathan a coward for writing it that way if the parallel wasn't so clear: Safran (Jonathan) is declining the happiness that is possible by permitting himself to love the G*psy girl (Alex). Additionally, it is in this letter that Alex admits,

There is such a thing as love that cannot be, for certain. If I were to inform Father, for example, about how I comprehend love, and who I desire to love, he would kill me, and this is no idiom.


For the first time in my life, I told my father exactly what I thought, as I will now tell you, for the first time, exactly what I think. As with him, I ask for your forgiveness.


Until this point, Alex has signed off his letters with "Guilelessly," and it is only as he writes that his father would kill him for who he wants to love, as he promises to tell Jonathan for the first time exactly what he thinks and asks his forgiveness, that he finishes his letter (the last he will ever write, according to his grandfather, whose letter to Jonathan Alex translates and sends just ahead of it) with love. Alex has come to realise that his love for Jonathan is as doomed as the G*psy girl's love for safran, as Kolker's for Brod. In this letter, he lets go of his dream to leave Ukraine and move to America and gives away all the money he has saved to his father in return for him leaving and never coming back. And, in this letter, he tells Jonathan that he loves him and lets him go in the same breath.

He never says that he's gay, but I don't think this is ambiguous at all.

...Now excuse me while I go cry over fix-it fic forever.

Date: 24 Feb 2015 11:39 pm (UTC)
morgaroo: (Default)
From: [personal profile] morgaroo
I so need to go do a reread now!


whatevermortal: (Default)

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