|J. Safran Foer (right) in happier times.|
Back in the 1970s, I was a keen reader of the weekly football comic Roy of the Rovers. Roy Race, the free-scoring striker with Melchester Rovers, was also the editor. Well, why not, it was named after him. It’s nothing Oprah hasn’t capitalised on. Except he wasn’t really the editor, because he didn’t exist. But he signed his editorial column every week, and expressed his opinions about his favourite players. The best striker in England, he maintained, was Portsmouth’s David Kemp. It’s possible that a few readers vehemently disagreed with Roy on this, but Roy was so determined to endorse the forward that he went to see him personally. And that’s how the picture to our left appeared as a magazine centre-spread, much to the delight of myself and my friends. And after that, we stopped buying it, both literally and figuratively.
We were prepared to believe that Roy could fire in a 40-yarder to win the game in the last minute, week after week. We accepted that goalkeeper Gordon Stewart, despite the panther-like antics that made him The Safest Hands In Soccer, only played for second division Tynefield City. We didn’t mind that Subbuteo-playing genius Mike Dailey of Mike's Mini-Men had absolutely nothing in his life besides table football (in fact I probably related to him more than I’d like to admit). We cared not that Johnny ‘The Hard Man’ Dexter’s Danefield United team were playing in the English top flight, just like Melchester Rovers, but the two teams existed in parallel worlds (one in colour, the other in black and white), and that the fixture list never brought them together. But we couldn’t take it seriously when Roy posed as a cardboard cut-out next to David Kemp. Like Danefield and Melchester, the two were never supposed to meet. Not credible. Not at all.
Jonathan Safran Foer’s widely acclaimed novel Everything Is Illuminated raised a similar credibility problem for me. The main character is a Ukrainian translator, Alex, who narrates