Everything is Illuminated is a very intriguing novel; beginning as a thesis project for Foer’s studies at Princeton University, this book is semi-autobiographical, about travels he made in search of finding information about his family.
The novel follows a man who is (purposely) named Jonathan Safran Foer. Jonathan travels to the Ukraine in search for a woman who supposedly saved his grandfather’s life in World War II. He does not know much about this woman, but he possesses a single photograph of her (which he has made copies of) with the name “Augustine” written on the back.
The narrator for the majority of the novel, Alexander Perchov, has broken English, and serves as the translator for Jonathan on his journey. Alex and his own grandfather (and their dog named Sammy Davis Junior, Junior) all listen to Jonathan’s family story, eager to help this man find the heroic “Augustine”. With only a picture of her and the name of the destroyed shtetl that his family resided in, the group sets out on adventures together to find this woman and the old shtetl of Trachimbrod.
Meanwhile, this novel switches back and forth between the previously mentioned group of people and Jonathan’s stories of Trachimbrod’s history. It begins with the naming of Trachimbrod, which surrounded a girl who will end up being the root of Jonathan’s family line. A family’s carriage had mistakenly fallen into a body of water, allowing only one baby girl to survive. This baby girl named “Brod” is given out in a lottery to a very elderly, lone man who has never raised a child before. From this woman we are taken through her life in Trachimbrod and how the generations of her offspring reside in this small Ukrainian shtetl.
By reading this novel, one will learn about the small shtetl that no longer stands, eliminated by the war violence caused by Nazis. The many stories weave together a mosaic of a village that once stood populated, but today is not even marked on a map. The effects of war will determine where families go, and what sacrifices they must make.
Foer greatly utilizes Alexander’s broken English skills to incorporate humor within the already-unique novel; Alex calls Jonathan the “hero”, but it is evident that throughout the novel, the role Alex plays is one of the most important ones throughout the search.
The shifting story-lines may begin to confuse the reader, but Foer’s technique of connecting stories together as they progress is very strong; he uses this technique in his other favorite novel of mine, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.This novel is endlessly unique, and will educate people on so many different aspects of history and life.
Availability: St. Mary’s College, USMAI, COSMOS,
Review Submitted by: Reilly Cook
Rating: Highly Recommended
Challenge: Finish reading a book you started but never finished in the past