This book is a book that will haunt you. It’s a book, after all, about haunted people: Haunted by hatred, haunted by loneliness, and most of all, haunted by the past.
This book weaves three narratives, each of which echoes and reflects the other. In alternating chapters, we experience the “very rigid journey” through Ukraine undertaken by Jonathan Safran Foer (the main character who shares his name with the author) to find a woman named Augustine who saved his grandfather in World War II. Accompanying him and recounting this story, in hilariously broken English, is his translator Alexander Perchov (“my friends dub me Alex, because it is more flaccid to utter”). Alex writes letters to Jonathan after their journey detailing his efforts to record their journey and telling Jonathan about his life in Ukraine. The third storyline, a story written by Jonathan, is a fairytale-like story of a shtetl where Jonathan’s ancestors live.
Jonathan Safran Foer has a knack for the heartbreaking, the hilarious, the bizarre. I do not believe there is another book I could call similar to Everything Is Illuminated. Instead, Jonathan Safran Foer combines various disparate elements to create an entirely unique story. The questions raised about the nature of love and loneliness, as well as what it means to be a good person in a time like World War II, are subtly and skillfully woven into the text. You start this book laughing at Alex’s dreadfully awkward references to pop culture and end up feeling like you’ve been told a very sad and complicated secret. Everything is Illuminated, for me, was akin to cutting yourself on a blade so sharp that at first you don’t even feel it piercing your skin. It’s only when the blood springs to the surface that you realize the impact has been made.