Everything is illuminated, Jonathan Safran Foer’s literary debut, is a book composed of two narrative voices, Alex form Ukraine and Jonathan from America. Jonathan Safran Foer – the author has given his name to one of the main characters in the book – is an American young man that aspires to be an author. He is confused about his own past and he goes to Ukraine to search for Augustine, a woman who fifty years ago saved his grandfather from the Nazis. He also hopes to find material for his first book.
Alex is from Odessa. He is about the same age as Jonathan and he accompanies him as an interpreter and tour guide, in his search for Augustine and his grandfather’s village, Trachimbrod. Alex is desperate to leave Ukraine and go to live in America with his little brother. He dreams about America but in a materialistic way. The reality is that the country remains a mystery to him.
Both men are struggling to express their feelings. Alex, does not know enough words to express himself – ‘My second tongue is not so premium’ he concedes. His narrative, at the beginning, is almost impossible to read. It is hilarious and thrilling the same time. As time goes by, his vocabulary improves, his narrative becomes more clear and stronger, reflecting, one would say, the gravity of the subject. This creative use of language in the story, is fascinating.
Jonathan, on the other hand, knows a lot of words, but he is struggling to overcome the personal and cultural barriers to express his emotions. The cultural chasm is deep and the Ukraine he is dreaming, exists only in his imagination. He is confused, he wants to learn about his family’s past, but everything is so strange. He remains a helpless onlooker, unable to connect to his family past.
Everything is illuminated is a mystical book about love, a human all-consuming love. Structurally, it is strange and complicated yet it is this strangeness that make it such an interesting and imaginative read.