Artfully complex in its structure, Everything is Illuminated
is a uniquely witty and cathartic tale in which Jonathan Safran Foer
successfully probes the topics of love, loss, myth, remembrance, and the Holocaust by approaching one man's memories of his family on three levels.
Alex Perchov is a twenty-year old Ukranian living in Odessa. Self-described as "unequivocally tall" with "handsome hairs , which are split in the middle," Alex enjoys the simple pleasures of any young Ukranian male. His proficiency in English ("I had performed recklessly well in my second year of English...a very majestic thing I did because my instructor was having shit between his brains.") lands Alex a job translating for a twenty-year old Jewish-American writer in search of the woman who may or may not have saved his grandfather from the Nazis.
The writer is Jonathan Safran Foer.
Along for the ride is Alexander's near-blind Grandfather (hired to drive the hero) and his over-amorous "seeing eye bitch," Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior. Alex captures the passage of these ludicrous pilgrims in a relentlessly hilarious fashion.
On another level, we learn of the history of Trachimbrod, the Eastern European village of the hero's ancestors. It is in Trachimbrod that the miraculous 1791 river-birth of Brod, Jonathan Safran Foer's great-great-great-great-great-grandmother and the bizarre evolution of this tiny village is illuminated. Here we fall in love with Brod and her people, who love her also. We are captivated by the unfolding of the hero's lineage through the centuries. Like omniscient immortals, we are privy to the furtive transgressions and the most intimate trials of each generation.
Yet a third component of the novel, Alexander's letters from Odessa to Jonathan Safran Foer in America, shed light on the two preceding structural aspects. In the letters, we learn that the Trachimbrod chapters are a fiction that the character Jonathan Safran Foer is crafting and mailing in installments to Alexander for review and commentary. Similarly and simultaneously, Alexander pens his account of the pilgrimage they undertook to find the hero's family.
Not merely complexity for its own sake, the tripartite threads of Everything is Illuminated intertwine in a synergistic fashion, binding the reader with its coincident sorrow and wit and from page one until the book's close. In fact, the only thing that seems at all improbable about Jonathan Safran Foer's novel is that is this twenty-something author's debut.