Father toils for a travel agency, denominated Heritage Touring. It is for Jewish people, like the hero, who have cravings to leave that ennobled country America and visit humble towns in Poland and Ukraine. (1.5)
The name "Heritage Touring" is important, because that clues us in to the whole purpose of this quest: for Jonathan to find his heritage. Well, he definitely finds something—as does Alex.
"He is looking for the town his grandfather came from." (1.14)
Chapter 1 sets us up for a classic quest story. Alex even calls Jonathan "the hero" multiple times. And he's on a quest for a certain town that may or may not exist. But real life doesn't always work out the way it does in stories, and Jonathan never does find his town. Wait—this is a story. We're confused.
I must eat a slice of humble pie for not finding Augustine, but you clutch how rigid it was. (4.4)
Translation: I'm sorry we didn't find Augustine, but it was really really hard. Explanation: We learn in Chapter 4 that the quest of Augustine failed, but we've still got a lot of book to get through. If they didn't find Augustine, what did they find on their journey?
I had never been to Lutsk, or any of the multitudinous petite villages that still endure after the war. I desired to see new things. I desired to experience volumes. (5.1)
Alex is stoked for the journey, even though it isn't your typical trip to, say, Disney World. He wants to see a different culture and learn about people, and oh boy, he doesn't know what he's in for.
The drive was also difficult because the car is so much s*** that it would not travel any faster than as fast as I could run, which is sixty kilometers per the hour. (5.7)
If you've seen Little Miss Sunshine, then you know that a road trip isn't a road trip unless you have a crappy vehicle.
"I want to see Trachimbrod," the hero said. "To see what it's like, how my grandfather grew up, where I would be now if it weren't for the war." (10.8)
Some people just log on to ancestry.com to find out about their family tree. Jonathan turns it into a quest to find his grandfather's hometown and see it firsthand.
If you possess any magazines or articles that you enjoy, I would be very happy if you could post them to me. […] I intend articles about America, you know. (14.15)
Alex wants to go to America, but he knows it might never happen. So he has to explore America vicariously through whatever media Jonathan sends to him… kind of like how we explore Trachimbrod through this book. And we're definitely not going to be able to go there.
We drove the car behind Augustine, who walked. (23.2)
The journey to Trachimbrod takes forever even when they're only a kilometer away. We might as well be trying to return the one ring to Mordor or something.
"This is all that you would see. It is always like this, always dark." (23.8)
Trachimbrod is just a field, and it doesn't seem to matter if it's light or dark because there's nothing there. But for Not-Augustine, there's a double meaning. Her memories of Trachimbrod, and its discussion, are dark ones. From this point, the journey becomes more about exploring the memories of Trachimbrod than exploring the shtetl itself.
Jonathan dislodged the ribbon, which was wrapped many times around IN CASE, and opened it. (26.6)
Opening the IN CASE box is just as much an exploration of Trachimbrod as going there was. In fact, since there is nothing left where Trachimbrod used to stand, the IN CASE box is more of an explanation of this lost village.