Study Guide

Everything Is Illuminated Love

By Jonathan Safran Foer


It was inevitable: Yankel fell in love with his never-wife. (7.34)

It seems silly that Yankel would fall in love with the lies he tells Brod about his wife… but admit it. We've all fallen in love with a fictional character.

"Do you think [your grandfather] loved [Augustine]?" […] "It seems so improbably that he could have loved her. But isn't there something strange about the picture, the closeness between them, even though they're not looking at each other? They way that they aren't looking at each other. The distance." (10.9)

Jonathan has trouble believing that his grandfather could have loved anyone but his grandmother. Isn't that the way most of us view old people? As never having youth or lives before we came along? (Just imagine your grandparents having sex. Um, actually don't.)

[Brod] had to satisfy herself with the idea of love—loving the loving of things whose existence she didn't care at all about. Love itself became the object of her love. (11.66)

It seems natural that Brod, who questions the existence of God, would also question the existence of love. If she can't see it and touch it, she doesn't know it's real. (And Brod being a magical baby, she probably still isn't quite sure even if she can touch it.)

If there is no love in the world, we will make a new world, and we will give it heavy walls, and we will furnish it with soft red interiors, from the inside out, and give it a knocker, that resonates like a diamond falling to a jeweler's felt so that we should never hear it. (11.84)

Brod and Yankel create a new world from the stories that they tell themselves. Are they lying to each other to create love? And if they are, is what they're doing any different than what a novelist like, say, Jonathan Safran Foer, would do to evoke feelings of love in a book like, say, Everything is Illuminated?

Love, in your writing, is the immovability of truth. (14.13)

This one's a real head-scratcher, but we think it means something like this: love means being able to confront the truth about a situation (or a person) and not trying to invent stories to make it seem better or different. Do you agree? Is "love" just another way of saying "absolute acceptance"?

I am so wanting to know what happens to Brod and the Kolker. Will she love him? Say yes. I hope that you say yes. It will prove a thing to me. (14.15)

Yeah, we're wondering too. What will love between Brod and the Kolker prove to Alex? Will it prove that love can actually exist? That the past isn't just one unremitting series of horrors? Or that terrible events (like rape) can eventually lead to happiness (like loving the man who kills your rapist)? Hm. We're not sure we'd want that last one proved.

This is love, [Brod] thought, isn't it? When you notice someone's absence and hate that absence more than anything? More, even, than you love his presence? (16.12)

Brod is a true romantic. (Not.) Next time you want to tell someone you love them, make sure you put it this way: "I hate when you're gone even more than I love when you're here." They'll love it, we promise.

But love is a room, [Brod] said. That's what it is. (16.128)

When the Kolker's head injury gives him violent mood swings and he goes to sleep in a different bedroom, Brod doesn't know how she could love him anymore. Love, to her, is a very confined space—which, we guess, is why she has to cut a little hole in the wall.

[Safran] never loved any of his lovers. He never confused anything he felt for love. (20.12)

Safran separates sex (and lust) from love at all times. We have to wonder if he's actively doing this because he doesn't want to fall in love, or if he truly doesn't feel anything for any of the women he is with. Is he afraid, or just a jerk?

He knew that I love you also means I love you more than anyone loves you, or has loved you, or will love you, and also, I love you in a way that no one loves you, or has loved you, or will love you, and also, I love you in a way that I love no one else, and never have loved anyone else, and never will love anyone else. He knew that it is, by love's definition, impossible to love two people. (21.10)

In other words: don't tell someone you love them unless you really really mean that it is powerful and unique. This is why Safran doesn't "love" any of his lovers. He knows that true love is more powerful than anything he is capable of feeling for them. (We think he might just need to grow up a little, but then we're cynics.)