Study Guide

Everything Is Illuminated Truth

By Jonathan Safran Foer


Thank you, I feel indebted to utter, for not mentioning the non-truth about how I am tall. I thought it might appear superior if I was tall. (4.8)

Since this is a book about writing, it's hard to tell what's "true" and what isn't true, especially since, to the reader's perspective, it's all fiction. But Alex admits that he has described himself falsely—specifically, described himself as taller than he is. Do you forgive him for telling this lie? (Think carefully about your OK Cupid profile before answering.)

Brod's life was a slow realization that the world was not for her, and that for whatever reason, she would never be happy and honest at the same time. (11.64)

Brod believes that honesty and happiness are mutually exclusive. Why do you think this is? Is it because she sees the world differently and has to lie to herself in order to be happy (say, about the existence of God)? Do you agree with her?

If I could utter a proposal, please allow Brod to be happy. Please. Is this such an impossible thing? Perhaps she could exist, and be proximal with your grandfather, Safran. Or, here is a majestic idea: perhaps Brod could be Augustine. (17.4)

Alex has a career in fiction-writing; we'd totally read that book. Happy endings all around! Unfortunately, Jonathan doesn't take his advice. He's telling the story that's there, not the story he wants to tell… we think. It all gets a little confusing.

I manufacture these not-truths because it makes me feel like a premium person. (17.7)

Whoa, whoa, whoa. You mean people are just as much who they are perceived to be as who they actually are? Does that mean Facebook is a lie??

Once you hear something, you can never return to the time before you heard it. (18.22)

What has been seen cannot be unseen, and what has been heard cannot be unheard. A good pair of noise-canceling headphones might help, though.

"I used to think that humor was the only way to appreciate how wonderful and terrible the world is, to celebrate how big life is. You know what I mean? […] But now I think it's the opposite. Humor is a way of shrinking from that wonderful and terrible world." (18.27)

Jonathan's view on humor changes as the novel progresses, and he starts seeing humor as a way of lying, or skirting the truth. Is this why the book becomes way less funny toward the end?

How can you do this to your grandfather, writing about his life in such a manner? Could you write in this manner if he was alive? And if not, what does that signify? […] We are being very nomadic with the truth, yes? The both of us? […] Why do you write about Trachimbrod and your grandfather in the manner that you do, and why do you command me to be untruthful? (22.4)

Alex takes issue with Jonathan's brutally honest portrayal of his own grandfather. It's almost like Alex thinks it's being dishonest to write about certain things truthfully—like maybe there's a difference between "truth" and "honesty." Figure that one out.

Do not present not-truths to me. Not to me. (25.3)

By this point in their relationship Alex feels that he and Jonathan are BFF enough that they shouldn't be lying to each other. But is Jonathan lying to him? Or is he just finding a creative way of telling the truth?

We invented a story about an accident with sleeping pills. That is what we told to Little Igor so that he would never have to know. (29.19)

It's a little ironic that truther Alex makes up a lie to tell to his little brother. We understand why (the suicide of grandparent is difficult to process, you know?), and maybe this event will help Alex to understand that there are moments when honesty isn't the best policy.

Do you remember what he did next, Jonathan? […] He returned the photograph to the box, you will remember, and he told us the story. Exactly like that. He placed the photograph in the box, and he told it to us. He did not avoid our eyes, and he did not once put his hands under the table. (29.86)

This begins a whopping five-page paragraph in which Grandfather finally reveals the truth—it's so true, apparently, that it doesn't use any punctuation or paragraphing, as though truth can't conform to any pesky rules of grammar or style. (Try telling that one to your English teacher.)