Everything Is Illuminated Summary
Everything is Illuminated is basically two-two-two books in one!
In one corner, we have a relatively modern story (late 90s, we're thinking, as the story ends in 1998) featuring a translator and tour guide named Alex Perchov who is guiding a man named Jonathan Safran Foer (yes, same name as the guy whose name is on the cover of the book) on a quest to find both Trachimbrod, the village where his grandfather grew up, and Augustine, a woman who saved Jonathan's grandfather during the war.
They're accompanied by Alex's grandfather and his "Seeing Eye bitch" (1.10) Sammy Davis Junior, Junior, a dog who loves to chew her own tail. They journey from Lvov, Ukraine into the countryside, where they find a woman who claims to be Augustine.
Well, she's not. However, she is the last surviving person from Trachimbrod. She gives Jonathan a box full of mementos from Trachimbrod: rings, necklaces, scraps of paper, and photos, among other things. One of the photos, coincidentally, is of Alex's Grandfather and his friend Herschel. Whoa!
It turns out that Herschel is a Jew who was killed in a Nazi raid on their village of Kolki. When the Nazis asked the villagers to point to the Jews, Grandfather pointed to Herschel in order to save himself and his family. Herschel was burned alive in the synagogue, and Grandfather never spoke of it again until that moment. Yikes.
In the other corner (and interspersed throughout the book), is the story that Jonathan Safran Foer (the character, not the author… well, the character and the author, we guess… man, this is confusing), who is writing about his ancestors—namely, his great-times-five-or-six grandmother Brod and his grandfather Safran.
Brod has a magical, maybe-virgin birth, when she, as a baby, bobs to the surface after her father dies in a wagon accident in the river Brod, for which the baby is later named.
A man named Yankel, who raises her until he dies on Trachimday, the festival commemorating the wagon accident on the day of Brod's birth. That day, Brod is raped by a crazy man named Sofiowka, and she meets a traveler called the Kolker, who wins the Trachimday competition. She asks the Kolker to kill Sofiowka (we don't find this out until much later) and he does. Then, obviously, they get married.
Eventually, Safran—Jonathan's grandfather—is born. Safran was born with teeth, so he couldn't nurse well and ends up with a lame right arm due to malnutrition. Don't worry: chicks dig the lame arm. Safran has sex with pretty much every woman in a three-shtetl radius but eventually enters into an arranged marriage with a woman named Zosha. A gypsy who's been in love with him forever celebrates his wedding day by killing herself, and it's really too bad: Safran loved her, too.
Another thing happens on their wedding day: bombs bursting in air, and not in a patriotic sense. Soon, the Nazis arrive and burn Trachimbrod to the ground. It turns out that the woman who isn't Augustine (in the present-day story) is Lista P, a widow whom Safran slept with. She is the only person who survives.
Back in the present day, Alex's Grandfather writes a letter to Jonathan before killing himself in the bathtub. He tells Jonathan that all he wants is for his grandkids to "live without violence" (34.22). His letter ends in the middle of a sentence, and with it, so does the book.
Wait a minute, was everything illuminated? Was anything illuminated? Dig into to our detailed summary to shed some light on all this.
An Overture to the Commencement of a Very Rigid Journey
- This chapter is told by someone named Alexander Perchov, or Alex, and, well, his English is not very premium. Er, good.
- Alex lives with his Mother, his Father (who is kind of a jerk), his younger brother Little Igor, his Grandfather (also named Alex), and his dog Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior.
- Things Alex enjoys: going out to nightclubs, dancing to Michael Jackson, macking on the ladies.
- His father works for Heritage Touring, and one day they get a call for a driver, guide, and translator for a young man who will be arriving in July.
- This man is looking for the town his grandfather came from (a town called Trachimbrod), and for a woman named Augustine, who saved said grandfather during the war.
- Even though Grandfather is "retarded" (1.13), (Alex means "retired" here… we think…) he decides to come out of retirement for one last trip, like Morgan Freeman in any given cop drama.
- During an ad for "McDonald's McPorkburgers" (1.15) (not something on our value meal…) Grandfather says that he does "not want to drive ten hours to an ugly city to attend a very spoiled Jew" (1.15).
- What if it were a pretty city?
The Beginning of the World Often Comes
- Hop in the Wayback machine, Shmoopers: we're heading back to March 18, 1791 just as a wagon belonging to someone named Trachim B sinks in the Brod river.
- Everyone around the river seems to have witnessed a different series of events.
- The "disgraced usurer" (2.2) Yankel D tries to pull wailing girls Hannah and Chana away from the river.
- The "mad squire" (2.7) Sofiowka N says the wagon flipped itself… or maybe the wind did it… or an angel came down… okay, this dude is mad.
- The wailing girls allegedly saw nothing.
- "The humble antiques salesman" Shloim W dives into the water but cannot find a body (2.15).
- While they're all arguing about whether or not to make a "shtetl proclamation," something bobs to the surface of the river: a baby.
The Lottery, 1791
- Trachim's wagon accident seems to be the most exciting thing that's happened here in years.
- No one even knows if the man died, but there's still tons of speculation: maybe he was swept out to sea, maybe he faked his own death, maybe he was rescued and is still alive, maybe he was Elvis. Who knows?
- The Well-Regarded Rabbi (WHO TALKS LIKE THIS) takes in the baby inside the Upright Synagogue. (Where the Upright Citizens worship, we guess.)
- Women aren't allowed in the synagogue, so they look at the baby through a hole in the wall.
- After a week, the Rabbi has no idea what to do with the baby, so he decides to give it to "any righteous man" who wants her.
- He gets fifty-two notes under his door.
- The Rabbi can't make a decision ("ALL A LITTLE BELOW AVERAGE" (2.26) he says, as though he's the Bachelorette trying to hand out roses), so he lets the baby choose.
- He dumps the slips with names into her crib, but she doesn't want to pick one either.
- Eventually he chooses one, and it's Yankel D.
20 July 1997
- This chapter is a letter from Alexander to Jonathan, the tourist who oh-so-coincidentally has the same name as the author of this book.
- He mentions that he is sorry that Jonathan lost a special box on the train.
- He also apologies for doing "a mediocre job" (4.4) on their trip.
- It seems that the first chapter is part of a book written by Alexander, and he sent it to Jonathan to proofread.
- Also, we find out that chapters 2 and 3 are part of a book Jonathan is writing, which he shared with Alexander.
- Finally, Alex shares that Grandfather is not well, and he's been crying over Augustine (which is the name of a woman, not a Ukrainian dish).
- In closing, he tells Jonathan, "Please be truthful, but also please be benevolent, please" (4.13).
An Overture to Encountering the Hero, and then Encountering the Hero.
- Alexander tells all his babes that he must leave them and go to Lutsk to translate for Jonathan Safran Foer.
- After an argument with Father, Alex leaves for the train station with his Grandfather and his "seeing-eye bitch" Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior (5.6).
- Yes, Grandfather is driving. Don't worry; he's not really blind.
- Alex gets them lost once, but they get to the train station after only eleven hours of driving.
- Jonathan's train arrives after four hours and Alex is surprised to meet his first American, and his first Jew, mainly because "he did not look like anything special at all" (5.11).
- Who was he expecting? Mel Brooks?
- They get back to the car, and Alex has to wake up Grandfather so they can get going.
- Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior is going nuts and farting in the backseat.
- Even though Jonathan is scared of dogs (from a dog bite) he has to sit in the backseat with this comic parody version of Cujo, who is now chewing her own tail.
The Book of Recurrent Dreams, 1791
- The only plot-wise thing that happens in this chapter is that Yankel is told that he will be the father of the baby from the Brod.
- But there's also talk of The Book of Recurrent Dreams, where, well, people record their recurring dreams.
- Here's a sample:
- The dream of sex without pain
- The dream of angels dreaming of men
- The dream of disembodied birds
- The dream of perpetual motion
- The dream of low windows
- The dream of safety and peace
- The dream of disembodied birds (we told you they were recurring)
- The dream of meeting your younger self
- The dream that we are our fathers
- What, no dreams that you're standing up naked in the middle of class?
Falling in Love, 1791-1796
- Yankel takes the baby home and makes her a bed inside the oven. At least it's warm there.
- He thinks about how his wife left him. She just left a note on his doorstep (a "Dear Yankel" more than a "Dear John" letter) that said "I had to do it for myself" (7.3). We hear sisters are doing it for themselves.
- A trial is alluded to, but we have no idea what Yankel did. He was disgraced, changed his name from Safran to Yankel, and fled the shtetl for three years.
- He wears an abacus bead around his neck to signify his shame (better than a scarlet letter) and he gives the baby one of her own.
- Then he names her Brod, after the river in which she was found.
- As Brod grows up, Yankel makes up all sorts of stories about his happy marriage (fake) and how Brod's mother (fake) died an early death (also fake).
- But he keeps the note his real wife left him, and he's unable to let his fantasy replace reality.
Another Lottery, 1791
- In this short chapter, another lottery (obviously) is held, this time to name the shtetl.
- Time Capsule of Dust and String
- SHTETL OF THE PIOUS UPRIGHTERS AND THE UNMENTIONABLE SLOUCHES WITH WHOM NO RESPECTABLE JEW SHOULD HAVE ANYTHING TO DO UNLESS THE HOT SPOT IS HIS IDEA OF A VACATION. (That will never fit on a map.)
- The name "Sofiowka" wins, but mainly because that crazy old man seems to have rigged it.
- The Well-Regarded Rabbi decides that they can't change the official name, but they need to call the town something else.
- Once again, he draws a random piece of paper and Yankel's suggestion wins: Trachimbrod.
23 September 1997
- Alex writes to Jonathan that he's saving up money to go to America.
- Meanwhile, Grandfather is still sick and sad.
- With that news out of the way, it's time for them to discuss writing. Alex talks about suggestions Jonathan gave him ("stop using the word 'spleen'" [9.9] for example) and asks Jonathan questions about Yankel and Trachimbrod. ("Why do you think [Yankel] made to swindle that man so many years ago?" [9.11])
- Finally, Alex says that, despite Jonathan's suggestion, he won't be removing Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior from the story. She "is a very distinguished character" (9.13). Like Dame Maggie Smith or Dame Judi Dench.
Going Forth to Lutsk
- There's a lot of farting and biting going on in the backseat between Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior and Jonathan, which makes this a lot like your typical family road trip or first date in the 1950s.
- During the five-hour car drive Grandfather and Alex fight a lot, and Jonathan reveals why he came to Ukraine.
- He shows them pictures of his grandfather Safran and a picture of Augustine, whom he thinks is still alive.
- Allegedly she saved Safran from the Nazis.
- He has an old map with Trachimbrod on it, and says that "most of the places we're looking for aren't on new maps" (10.10). (Yes, Virginia, maps used to be printed on paper rather than created by Google.)
- They check in to a terrible hotel and go to dinner at a not-as-terrible restaurant, where Jonathan reveals he's a vegetarian.
- Grandfather has a typical reaction to this revelation: "What is wrong with you?" (10.17).
- He gets two potatoes for dinner, and one of them falls on the floor.
- Grandfather picks the potato off the floor, cuts it into two pieces (one for everyone, including the dog), and eats his piece.
- "Welcome to Ukraine" (10.21) he says, and they all laugh. (This scene is never going to be in any Ukraine tourism board ads.)
- Alex and Jonathan talk about America, books, and sex: three tastes that go great together.
- Back at the hotel, Alex tells Jonathan that "there are many dangerous people who want to take things without asking from Americans, and also kidnap them" (10.28).
- Something else that's not going in any Ukrainian tourist ads.
- Jonathan refuses to sleep in the same room as Sammy Davis Junior, Junior, so the dog sleeps in the hall.
- Alex and Grandfather stay in the same room, and Grandfather says he really wants to find Augustine.
- Before bed, Alex checks on Jonathan, who didn't lock his door. Sammy Davis Junior, Junior slips in, and Alex leaves her in there.
- Back in his room, Alex can tell that Grandfather isn't sleeping, and he wonders what Grandfather did during the war.
Falling in Love, 1791-1803
- Poor Brod doesn't have any friends and all the women of Trachimbrod hate her. She's skinny, a vegetarian, and gives herself haircuts (cutting bangs is hard!), so we're thinking she'd probably have more social success in Portland.
- Over time, Brod realizes that we will never be happy and discovers 613 sadnesses, which is more kinds of sadness than there are flavors of jelly beans.
- Occasionally Yankel buys books for Brod (a French language textbook, James Patterson novels) and Brod has to return them because they can't afford the expense.
- As Yankel gets older, and his memory gets worse, he starts writing his memories in lipstick on the walls of his room.
- Directly over his bed: "You are Yankel. You love Brod." (11.91). (Near the toilet: "Put the seat down!")
Recurrent Secrets, 1791-1943
- This is more of a thematic chapter, in which we're not sure what is real and what is fiction. (Okay, you could say that about the whole book, but this chapter is especially dreamlike.)
- Yankel starts covering the house in black sheets and reading Brod's diary, while Brod looks through a telescope that seems to see the future.
- It's a future Trachimbrod, and two children are reading The Book of Antecedents in 1943.
- One of the chapters is "The First Rape of Brod D" (12.15), which is unpleasant foreshadowing of the worst kind.
A Parade, a Death, a Proposition, 1804-1969
- Brod has rejected tons of marriage proposals by her twelfth birthday. Awesome, child bride!
- On the thirteenth annual Trachimday festival, Brod is the Float Queen, and she dresses up like a little mermaid. (Who will be Ursula?)
- Even though Brod has a good idea what her future holds, she goes through with it anyway.
- Thin white string is tied to pretty much everything in Trachimbrod, making the place look like a giant spiderweb from the sky.
- The parade begins and Brod's job is to throw a bunch of sacks into the river, so the men can dive in and retrieve them.
- A man named Shalom from Kolki (they call him the Kolker) wins. Hooray! It's eighteen gold coins, which is half a year's salary.
- On her way home, Brod dodges all the drunks in the street.
- Well… except one. The text seems to gloss over what happens, but we know from the last chapter what it is.
- Despite being raped by Sofiowka (at least, we're assuming that's what happened), Brod returns home, seemingly in good spirits.
- She looks for Yankel so they can eat pineapple on the roof.
- But Yankel won't be eating pineapple ever again. Brod finds him dead in the library.
- In shock, Brod removes the mermaid costume and stands naked by the window.
- A bolt of lightning illuminates the Kolker outside.
- Instead of telling this peeping tom to get bent, Brod tells him that he "must do something" (13.93) for her… but we're not sure what.
- Flash forward to 1969, when Jonathan's grandmother watches the moon landing. Her reaction: "Etz vunderful!" (13.95). We were a little verklempt ourselves…
28 October 1997
- Here are the details of this letter:
- Alex thanks Jonathan for sending him a duplicate photograph of Augustine for Grandfather.
- Alex and his father fight because Grandfather won't accept payment from Father.
- That payment would be nice for Alex to have, since he's saving to go to America, and he wonders why Grandfather didn't take it to give to him.
- They talk about writing a bit (no, Sammy Davis Junior, Junior won't be "killed in a tragicomic accident while crossing the road" (14.7)).
- Alex asks Jonathan for magazine articles about America.
- It seems that Alex mainly wants to go so that his brother, Little Igor, can have a better life.
The Very Rigid Search
- Grandfather and Alex go to breakfast without Jonathan because he is a vegetarian anyway.
- When they go back to get Jonathan, he is hungry (because vegetarians do eat) but all they can get for him is a mochaccino.
- It tastes terrible to Jonathan (better or worse than Dunkin Donuts?) and Alex gets mad at him for slandering the coffee of the Ukraine.
- After that delicious breakfast, they drive all over the countryside, looking for Trachimbrod (no one knows where the heck it is) or Augustine (no one knows who the heck she is, either).
- Along the way, Grandfather reveals a small part of his past: that his father died working in fields.
- Alex and Jonathan get into a fight while asking some field workers about Augustine and Trachimbrod.
- Even though Alex tells Jonathan not to talk, he still speaks.
- After that, Alex decides to do all the work himself.
- Eventually they find a woman who, like everyone else, has never heard of Trachimbrod or Sofiowka.
- However, she does seem to recognize the woman in the photograph.
- Then she admits that they are in Trachimbrod. "You are here. I am it" (15.53).
The Dial, 1941-1804-1941
- As you can tell from the chapter heading, this one is going to jump in time a bit.
- An unknown woman takes off her panties and gives them to an unknown man.
- It turns out the man is Safran (i.e., Jonathan's grandfather, whom Augustine saved from the Nazis) and it is his wedding day.
- He goes to the Dial, which is a statue in the town square, as part of a "sacred ritual that had been fulfilled by every married man in Trachimbrod since [Safran's] great-great-great-grandfather's tragic flour mill accident" (16.8).
- We get a quick glimpse of great-times-three grandpa before the accident: he's the Kolker, and he married Brod, but he's frustrated that they never seem to talk.
- He gets a new job when Brod is seven months pregnant at the flour mill, which is cursed! ("May your bread never rise again!")
- One day a saw blade spins off its bearings and embeds itself vertically in the Kolker's skull…
- But somehow, he lives. (Like the dude with the railroad spike in his head.)
- Sadly, he has brutal mood swings, and abuses Brod (and others) verbally and physically.
- He ends up exiling himself to a bedroom, and Brod can only see and talk to him through a hole in the wall.
- They even have sex through the hole, as though this is a skeevy public bathroom in the 70s.
- His health declines fast. The doctors say he has consumption, although we're wondering if the hole in his head doesn't have something to do with it.
- Brod gets the clever idea to change his name from the Kolker to Safran to trick death, but it doesn't work and he dies on the same day the baby is born.
- She doesn't know that he's dead when the baby is born, so she names the baby Yankel, "like her two other children" (16.270). (It's Jewish custom not to name the baby after a living relative.)
- After Safran's death, she does what any mourning widow does: she has his entire body bronzed and erected as a statue in the middle of the shtetl.
- They call it the Dial because it tells time by the sun pretty accurately.
- People rub various parts of his body for luck until the bronze wears off and they have to rebronze over the corpse.
- By the time Safran (back to where we started the chapter. Whew) kneels in front of the Dial 150 years later, it barely looks like the same man.
- Anyway, Safran gets married (this is the womanizer Safran who likes to get with all the shtetl ladies), and there is much rejoicing.
17 November 1997
- Alex, like us, is confused about the last couple of chapters of the novel.
- Also like us, he persevered through it. Unlike us, it "all became illuminated" (17.3) for him.
- He begs Jonathan to let Brod be happy. After all, if this is fiction, why can't Jonathan just lie a bit?
- Speaking of lies, Alex confesses that he's not the lothario he says he is: "I have never been carnal with a girl" (17.7).
- Finally, he hopes that Jonathan can forgive Grandfather… although we're still not sure what exactly Grandfather did.
Falling in Love
- Alex, Jonathan, and Grandfather follow Augustine into her house, a building which Alex says "I do not think that I would dub it a house. […] I would dub it two rooms" (18.2).
- It's chock full of boxes of, well, everything.
- Weddings and other celebrations
- Privates: Journals/Diaries/Sketchbooks/Underwear
- None of those are jokes, guys. This is basically Elvis Presley's Birthplace meets hoarders.
- Augustine makes them some food: more potatoes. One, of course, falls to the floor.
- This reminds them of dinner from last night, and everyone laughs.
- Except Augustine. Who cries. Don't cry over spilt potatoes, lady!
- Alex tries to translate everything Jonathan wants to say to her, like "By saving his grandfather, you allowed him to be born" (18.7).
- But Augustine doesn't get it. In fact, she asks, "Who is Augustine?" (18.8)
- She knows that the photograph is of Safran, but she says that it is not her in the picture.
- However, Grandfather insists that Not-Augustine is Augustine and continues to treat her as such.
- She fetches a box labeled REMAINS and pulls out tons of photos. One of them is of someone named Herschel.
- When Grandfather sees it, he gets mad at Not-Augustine, telling her to "shut up" (18.13) and that she "should have died with the others" (18.15). Ouch. Stone cold, gramps.
- Some of the photos are of Safran, Jonathan's grandfather.
- Grandfather (Alex's grandfather, that is) demands to be taken to Trachimbrod, even though Not-Augustine says it no longer exists.
- He orders Alex and Jonathan to leave so that he can talk to Not-Augustine in private.
- Outside, they talk about Jonathan's grandmother, and how he used to hide under her dress when he was a kid and feel safe.
- Alex then asks Jonathan about his diary, which Jonathan says is for notes on his story.
- Alex reads a passage, which is actually about him. He's kind of angry that Jonathan is writing about him, then he feels sad, grateful, and angry again, over and over in circles.
- Eventually Grandfather comes out and says that Augustine will take them to Trachimbrod.
- Off we go again!
The Wedding Reception was so Extraordinary! Or It All Goes Downhill after the Wedding, 1941
- This is a very short chapter that takes us back to the wedding from the beginning (and end) of chapter 16.
- So Safran is the guy who is supposed to be married, but that woman who gave him her panties… that's not his bride-to-be, Zosha. It's the bride-to-be's sister. Holy scandal!
The Dupe of Chance, 1941-1924
- While having sex with his soon-to-be-bride's sister, Safran wonders if this is fate. This is where he's supposed to be, right?
- He was born with teeth, and that made it difficult for his mother to nurse him, so she didn't, so he was malnourished and his right arm grew deformed as a result.
- Safran might as well be LLLameA (ladies love lame arm) because his shriveled arm makes him attractive to, like, every woman ever.
- His first mistress is a widow, Rose W, who sleeps with him when he's ten. She'll be the first of many. 132 to be exact. (What is this, Love in the Time of World War II?)
The Thickness of Blood and Drama, 1934
- Safran's second love is also a widow: Lista, whose husband died the morning of her wedding, meaning that she's a virgin widow.
- She brings him to her house for some "hot coffee" if you catch our drift.
- Then we meet the third love: a Gypsy girl. They meet at a play re-enacting Trachim's wagon crash, the same one we read about way back in Chapter 2.
- Safran and the Gypsy girl, who are sitting next to each other, leave right around the time Brod is born (Brod being Safran's great-times-something grandmother, if you recall) to have sex in the trees outsides the Shtetl.
12 December 1997
- Here's another letter from Alex to Jonathan. Here are the highlights:
- Little Igor is reading Jonathan's novel ("Not as good as Harry Potter").
- Grandfather watches TV day and night.
- Alex wants to remove his father from his life.
- Finally, he suggests that he needs to address "Grandfather pointing at Herschel" (22.3), whatever that means.
- In closing, he wonders why Jonathan is writing this semi-fictional story about Trachimbrod, and he wonders why Jonathan wants him to be untruthful: "Why do we not make the story more premium than life? […] I do not think that there are any limits to how excellent we could make life seem" (22.7).
What We Saw When We Saw Trachimbrod, or Falling in Love
- Not-Augustine has never been in a car, so they drive the car behind her and follow her to Trachimbrod.
- She takes a loooooooong time, picking up rocks and trash on the road along the way.
- It's dark when they finally get there, and Not-Augustine says "It is always like this, always dark" (23.8).
- She tells the horrifying story of what happened to Trachimbrod:
- The Nazis lined up everyone and forced them to either spit on the Torah or be shot.
- Most people spit.
- Except for Not-Augustine's father. He refused to. So the General shot her sister, and she fell to the ground like a sack of potatoes (that's why the fallen potato made Not-Augustine cry earlier).
- They then pull down Not-Augustine's older sister's underwear and put the gun there.
- Her father still refuses to spit, so they shoot her there. Horribly, she doesn't die. She crawls away, leaving a trail of blood behind her.
- So then they put the gun to her father's head. "Spit, the General said, and we will kill you. […] And he spit" (23.9).
- The sister's baby died, but she did not. She later crawled back to Trachimbrod and nothing was left, so she took everything she could find: gold fillings, hair.
- She bought the house closest to Trachimbrod and promised to stay there until death: "It was her punishment […] for surviving" (23.11).
- Sure enough, Alex and Jonathan find a plaque commemorating the "1,204 Trachimbroders killed at the hands of German fascism on March 18, 1942" (23.12).
- They return to Not-Augustine's house, and she says she saw him a couple of years later.
- He had returned to Trachimbrod "to see if the Messiah had come" (23.15).
- They had lunch and fought about Shakespeare.
- Not-Augustine insists she knows nothing about Augustine, and even though Grandfather tries to get her to leave with them, she refuses. She's the only survivor in the area, and she has to stay.
- She gives Jonathan a box marked IN CASE, which has a ton of stuff in it.
- They take the box and all its contents and leave, but before they leave, Alexander introduces everyone and asks her name.
- She says her name is Lista, then she asks if the war is over.
- Grandfather gives her a kiss (on the lips! Go, gramps!) and she retreats into the back room of the house, saying her baby misses her.
Falling in Love, 1934-1941
- This is another non-plot related chapter. We hear a bit about Safran's many conquests, then we get to read excerpts from The Book of Antecedents.
- More about this book in our Symbols section, but there are a few plot holes it fills in:
- We learn the details behind Brod's rape by Sofiowka (it's awful).
- We learn that Brod's third Yankel (the one conceived through the hole in the wall "begot Trachimkolker. Trachimkolker begot Safranbrod. Safranbrod begot Trachimyankel. Trachimyankel begot Kolkerbrod. [And] Kolkerbrod begot Safran" (24.108). What, Yankelbrod was taken?
- And we learn about 5 of Brod's 613 sadnesses.
- This chapter ends with the phrase "we are writing…" (24.115) repeated about 150 times. (Think Bart Simpson...only not so funny.)
24 December 1997
- Alex decides that he and Jonathan shouldn't critique each other's writing any more.
- With that out of the way, he recalls a recent event in which he went down to the beach to think, and Grandfather followed him there.
- Grandfather wants Alex's savings so that he can find Augustine.
- He won't take Alex or Little Igor with him: he wants to go alone.
- Alex doesn't think that Grandfather will ever find Augustine, and he wonders what to do.
- He also wants Jonathan to know that he could never accept the money from him. It's not about the money; it's about principle: "This is about choosing. Can you understand? Please attempt to. You are the only person who has understood even a whisper of me, and I will tell you that I am the only person who had understood even a whisper of you" (25.50).
- Aw, BFFs.
An Overture to Illumination
- Back at the hotel, Grandfather, Alex, Jonathan, and Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior decide to have a drink.
- When the waitress insults Jonathan for being a Jew, Grandfather makes her apologize (even though Jonathan didn't understand the insult.)
- They drink, and Grandfather makes Jonathan open the IN CASE box.
- They take turns pulling things out, like a pearl necklace and The Book of Past Occurrences.
- Then… deep breath… Jonathan pulls out a photo of… Grandfather. Whaa??? He looks just like Alex (the younger) in the picture.
- Grandfather has a hard time explaining this, eventually saying that the woman in the photograph is his wife. She is holding Alex's father. And the man with them is Herschel.
- "Herschel was a Jew. And he was my best friend. […] And I murdered him" (26.56, 26.57, 26.58).
- Whoa, Everything is Illuminated just got real.
Falling in Love, 1934-1941
- Here's another confusing, jumping around in time chapter.
- It begins, "The final time they made love, seven months before she killed herself and he married someone else, the Gypsy girl asked my grandfather how he arranged his books" (27.1).
- We learn about the courtship between the Gypsy and the Jew.
- He brings her things that mean nothing to her (flowers, chocolates, a Cher single) and doesn't tell any of his friends about her.
- However, he does love her, even though he can't say it.
- Even though the Gypsy girl is the only girl he loves, he tells her that his wedding to Zosha has been arranged.
- Then they make love for the last time. They'd been together for seven years at this point, and they won't speak for the next seven months.
- At one point, she even sneaks into his house to see how he arranges his books. (Like this.)
- He rushes to Lista's house, tells her that he's all alone, gives her a purple copy of Hamlet, saying she'll give it back one day, and leaves.
- Before the close of the chapter, we see, one more time, the last time Safran and the Gypsy girl make love. (Okay dude, we got it. It was awesome and sad.)
- Then, seven months later, on June 18, 1941, bombs fall from the sky and the Gypsy girl kills herself.
26 January 1998
- Alex is furious about this last chapter. (We thought they weren't discussing their writing anymore, but oh well.)
- He then says he decided not to give Grandfather the money, because he would never have found what he was looking for.
- It turns out that Grandfather killed himself four days ago, cutting his wrists in the bathtub.
- Alex found him and tried to revive him by punching him in the face, so hard that his Mother though she'd killed him.
- In closing, he says, "I told my father exactly what I thought" (28.20) and that he will not tell Jonathan exactly what he thinks.
- Welp, that was awful.
- On to the next chapter!
- Here's the story of Herschel and Grandfather:
- Herschel only had one friend, and it was Grandfather. He was a Jew, and they lived peacefully.
- Then, in one gigantic paragraph that spans over five pages, here's what really happened:
- In a scene that mimics the one where Not-Augustine's father refused to spit on the Torah, the Nazis line up everyone in town and demand they tell them who the Jews are.
- Those who are fingered as Jews are put into the synagogue.
- Herschel begs Grandfather not to say he's a Jew, but Grandfather does it to save his own family.
- Herschel begs and begs, "Eli youaremyfriend do not let me die I am so afraid of dying Iamsoafraid" (29.86) but he is put into the synagogue with the rest of the Jews and burned alive.
- After Grandfather's story, he simply says, "we must make sleep" (29.87).
- Talk about nightmares, guys.
The Wedding Reception was So Extraordinary! or The End of the Moment that Never Ends, 1941
- Back to the wedding reception—again—at the moment where Safran pops his cork in the wine cellar with Zosha's sister.
- As Zosha's father gives a toast, Safran notices that the Gypsy girl is sitting next to him at the table.
- She never speaks to him, but she slips him a note: "Change" (30.18).
- Great, that's not creepy.
The First Blasts, and Then Love, 1941
- As Safran makes love to Zosha, he thinks that "everyone but the Gypsy girl and his mother could die and he would be able to go on" (31.1).
- Not exactly something you tell your wife on your wedding night.
- But he thinks that...and orgasms as bombs fall over Trachimbrod.
- After the explosions, he is surprised to realize "he was not dead, but in love" (31.3). (So he learned to stop worrying and love the bomb?)
The Persnicketiness of Memory, 1941
- Although the war won't come to Trachimbrod for another nine months, "Trachimbrod itself was overcome with a strange inertness" (32.4).
- Basically, everyone just sits around and reminisces. Again, this chapter is all more conceptual than it is about plot.
- It seems that Safran has been bedridden since his first orgasm. (Yes, that was his first. How'd he fake it for so long?)
- One night, he gets up enough strength to go to the Dial, which, as you remember, is the bronzed corpse of his great-great-great-grandfather.
- They have a long conversation (since apparently the statue talks to him), and the Dial tells him a story about how "people who live next to waterfalls don't hear the noise" (32.61). (But do they go chasing those waterfalls?)
- Then it seems that the sky pukes on everyone: "The universe poured down in a bombing onslaught of heavenly vomit" (32.72).
- We hope Yankee Candle doesn't make an After the Rain scent that smells like that.
The Beginning of the World Often Comes, 1942-1791
- It's Trachimday yet again, March 18, 1942.
- Safran and his very pregnant wife watch the parade.
- When the Float Queen throws the sacks, as she does every year, this time… time stops.
- The bags stay there, "they hung as if on strings" (33.21).
- After the bombing, the Nazis line everyone up and make them spit on the Torah. Then they put the Jews in the synagogue. ("It was the same in every shtetl. It happened hundreds of times" [33.22].)
- This chapter ends as a soldier burns the nine volumes of The Book of Recurrent Dreams, but not before we get a glimpse of one of Brod's dreams, The dream of the end of the world.
- In it, Safran throws his wife into the river to save her, but she ends up drowning as she gives birth to her child, which also dies.
- Many bodies are dumped into the river that day: "This is what we've done we've killed our own babies to save them" (33.22).
22 January 1998
- This letter is dated six days prior to the last one, and it's written by Grandfather, not Alex.
- It says, "If you are reading this […] it means that I am dead, and that Sasha is alive" (34.2). (Sasha is a nickname for Alex.)
- It turns out that Alex gave all his savings to his Father and gave him the Ukrainian version of "hit the road, Jack. And don't you come back."
- Grandfather tells Alex to quit working at Heritage Touring and "make [his] own life" (34.16).
- He then goes on to say, "I would give everything for them to live without violence. Peace. That is all that I would ever want for them" (34.22).
- He says that the strings must be cut and that he is "complete with happiness" (34.23)
- The book ends in the middle of a sentence:
- "I will walk without noise, and I will open the door in darkness, and I will" (34.23)
- The end.