Study Guide

Everything Is Illuminated Family

By Jonathan Safran Foer


Grandparents are great sources of information: the cheap price of gas, sepia-toned family photos, stories about how they were responsible for the death of their best friend during World War II ….

Okay, not all family memories are good ones. As we discover in Everything is Illuminated, Alex's Grandfather has a tragic past. But he reveals it because he doesn't want his grandson to live in the same, violent world. Alex's family is dysfunctional enough as it is, with Alex's abusive father and pretending-to-be-blind Grandfather, so Grandfather does what he can to make amends and fix things.

Meanwhile, Jonathan isn't lucky enough to have a living Grandfather to tell him stories, so he has to create a dysfunctional family tale of his own.

Questions About Family

  1. Why does Alex's father act the way he does? Is Alex's Grandfather responsible for that man's abusive behavior?
  2. Is Alex more like his father or his grandfather?
  3. Why does Jonathan create a story about his grandfather? Why doesn't he ask his grandmother about her past?
  4. Who do you think Brod's real parents are? Where did she come from? Was Trachim really her father? Does any of that even matter?

Chew on This

Alex is motivated by being a father figure to his younger brother Little Igor because their father is abusive and irresponsible.

Yankel and Brod create a "perfect" family of their own. Even though it's just foster father and daughter, they live in a world of love and affection for one another, a world that is totally different from the real world.