Study Guide

Everything Is Illuminated Truth

By Jonathan Safran Foer


When the author of the book is actually in the book, does that make it true? Or does the obvious fabrication of magical-type events make a book untrue? And is Everything is Illuminated a creative work of semi-fiction like The Things they Carried or two covers full of lies like A Million Little Pieces?

We're pretty sure it's the former. (At least we'd like to think so. Oprah didn't yell at Jonathan Safran Foer—we know that much.) The Holocaust definitely happened, with horrific events just like the ones Grandfather and Not-Augustine describe. Foer may have embellished his story to be an entertaining and thought-provoking piece of fiction, but does fiction, by definition, mean that something isn't true?

Questions About Truth

  1. Alex and Jonathan disagree over truth's place in writing. Should a writer maintain a certain level of factuality, even in fiction?
  2. How much of Jonathan's story about Trachimbrod do you think is true? (Think about this in terms of the novel, not in terms of whether or not the book itself is non-fiction. Is character-Jonathan telling us the truth?)
  3. Why does Jonathan encourage Alex to lie about certain things? Why does Alex encourage Jonathan to change his story?
  4. Why does Jonathan keep his story from his own grandmother?

Chew on This

Jonathan, as a writer, has no problem bending the truth to create a story that pleases him. That's why he tries to get Alex to take out characters (like Sammy Davis Junior, Junior) but refuses to take Alex's suggestions to change his story from what feels "true."

Alex believes in telling the truth, which is why he writes out his Grandfather's story word-for-word, despite how horrific it is. However, he bends the truth to protect his little brother after Grandfather's suicide. Perhaps the truth is best left to fiction.