Everything Is Illuminated

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This article is about the book. For the film, see Everything Is Illuminated (film). For the Dexter episode, see List of Dexter episodes § Season 5 (2010).
Everything Is Illuminated
Front cover of hardcover edition.
Author Jonathan Safran Foer
Cover artist Jon Gray (aka gray318)
Country United States
Language English
Genre Novel
Publisher Houghton Mifflin
Publication date
April 16, 2002
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
ISBN 0-618-17387-0 (hardcover)
OCLC 48144414
813/.6 21
LC Class PS3606.O38 E84 2002

Everything Is Illuminated is the first novel by the American writer Jonathan Safran Foer, published in 2002. It was adapted into a film of the same name starring Elijah Wood and Eugene Hütz in 2005.

The book's writing and structure received critical acclaim for the manner in which it switches between two stories, both of which are autobiographical. One of them is the fictionalized history of the eradicated town of Trochenbrod (Trachimbrod), a real exclusively Jewish shtetl in Poland before the Holocaust where the author's mother was born; while the second narrative encompasses Foer's trip to Ukraine in search for the remnants and memories of Trachimbrod as well as the author's writing-in-progress.

Historical background[edit]

The real town of Trochenbrod (Polish: Zofiówka) was an exclusively Jewish shtetl located in the Wołyń Voivodeship of the Second Polish Republic before the Nazi-Soviet invasion of Poland.[1] After the German attack on the Soviet positions in eastern Poland during the 1941 Operation Barbarossa, a Jewish ghetto was established at Trochenbrod for local residents including those from nearby villages. The ghetto was liquidated during the Holocaust. In August and September 1942 nearly all Jews of Trochenbrod were murdered by the Ukrainian Auxiliary Police in the presence of only a few German SS men. According to Virtual Shtetl over 5,000 Jews were massacred, 3,500 of them from Zofiówka and 1,200 from nearby Lozisht (Ignatówka) among other settlements.[2][3]

Plot summary[edit]

Jonathan Safran Foer (the author), a young American Jew, journeys to Ukraine in search of Augustine, the woman who saved his grandfather's life during the Nazi liquidation of Trachimbrod, his family shtetl (a small town) in occupied eastern Poland. Armed with maps, cigarettes and many copies of an old photograph of Augustine and his grandfather, Jonathan begins his search with the help from Ukrainian native and soon-to-be good friend, Alexander "Alex" Perchov, who is Foer's age and very fond of American pop culture, albeit culture that is already out of date in the United States. Alexander studied English at his university, and even though his knowledge of the language is not "first-rate", he becomes Foer's translator. Alex's "blind" grandfather and his "deranged seeing-eye bitch," Sammy Davis, Jr., Jr., accompany them on their journey.

Names of cities are given in their Russian version (e.g., Lvov), although the Polish or Ukrainian naming would have been correct for the scenes in Trachimbrod and Ukraine.

Literary significance and criticism[edit]

Upon its initial release the book received enthusiastic reviews particularly in The Times stating that Foer had "staked his claim for literary greatness."[4] Nevertheless, in a Huffington Post article titled "The 15 Most Overrated Contemporary American Writers," Anis Shivani criticized the work as "harmless multiculturalism for the perennially bored" and claimed that "a more pretentious 'magical realist' novel was never written."[5] Canadian Ukrainian commentator Ivan Katchanovski in his article from The Prague Post online lamented that the book misrepresents the history of Jews in Ukraine and that the factual history of the massacre at Trachimbrod "stands in a sharp contrast to claims made in the book."[6]

Awards and honors[edit]


  1. ^ Eleazar Barco (Bork) (April 22, 1999) [Written before World War Two]. "Trochinbrod - Zofiowka". Translated from Hebrew by Karen Engel. Transcribed by Gary Sokolow (tripod.com, Internet Archive). Archived from the original on March 2, 2014. Retrieved 24 December 2014. 
  2. ^ Beit Tal (2010). "Zofiówka". POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews. Retrieved 25 December 2014. 
  3. ^ Beit Tal (2014). "Truchenbrod – Lozisht". The Nahum Goldmann Museum of the Jewish Diaspora. Retrieved 25 December 2014. 
  4. ^ "Luminous talent in the spotlight". London: The Times. July 7, 2002. Retrieved July 12, 2007.  (access blocked with demand for personal info)
  5. ^ Shivani, Anis. (August 7, 2010) "The 15 Most Overrated Contemporary American Writers." The Huffington Post. Accessed November 20, 2010.
  6. ^ Katchanovski, Ivan. (October 7, 2004) "Not Everything Is Illuminated". The Prague Post. Accessed November 20, 2010.
  7. ^ Pajiba presents The Generation’s Best Books as defined by our readers. June 20, 2007, Internet Archive.

External links[edit]