Everything Is Illuminated is a novel about the power of memory and the fine line between fiction and reality. I didn’t really know what to expect when I opened the pages of this novel. I hadn’t really heard all that much about it and know no one who has read it before. All I knew was that it was made into a movie, which I still have yet to see.
The novel unfolds slowly peeling back layers and layers of protection from each character until their ultimate truth can be revealed. The first few chapters had me laughing out loud. Alex plays the lovable, bumbling idiot to perfection. The Ukrainian family is full of delightful quirks, like a grandfather who believes he is blind and must have a seeing eye bitch named Sammy Davis Junior Junior. But it’s not until you delve further into the novel that you realize those quirks are guards each characters puts up to present a chosen image of themselves to the world so that they may remain protected.
The theme that hit me the most throughout the novel was one of fiction vs. reality. You never really know what’s true and what the character has invented based on their facade. Every character is unreliable and creates an illusion of the way they see things or the way they want others to perceive them. Beginning with Brod and continuing on through, each character manufactures and invents a history for themselves to blur the lines between fiction and reality. Brod often confuses the books she reads with her real life events to the point where she doesn’t know what is true and what is make believe. Jonathan creates a whole history for his ancestors that is in part truth and in part added embellishment in the exchange of letters between him and Alex. Even Alex creates a persona for himself that is more fantasy than it is reality. The whole book itself is also a blur of fiction and reality. Upon some research, I found out that the actual author did go to Ukraine in search for family connections, just as in the book, but didn’t find what he was looking for so he decided to invent this alternative history in narrative form.
Everything Is Illuminated is a powerful book about memory and loss and the ways we as humans cope and struggle to make sense of things.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in reading literary fiction that you have to analyze and read between the lines to figure out. Now I must find the movie so I can watch it! Fingers crossed it’s on Netflix.
Stay tuned for the next book in Book Battle 2015. I’m oscillating between two categories so hopefully I will be able to make up my mine soon. Happy reading!