“Humorous is the only truthful way to tell a sad story…”
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Everything Is Illuminated is a fictionalised account of the author’s trip to Ukraine in search of the woman who rescued his grandfather from the Nazis during WWII. The characters in the novel are Jonathan, his translator Alex, and Alex’s grandfather who acts as the driver and guide for the journey. The story of the novel features two different time periods—the first being an account told through Alex’s viewpoint of the time when Alex and his grandfather take Jonathan through Ukraine, and the second being the fictional history of Jonathan’s grandfather’s village from the late 1700s to the time of WWII when the village is destroyed.
I found myself loving this story immediately because it is a magical realism story, and I have found that magical realism is one of my favourite genres. The whimsical and surreal nature of the events in the history of Trachimbrod provide a compelling contrast for the more contemporary manner in which Alex’s narrative is told. The book is almost grittingly confronting at times when it discusses some of the more horrific consequences of war, but this is combined with chapters that read like a fantasy novel and sections that are guaranteed to make you laugh out loud. All in all it provides a rollercoaster ride of emotions, fascination, tears, numbness and of course laughter. But as JSF himself says: “humorous is the only truthful way to tell a sad story.”
SPOILER FREE SUMMARY
“It was not the feeling of completeness I so needed, but the feeling of not being empty.”
“One day you will do things for me that you hate. That is what it means to be family.”
“The only thing more painful than being an active forgetter is to be an inert rememberer.”
“With writing, we have second chances.”
“Words never mean what we want them to mean.”
“Everything is the way it is because everything was the way it was.”
“Memory was supposed to fill the time, but it made time a hole to be filled.”
“Once you hear something, you can never return to the time before you heard it.”
“I used to think that humor was the only way to appreciate how wonderful and terrible the world is, to celebrate how big life is. But now I think the opposite. Humor is a way of shrinking from that wonderful and terrible world.”
“I was of the opinion that the past is past, and like all that is not now it should remain buried along the side of our memories.”
“He was someone whom everyone admired and liked but whom nobody knew. He was like a book that you could feel good holding, that you could talk about without ever having read, that you could recommend.”
The book starts with the argument that ‘humorous is the only truthful way to tell a sad story’ and ends with ‘humor is a way of shrinking from that wonderful and terrible world’ … why do you think the perspective on humour changes? Which perspective do you agree with?
“Everyone performs bad actions… A bad person is someone who does not lament his bad actions.” What is your opinion on this quote?
Everyone in this book is either fighting to remember something or fighting to forget something, how important is it for us to hold on to memories? In particular with important historical memories like the destruction of Trachimbrod.