Beautiful, funny, sad, and complicated.
Everything is Illuminated is a complex journey. With three stories interwoven you come to love and care for the characters presented. You laugh. You cry. There’s all sorts of emotions brewing in this story that make the journey so worthwhile. It is the kind of book that now that I’ve finished it, I want to go back and reread it to pick up on all the subtle things I may have missed along the way.
I’m not going to pretend that this is an easy novel to read. Yes, it is short, but just after it makes you laugh it rips your heart out. However, the most difficult aspect of the novel isn’t the constantly fluctuating emotions it elicits, but the structure. As I mentioned before it is told in three very different perspectives. It took me a while to piece together exactly what was happening. You are just driven through these disparate times with different characters and is very jarring at the beginning. As you settle into the novel and begin to understand what is happening and where it comes from things begin to make more sense. As a result the bond you feel toward the characters begins to grow as well.
There is the past which chronicles the history that lead the Jonathan’s grandfather’s existence. In this part it is told from what Jonathan managed to piece together and figure out about the history of his family and the shtetl they lived in. This section rips at you and makes you laugh, but more often than not it is sad. When I say sad, I mean downright heartbreaking as you learn of the awful things that happen. Yes, there is happiness, but there is so much sorrow and misfortune. The stories in this section can be extremely tough to read.
Then there is the near past which chronicles Jonathan’s trip and him meeting and interacting with Sasha, Grandfather, and Sammy Davis Jr. Jr. Told from Sasha’s perspective, he flavors everything he writes with his broken English, odd word choice, and hilarious strings of conversations. The things that go through Sasha’s mind and what he actually says is quite hilarious. Watching Sasha lead Jonathan through this journey of finding out what happened in the shtetl and learning truth even if that turns out to be nothing like he expected was great. Did I mention that these bits were some of the funniest in the novel as grandfather is a character that is a force of his own. Don’t even get me started on Sasha.
Finally, there is the ever moving present in which Sasha is writing to Jonathan about the bits of story that he is reading from Jonathan and also sending his version of the story. Just as the near past sections, since they are from Sasha’s POV they are quite hilarious. It’s hard not to laugh either at the way he views things. Yet, there is a lingering sadness that can’t be ignored about Sasha and his situation. When things bubble to the surface and the jokes slip away for a moment it’s hard not to feel the severe gut punch the raw emotion he delivers.
So yes, I really enjoyed this novel. I borrowed in from the library, but since I would like to read it again, I am fairly certain that it will join my collection. It is a beautiful story and I’m only sad that I hadn’t read it sooner.