Everything is Iluminated: Character Profiles
Alex shares the narration of this novel with Jonathan and acts as his translator when he visits the Ukraine. Alex is used as both a source of humour, in that his meanings are distorted when he uses a thesaurus in his writing, and of pathos in that it becomes apparent that his father is violent and controlling towards him and his brother.
For the majority of the novel, Alex’s grandfather is referred to as Grandfather and has been introduced as Alex in the first few pages. It is not until his secret is revealed, about the part he played in the Second World War, that it is also revealed that his name is Eli.
Augustine remains a mystery throughout the novel, as Jonathan never finds this woman for whom he is searching. She, it is believed, helped to save his grandfather from the Nazis.
This is the great-great-great-great-great-grandmother of Jonathan. She is found as a baby in the river, and this is where her name is taken from. She is an orphan and Yankel takes over the care of her as her father. She is characterized as intelligent and sad.
‘The Gypsy girl’
This unnamed character is, along with Safran’s mother, the most significant woman in his life until he marries and conceives a child.
Herschel is the best friend of Alex’s grandfather. Unlike Alex’s grandfather, he is Jewish and it is a central element of the plot that Herschel is betrayed by this friend. This occurs when the Nazis come to their village and order the villagers to name a Jewish person or they will be regarded as Jewish instead; it is made clear that to be declared Jewish means death.
Jonathan Safran Foer
Postmodernism is an indicative influence on this novel and this comes through most obviously in the author’s insertion of a semblance of himself into the narrative. By using a character with the same name, the author invites us to question the ideas of absolute truth as he confuses the parameters between autobiography and fiction. Both Jonathan the character and Jonathan the novelist visited the Ukraine to find the woman who helped to save his grandfather and both were unable to fulfil this dream. Despite these similarities, though, this is a work of fiction that also asks us to remember the absolute truth of the holocaust.
The Kolker (who is also re-named Safran and was called Shalom)
This is the husband of Brod. In an accident at the flour mill, he is struck by a blade that remains in his head until his death. After his death, his workmates club together and pay for him to be bronzed. This statue is then named the Dial (because of the shadow cast by the blade).
Little Igor is the younger brother of Alex.
Lista is the woman who has for years tried to maintain a link between the past and present as she lives among the objects she has retrieved from Trachimbrod from the time of the Second World War. Initially, Alex thinks she is Augustine (who Jonathan has been searching for), but as the story unfolds it becomes apparent that she is the young widow, Lista, in Safran’s story and was possibly pregnant to him when the Nazis shot her.
Safran is the grandfather of Jonathan and the impetus for Jonathan’s visit to the Ukraine as he comes to search for the woman who saved him.
Yankel is the adoptive father of Brod and is a figure that is redeemed through this care of another.
Zosha is the bride of Safran and is pregnant when killed by the Nazi invasion.