Everything is Iluminated: Chapters 2-3
Summary – Chapter Two, ‘The Beginning of the World Often Comes’ and Chapter Three, ‘The Lottery, 1791’
There is a shift in narrators and time, and this chapter begins with the statement that it was March 18, 1791 ‘when Trachim B’s double-axle wagon either did or did not pin him against the bottom of the Brod River’. The young W twins – Hannah and Chana – are the first to see the ‘curious flotsam’ rise to the surface, and this includes string, a glove and ‘the bleeding red-ink script of resolution: I will, I will’.
Yankel D, the disgraced usurer, who is forced to wear an abacus bead because of a shtetl proclamation, asks Chana to come out of the water and holds on to Hannah. Yankel then calls to Bitzl Bitzl to row to the home of the ‘Well-Regarded Rabbi’, who is the father of the twins. He also tells him to bring the physician and Isaac the man of the law. Shloim appears and tells Yankel to cover the eyes of the girls as he undresses to get in the water. He does not find a body, although the ‘mad squire Sofiowka’ has been saying how Trachim (or Trachum) had been in the wagon.
After this, the others argue about filling in a death certificate for the drowned man (if this is what happened). Hannah then points out a baby girl is in the water.
In Chapter Three, ‘The Lottery, 1791’, Bitzl Bitzl recovers the wagon a few days later but no body is found. For the next 150 years, the shtetl hosts an annual contest to ‘find’ Trachim and it becomes a festival where girls dress as the twins. Some believe Trachim drowned and leave stones on the shore to remember him. Others think he was swept out to sea, and others think he was a fiction.
The baby is the narrator’s (who is Jonathan) great-great-great-great-great-grandmother. Harry V tries to explain that the baby was born under water, but cannot explain the lack of umbilical cord.
The Well-Regarded Rabbi takes the baby as his responsibility ‘until her final home should be decided’. The women are allowed to view her through a hole in the wall of the synagogue (of the Uprighters rather than Slouchers, which was the name of the other congregational group). The hole is not big enough to show the entire baby at once and ‘they learned to hate her unknowability, her untouchability, the collage of her’.
On the seventh day, the Well-Regarded Rabbi pays for an advertisement in the weekly newsletter asking for a father for the baby. He receives some responses but cannot decide between them. He puts the responses in her crib to see which one the baby grabs for, but she pays no attention to them. It is only when Bitzl Bitzl complains of the smell of ‘the shitter’ that the Well-Regarded Rabbi finds only the note of Yankel remaining in her crib (and he thus becomes her father).
Analysis – Chapter Two, ‘The Beginning of the World Often Comes’ and Chapter Three, ‘The Lottery, 1791’
These chapters are used to introduce the history of Trachimbrod and the Jewish community that lived there in the late 18th century. The narrator, Jonathan, traces back to his great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Brod and in so doing he makes a connection with the past that had been damaged and nearly severed by the Holocaust. By depicting this colorful history, Foer brings to life a community that has since disappeared from the map and almost from history.