Everything is Illuminated

Everything is Illuminated Character List


A young American writer, born in 1977. In 1997, he travels to Ukraine in order to research his grandfather's life. He wants to find his grandfather's hometown, Trachimbrod, and a woman named Augustine, who saved his grandfather from the Nazis.


Alexander Perchov, Jonathan's guide throughout his trip to Ukraine. Also known as Sasha and Shapka. He is the same age as Jonathan. He writes and speaks in charmingly butchered English. Alex writes chapters for Jonathan's book and sends them to him. He also writes letters to Jonathan that critique his writing. Alex has an abusive father and dreams of a better life in America for his younger brother and himself.

Little Igor

Alex's younger brother, whom Father calls "The Clumsy One" because he is always bruised.


Alex's father, who is also named Alex. He works for Heritage Touring, a travel agency that coordinates trips for American Jews to research their roots in Poland, Ukraine, and surrounding areas. He calls Alex "Shapka," meaning "fur hat."


Alex's mother, whom he is always frustrating, or in Alex's words, "spleening." She works at a café.


Alex's grandfather, who is also called Alex, although he was named Eli before the war. He is tormented by his memories of the war. Alex is a fat old man with gold teeth and a persistent five-o-clock shadow. He recently retired from Heritage Touring, his last of many employers. He has been depressed and temperamental ever since his wife's death from brain cancer two years earlier. He claims he is blind, and he has a seeing-eye dog named Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior. Despite his claims, he is the driver for Jonathan's trip.

Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior

Supposed to function as a seeing-eye dog. She is named after Grandfather's favorite singer, Sammy Davis, Jr. The youngest Alex refers to her as the "seeing-eye bitch" and claims she is deranged. She is always chewing her tail and anything else she can find.

Trachim B

The legendary man after whom Trachimbrod and the holiday Trachimday are named. It is widely believed that it was his wagon that plunged into the Brod River on March 18, 1791, although the legend is never confirmed. All accounts of his life and death are purely conjecture.

The W Twins, Chana and Hannah

Twin daughters of the Well-Regarded Rabbi. They were apparently the first people on the scene of Trachim B's wagon accident.

Yankel D

The disgraced usurer, or moneylender, of Trachimbrod, and Brod's adoptive father. Formerly named Safran. He is forced to wear an abacus bead around his neck after he is convicted of unfair business practices. His wife leaves him for the bureaucrat who helps with his trial. He never tells Brod that he is not her real father.

Bitzl Bitzl R

The gefiltefishmonger of Trachimbrod, that is, he sells gefilte fish to the townspeople.

Sofiowka N

The mad squire, or landowner, of Trachimbrod. He is known for being dishonest and masturbating all the time, often in public. He rigs the second lottery so that the shtetl is officially named after him on census records and maps. He takes Brod's virginity by rape. He dies a violent, humiliating death on the same night: he is murdered, mutilated, and hung from a tree.

The Well-Regarded Rabbi

The rabbi of the Upright Synagogue in Trachimbrod. He always yells when he has something to say. He holds two lotteries, one to pick Brod's father, and one to pick a name for Trachimbrod. His daughters are the W Twins, Chana and Hannah.

Shanda T

The sad widow of deceased philosopher Pinchas T. Every time there is a vote or contest, she enters her own opinions under his name.


Jonathan's great-great-great-great-great-grandmother. She is the baby who emerges from the wreckage of Trachim B's wagon. She is adopted by Yankel and named after the Brod river. She marries the Kolker and they have three children, all named Yankel. Brod is stubborn, sad, and incapable of loving.

the Kolker

Also known as Shalom and Safran. He wins the Trachimday contest by recovering the sack of gold coins, and then he follows Brod home. They marry and have three children. After an accident at the flour mill, he lives the rest of his life with a saw blade stuck in his head. The injury leads him to abuse Brod. When he dies, his body is made into a bronze statue that is also a sundial and is considered a good luck charm. It becomes known as the Dial.


Jonathan's grandfather, the one he is researching. He lived in Trachimbrod. A woman named Augustine saved him from the Nazis, but he died shortly after coming to America. Before the war, he had a wife named Zosha, who died along with their newborn daughter in the Nazi raid on Trachimbrod. As a young man, he was exceedingly promiscuous.


Also known as the old woman. She is the last remaining survivor of Trachimbrod. She keeps all the objects that are left from the shtetl. When Alex, Jonathan, and Grandfather first meet her, they think she is Augustine. Safran was her first lover when they were teenagers. Now, she is poor, thin, and toothless, and she wears stained clothing.


Safran's first wife. Her parents are the wealthy Tova and Menachem, and she lives with them in the largest house in Trachimbrod. She has a younger sister named Maya. She dies in the river with the baby when Nazis raid Trachimbrod.


Zosha's younger sister. She has sex with Safran in her cellar while a wedding reception goes on upstairs.

The Gypsy Girl

Safran's lover of seven years before he marries. She commits suicide as the Nazis bomb Trachimbrod.

Rose W

The old widow to whom Safran loses his virginity. She molests him when he visits her on a charity visit for the Sloucher congregation. From then on, they are lovers.

Jonathan's grandmother

She escaped from Kolki before the Nazis arrived, and then apparently walked across Europe. She met Jonathan's grandfather after the war in a camp for displaced persons. They immigrated to America, but he died shortly thereafter, while she was pregnant with Jonathan's mother. We never learn her name. Jonathan thinks of her fondly, but he is scared to tell her that he went to Ukraine.


Grandfather's Jewish best friend from Kolki. He dies at the hands of the Nazis after Grandfather identifies him as a Jew.

Wisps of Ardisht

A fictional clan. They are exiled to the rooftops, and they depend on cigarettes to stay happy. When they run out of matches, they become hysterical--until a child realizes that each cigarette can light another. They devise a smoking schedule so that they always have a light.