Everything is Illuminated

Everything is Illuminated Summary and Analysis of Chapters 30-33

Chapter 30- The Wedding Reception Was So Extraordinary! or The End of the Moment That Never Ends, 1941

It is June 18, 1941. When Safran and Maya are done making love, he rejoins his wedding reception upstairs. There are may Gypsy women servants working at the reception. Safran recognizes one of the servants as the Gypsy girl. She holds his hand under the table as Zosha's father makes a toast. He says that this wedding makes him happy despite the war, and that he will remember it forever. The Gypsy girl slips Safran a note.

Just then, another gust of wind sweeps through the house, causing pandemonium. The note slips to the floor. We follow the progress of the note on the floor and into the garbage. It ends up in a field where the first of the mass executions will occur. There it burns along with all the other belongings from the shtetl. The note says: "Change."

Chapter 31: The First Blasts, and then Love, 1941

As he makes love to Zosha for the first time, Safran considers running away with the Gypsy girl. The only two people who matter to him are his mother and the Gypsy girl. He thinks that if everyone else died but the three of them, he would be fine. (He does not know that he will soon lose one of them.)

Lovemaking has become automatic for Safran, and he does not have to think about it. Instead, he thinks about all the widows with whom he has slept, about Brod and Yankel, about Trachim B's accident, and about Zosha's sister. Suddenly, the house shakes violently and Nazi bombs explode nearby. Zosha screams in terror, but Safran is filled with such sexual energy that he climaxes with the energy of many bombs. This is his first orgasm (introduced in Chapter 27). After over 2,700 sex acts without climax, he finally explodes with a "copulative light" so powerful that it could have defeated the Nazis. When it is over, he perceives that he is in love.

Chapter 32- The Persnicketiness of Memory, 1941

The bombs are meant for a nearby village, not Trachimbrod. Likewise, Safran's orgasm is meant for someone other than Zosha. The Nazis will not come to Trachimbrod for nine months, on Trachimday, but this bombing raid changes the shtetl. The citizens sit around remembering instead of doing new things. This pattern sucks the life out of the shtetl. Memories may be able to generate more memories ad infinitum, but this pattern is too confining for the richness of real life.

The men of the shtetl gather and try to sort out their memories by making flow charts. A picture of one such flowchart follows. Many of the categories on it, like "Pince-nez" and "Pinwheel," are the same as the names on Lista's boxes. The women stay at home alone all day, trapped by their memories, unable to piece them together, despite the quality of their sixth sense. The children are the most burdened by memory, because most of their memories are not their own; they have been given other people's memories. After a couple of months, people are too wrapped up in memory to be afraid of the Nazis; "Memory took the place of terror." As a result, they do not try to escape or come up with any plans of defense.

The day after his wedding, Safran lies in his bed, unable to get up. He cannot make sense of his memories, and his love makes him physically sick. After only one day of marraige, he begins to look like an old man. But he is somewhere between a child and a man.

The next day, at a shtetl meeting, Rav D and Ari F try to argue, but none of the townspeople can concentrate. Their memories have robbed them of their ability to think or speak coherently. Safran remains bedridden from his orgasm. Zosha is worried that she did not please him, but he placates her concerns. That night, Safran gathers enough strength to go to the Dial. He goes alone. He kneels down before the statue of the Kolker, and they have a conversation. The statue has changed with each generation to look like the Kolker's descendants, and it now resembles the lovesick Safran.

It turns out that Safran does not love the Gypsy girl but the baby girl he and Zosha conceived while bombs were killing people elsewhere. Suddenly, Safran feels the weight of his family's past and future. He prays to the statue for his daughter to be perfect. Then he vomits, barely able to hold himself up. He tells the statue that this is what love is like.

In response, the statue tells Safran the true story of his marriage to Brod; the traditional tale was just a fantasy. After his accident, Brod would come into his room at night, even though she knew she was risking an attack. They did not use the hole at all; Brod and the Kolker shared a room. She did not love him, but still she did everything for him--this was love indeed. To elaborate, the statue tells Safran about the first house he and Brod shared. It was by a waterfall, and Brod could not stand the sound. The newlyweds fought constantly over the noise. After two months, they acclimated to the sound, and they were ecstatic. The moral of the story is that one can endure anything if one perseveres. Another lesson for Safran is that "every love is carved from loss." Just then, rain begins to pour like vomit.

Chapter 33: The Beginning of the World Often Comes, 1942-1791

It is Trachimday, March 18, 1942. As usual, white string is strung between all the houses, and the townspeople are preparing for the festivities. Safran and Zosha, who is very pregnant, spectate. The parade is a sad sight compared to what it used to be. Materials are in short supply, so the floats are pathetic. Most of the handsome men are fighting in the war, so very few gather to dive for the sacks. The winning sack does not even contain real gold.

As the festivities proceed, young townspeople are dying on the front lines. Zosha's and Safran's child is kicking so hard that when Safran puts his ear to Zosha's belly to listen, he is knocked off his feet. The men sit around, talking about their memories.

Safran and Zosha walk to the river to watch the men dive for the sacks. The Float Queen throws the sacks, and they seem to stay in the air for an eternity. Meanwhile, the Dial manages to walk, and it hides behind the statue of the prostrate mermaid. Death is imminent.

The Nazi attack on Trachimbrod now comes. After the bombing, the Nazis line up everyone who did not drown in the river. They make them spit on the Torah, herd them into the synagogue and burn them alive, just as in Kolki and every other shtetl. A soldier tosses the nine volumes of the Book of Recurrent Dreams into the fire. A page of it comes loose and rests on the burnt face of a dead child. The page, predictably, reads "9:613- The dream of the end of the world." This was Brod's dream, and it describes the bombing of Trachimbrod. In it, she saw all the townspeople jump into the river, including Safran and Zosha. She imagined herself as the river. Zosha drowns just as the baby is born and floats to the surface. But the baby is pulled under by her umbilical cord, as Zosha sinks. Zosha tries to sever the cord but cannot. She dies with the baby in her arms.

After they drown, the bodies of the townspeople float to the surface. The water is thick with them. The river is like a carcass, and they are like butterflies flocking to the carcass. The narrative ends: "we've killed our own babies to save them."


The wind is a symbol of foreboding in Chapter 30. It forewarns the bombing raid, and it foretells the death and destruction of the town.

Unlike the open, petrified forest, where there are only silent witnesses, the circumstances of Safran's and the Gypsy girl's affection change on the wedding day. Life in the town has witnesses and consequences. It is never clear whether she is resigned to losing him, or if her note is the final attempt to get him back. She may be giving Safran permission to do what he must to be happy and survive in his community. But the note also could mean, "change your mind and come back to me." It is enticingly vague, as are all the details of this story. The message ultimately does not matter for Safran, who never receives it. It burns with Trachimbrod's other secrets. Yet, in this macabre turn, her feelings for him are finally illuminated in the blaze, although the townspeople are not alive to see it. This is not the kind of blaze that reaches astronauts in the sky.

The title of Chapter 31 ties violence to love even more intimately than before. "Blasts" could signify bombs, destructive blasts, or orgasms, generative blasts. The content of the blasts leads to very different kinds of consequences for love. Life and death are blossoming all over Trachimbrod on Safran's wedding night. Zosha loses her virginity. The Gypsy girl kills herself. Safran climaxes with the cosmic force of love. At first we do not know with whom Safran is in love. But he is the first character in the novel to really love and to know it--wholly, without doubt. It is as though all the love inhibited in past generations comes exploding out through Safran.

In Chapter 32, violence and love continue to intertwine. Most obviously, Safran is violently sick because he is in love with his unborn daughter. The statue finally explains why love is mixed with pain: love means doing things for others even if you do not fully love them and would not normally do those things--it means persevering in the face of that hardship. Therefore, love involves acknowledging a certain absence of love. If love is more characteristic of an absence than a presence (as with Brod and the Kolker), then one might say that love is hating the absence of being in love. From this perspective, it is a hope for an ideal more than a reality.

Memory, declared earlier to be the Jewish people's sixth sense, is the people's undoing. It leads them to inaction, because remembering simply for its own sake is not productive. Remembering is not sufficient for contemplation of the richness of life; one must also actually live to provide new materials to contemplate. Here we come back to the topics of Ifice and Artifice. Remembering can create Artifice, but this is not in itself valuable for living. The people are creating nothing, no genuinely new words or actions. They are confining themselves within their memories, getting lost in them so that they do not have to face the world. Memory may be a haven from terror, but ultimately it prevents life. The traditional ceremonies of Trachimday lose their energy and meaning when they are divorced from present life.

The story of Trachimbrod begins and ends in the waters of the Brod. Once again, people are drowning in the river. Again a baby is born amid the horror, floating to the surface. But this time it is not the baby who survives, but Safran. He is born, like his ancestor Brod, from terror, tragedy, and refuse.

Although Safran is finally capable of loving, the object of his love dies in the instants after its birth, before he ever has a chance to express himself to the baby, which has merely kicked him off his feet. Death here is definitive; Trachimbrod is wiped out. There is no conditional situation anymore, no "may or may not" as in Trachim's story. Therefore there is no freedom, no escape from this latest reality.

From one point of view, memories are all that is left of Trachimbrod; the objects and the dirt itself seem to count only insofar as they represent memories. Our minds cannot hold objects but only hold images of them. The people's own objects and especially their dreams, which are as strong as memories, stoke the fire that kills them. As with the Gypsy girl's note, these things suffer a destructive illumination. It is left to Jonathan to unearth them from the ashes and the remnants of memory in order to tell their story.

Writing the destruction of Trachimbrod as Brod's dream places a new urgency on writing and illuminating. Brod sees the Nazis destroy Trachimbrod centuries after her own life, but she is helpless to stop it. Her prophecy is limited in that she cannot change the course of events. Here the responsibility of future generations for their own fate is especially apparent. Past generations are powerless to effect change without the help of present and future generations. Brod can dream of the end of Trachimbrod, but she cannot stop it; later generations must take charge of the record of the prophecy, interpret it correctly, and act accordingly. Jonathan is now the keeper of the history of Trachimbrod; he can bring the memories to life again in his writing.

In much the same way, Father's behavior is out of Grandfather's hands. It is up to Alex to make the way straight for Little Igor.