Jonathan Safran Foer (the author), a young American Jew, journeys to Ukraine in search of Augustine, the woman who saved his grandfather's life during the Nazi liquidation of Trachimbrod, his family shtetl (a small town) in occupied eastern Poland. Armed with maps, cigarettes and many copies of an old photograph of Augustine and his grandfather, Jonathan begins his search with the help from Ukrainian native and soon-to-be good friend, Alexander "Alex" Perchov, who is Foer's age and very fond of American pop culture, albeit culture that is already out of date in the United States. Alexander studied English at his university, and even though his knowledge of the language is not "first-rate", he becomes the Foer's translator. Alex's "blind" grandfather and his "deranged seeing-eye bitch," Sammy Davis, Jr., Jr., accompany them on their journey.
Names of cities are given in their Russian version (e.g., Lvov), although the Polish or Ukrainian naming would have been correct for the scenes in Trachimbrod and Ukraine.