Everything is Illuminated

Everything is Illuminated Summary and Analysis of Chapter 34

Chapter 34: 22 January 1998

Grandfather wrote a letter to Jonathan, which Alex has translated. It is a suicide note. He wrote it because he wanted Jonathan to know what happened that night.

The first paragraph about the night's events is the same passage that Alex reads in Jonathan's diary when they sit on Lista's steps. Alex told Father that he could take care of Mother and Little Igor by himself. Alex said he would forgive Father if he left and never returned. Then father and son threatened to kill one another. Father packed a bag to leave, and Alex gave him two handfuls of money from his savings. Little Igor blamed Alex for ruining everything and then cried all night.

After Father left, Grandfather told Alex he was proud of him for doing the right thing. He saw his younger self in Alex and called him Alex for the first time in many years (usually, he called him Sasha). Grandfather's own name had been Alex for the last forty years, since he changed it from Eli. Alex said he would take over at Heritage Touring, but Grandfather urged him to make his own path. Grandfather put Alex to bed for the first time since he was a child. He told Alex, "Try to live on" and "you can always tell the truth." Then he kissed Little Igor on the forehead as he slept, and he prayed for him to be strong and never know war. Then he sat down to write Jonathan the letter.

Further in the letter, Grandfather tells Jonathan that he wishes one thing for his grandsons, peace. Grandfather now knows that peace is possible, and that realization makes him happy. He knows that in order to achieve peace, Alex and Little Igor must start anew. He is writing to Jonathan himself, because for Alex to start anew means that Alex must stop writing to him (except for this last translation).

Grandfather is the only one awake in the house as he finishes the letter. The last part of the letter is to Alex. He says he will kill himself quietly and alone in the dark, not out of weakness, nor because he cannot go on. Grandfather asserts that he finally can die because he is completely happy.


In this final chapter, Grandfather's written voice becomes ascendant. Grandfather writes the last words of the novel, as though his sins are forgiven. In translating the letter for Jonathan, Alex honors and forgives Grandfather.

Another beginning of the world comes with Grandfather's death. The new generation takes charge. Both Jonathan and Alex have been illuminated in maturity, meaning that they have achieved the clarity of purpose and drive to pursue their goals as they make good on the past. Because of their separate illuminations, they no longer need each other; their correspondence ends, and they do not need to write any more chapters together.

It is Grandfather for whom everything is really illuminated at the end of the novel. He has come to terms with his past and present, and epiphanically feels forgiven for them both. He feels that he has everything for which Jonathan's relatives strove: love, happiness, peace. Even if there remains a place for fantasy in this vision, Grandfather's model of having one's life illuminated means being able to look to the past and present with satisfaction in whatever love one has had, and then to generate that shining love into the future.