Everything is Illuminated, by Jonathan Safran Foer

Often we look to find ourselves, to learn from our forebears who we are. If that past--unreliable at best--is unavailable, we may have to use our imaginations to reconstruct it. This is the dilemma Jonathan Safran Foer presents in his stunning debut novel.

A young man, also named Jonathan Safran Foer, travels to the Ukraine to try to find the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis. He brings an old photograph of his grandfather and three others, with these words on the back: "This is me with Augustine, February 21, 1943." Foer's guide and translator in the Ukraine, Sasha, arrives with his own grandfather and their dog, Sammy Davis Junior, Junior. Sasha serves as one of the book's narrators, and his muddled English is one of the novel's hilarious elements.

The narrative structure is complex yet fairly easy to follow. Sasha narrates their search for the woman Augustine and the village of Trachimbrod, the shtetl where Jonathan's grandfather grew up. Interspersed in the text are sections from an imagined history of Trachimbrod that Jonathan writes, as well as letters from Sasha to Jonathan written after Jonathan has returned to the U.S.