“After that there was a famine of words for a long time (156).”
In Jonathon Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated, Alexander “Sasha” Perchov is a complex character that heavily underestimates himself as the true protagonist of the novel a translator in more than the traditional sense of the word. “Alex”, as he prefers to be called, gradually sheds his shallow persona and ambitions and reveals himself to be a character of extraordinary depth, admiration, and compassion. It is ironic that “Jon-fen” is constantly referred to as ‘the hero’, proving himself to be incompetent and devastatingly disconnected with both his new environment and the customs of this travel guides that shape such a significant part of the historical understanding of the journey. In short, it seems “Jon-fen” has no idea what he is looking for, or rather no idea on how to understand what he may or may not find. Jon-fen is only as relevant as Alex enables him to be, the latter serving as the mouthpiece for the former and thus wielding a power unbeknownst to him.
Initially, Alex’s character is comical, a caricature of foreigners that has the reader feel cheapened in their reading experience. I was pleasantly surprised to delve into the depths of Alex and his perspective of the world, his traveler, family, and the unearthing of unspeakable historic trauma that still echoes in the absence of Trachimbrod and the resonating tales of its now-deceased inhabitants, preserved by Jonathon Safran Foer, author and his eponymous character.
The reliability of Alex’s narration is often called into question; his odd turns of phrase and distinctive viewpoint they allow. Rather than deeming him an “unreliable”, I would argue he challenges the reader to break from the mundane use of language and story-telling from the familiar rhythm they are used to and to invest more faith in Alex and the world through his eyes.
In this text, there is not a “famine of words” but rather a reinterpretation of them that could only leave one starving if they do not know what they are hungry for. I urge us all to eat that dropped potato, parse it out, laugh, and swallow what has been iterated as fowl, unworthy, or indigestible.