Summary – Chapter Seven, ‘Another Lottery, 1791’, A Letter (from Alex to Jonathan), Chapter Eight, ‘Going Forth to Lutsk’ and Chapter Nine ‘Falling in Love, 1791-1803’
The shtetl is ordered to find a name and they have an election to find one. Sofiowka guards the ballot box and the next morning it is made official: Sofiowka is declared the name of the shtetl. No one in Sofiowka calls it Sofiowka, though, and some even call it Not-Sofiowka. The Well-Regarded Rabbi asks for another vote, for although the official name cannot be changed, they can have a name for their own purposes. It is a tie, as every name received one vote, and he decides to just pick one. He chooses ‘Trachimbrod’ and thinks how Yankel has won again.
The narrative then shifts to a letter from Alex to Jonathan and this is dated 23 September 1997. He tells him how he is saving to come to the United States and goes to the beach to save money. He also says of how his brother has just turned 14 and has recently broken his arm, and has made the changes to his writing that Jonathan has advised.
In Chapter Eight, Alex describes the car journey from Lvov to Lutsk with his grandfather, Jonathan and the dog. Jonathan says how Sammy Davis, Junior (the singer) was Jewish, and when Alex translates for him grandfather says this is not possible and then calls the dog Dean Martin, Junior.
On the journey, Jonathan also explains more about his trip and shows Alex a photograph of his grandfather, Safran. Safran escaped the Nazi raid on Trachimbrod and everyone else was killed including his wife and baby. In the photograph, he is with the family that saved him and they were from somewhere outside Trachimbrod. Jonathan wants to find the young woman in the photograph. He also says that he wants to see Trachimbrod and to see where he would be now if there had not been a war.
He explains to Alex what a shtetl is; that it is a Jewish word for a village. He also says that the young woman in the photograph is called Augustine and thinks this is her home because his grandfather wrote on the back that this is he with Augustine February 21, 1943.
He tells Alex his grandmother had this photograph for 50 years and gave it to his mother only two years ago. He cannot ask her about it and has not even told her he has come to the Ukraine as she has such bad memories of this area. Her shtetl was called Kolki, which is a few kilometres from Trachimbrod, and all her family was killed. She fled before the war.
Alex says he is surprised that no one saved her family and Jonathan replies that he is not, as the Ukrainians ‘back then’ were almost as bad as the Nazis. Alex doesn’t understand this and questions it. Alex tells his grandfather some of the story and shows him the photograph of Augustine. His grandfather scrutinizes it and puts it close to his face, and says how they will find her.
The register shifts when Alex and his grandfather do not believe Jonathan when he says he is a vegetarian. They have a meal and when Jonathan drops a potato, Alex’s grandfather shares it between them all and they laugh ‘darkly’. This leads Alex to think of his brother and how his bruises will go away.
That night, Alex shares a room with his grandfather and hears his body move. He knows why he cannot sleep and knows it is the same reason that he cannot: ‘We were both regarding the same question: what did he do during the war?’
Chapter Nine is narrated by Jonathan and it is explained how with the naming of the shtetl, there came ‘a new self-consciousness, which often revealed itself in shameful ways’. The women of the shtetl raise their noses at Brod and call her ‘dirty river girl’ and ‘waterbaby’. They are too superstitious to tell her about her true history, but make sure she has no friends of her own age.
She cuts her own hair and decides to eat no meat. She also ‘resisted everything’ and is desired by all the men of the shtetl. She is the smartest, but also the loneliest and saddest. When she is 12, Yankel is at least 84. He tries to impede his deterioration by eating well and taking walks. He also writes fragments of his life story on his ceiling (with Brod’s lipstick) so his life would be the first and last thing he saw in the day. One of his recurring dreams is of living with Brod forever.
Analysis - Chapter Seven, ‘Another Lottery, 1791’, A Letter (from Alex to Jonathan), Chapter Eight, ‘Going Forth to Lutsk’ and Chapter Nine ‘Falling in Love, 1791-1803’
In Chapter Eight, there is an engagement with the history of anti-semitism in the Ukraine when Jonathan tells Alex that the Ukrainians were regarded ‘back then’ as being almost as bad as the Nazis. When Alex questions this, and when it is also made apparent that he does not know what a shtetl is (and has not even heard of Trachimbrod), it leads us to realize that the history he has learned of the Second World War has not included a full understanding of the Holocaust or the part played by people in his country. Alex is depicted as ignorant of such events and of Yiddish, and both of these points are used to highlight how thoroughly Jews were murdered and eradicated from history.