I have seen this movie more times than I can count, all before I read the book. In the beginning, I was tempted to put the book down because it wasn’t what I expected, or, rather, what I wanted. It only got better from there.
The book has three running narratives. My favorite: letters written by Alex, a Ukrainian native who speaks fun, broken English. They are written to Jonathan Safran Foer, a young Jewish man looking for Augustine, the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis. This is used as part of the voice-over narrative in the movie. The second narrative is what the majority of the movie covers: Jonathon, Alex, and his grandfather explore Ukraine looking for a small town, Trachimbrod, also called Sofiowka. The third narrative is, at best, lightly touched only in the end of the movie.
If I am taking this correctly, the third part of the narrative is actually a book that Jonathan, the character, is writing, as he is an aspiring writer. It is the story/history of Trachimbrod. It tells of his line of relatives. As the story goes on, it gets much more interesting and understandable. I came to really enjoy this part of the book, although I wasn’t ecstatic about it in the beginning.
The characters are fun and interesting, and I really loved Alex’s grandfather and his seeing-eye-bitch that he needs due to being blind (he is also their driver, which is a fun detail). I loved how Alex’s character changed in the novel, and looking back, I wish the movie talked more about that. You don’t really learn the depth of Alex’s grandfather, in the movie — it is hinted to, but the story in the book goes so much deeper. The film’s characters felt static compared to the same characters in the novel.
Overall, this story is heart-warming and -wrenching. I would highly recommend at least trying it. If you are wary, or have a tough time with the poor English (I know it tripped me up the first time I tried to read it), then watch the film. It is truly excellent, although, as always, the book was better.